How to answer the question, "What are your long-term goals?"

The way you discuss this topic could make or break the interview. Try these exercises to stay focused so you can clearly state your goals with ease.

How to answer the question, "What are your long-term goals?"

Keep the present in mind when thinking of your future.

How you envision your future is important to employers. They can tell a lot about the type of employee you think you are (or are hoping to become). That’s why one of the most common interview questions is, “What are your long-term goals?”

Job seekers stumble on it for a number of reasons, says Julie Jansen, career coach and author of You Want Me to Work With Who? “A lot of people think of goals in terms of career progression,” Jansen says, “but employers aren’t asking whether you want to be promoted when they’re asking about your goals.”

Other job seekers make the mistake of concentrating on salary goals, says Tim Cole, owner at career-coaching firm The Compass Alliance. “Saying what you want to be earning in a few years is a very ‘me focused’ response,” he says.

Of course, how you answer this job interview question will depend on your industry and the position you’re applying for, but there are some general guidelines to follow when crafting your response.

Relieve the employer’s fear

Most hiring managers are looking for employees that will stay at their company long term, says Priscilla Claman, president of Career Strategies Incorporated. “A lot of employers are still mentally recovering from the recession, and they’re concerned about employee retention,” Claman explains. Indeed, 55% of employers recently surveyed by Xerox HR Services said one of their biggest labor concerns is retaining top talent.

Retention is a valid concern, considering not only the financial consequences of high turnover but also the fact that Millennials change jobs, on average, six times from ages 18 to 25. Thus, “hiring managers want to know if you’re not just a match for the current year, but if you’re a match for the company in the long run,” says Cole.

Therefore, your response should show you’re committed to working at the company for a while (e.g., “I look forward to growing with the company and making a large contribution to the organization”).

Demonstrate you’re passionate

Employers want to hire people who are intrinsically motivated to perform well on the job. So, when describing your long-term goals, Cole says it’s important to underline what makes you want to go to work every day. (“What’s most important to me is finding a place where public service is important. I see that reflected here.”)

Tie your goals to the employer’s

Hiring managers are searching for evidence that your goals align with the company’s goals, says Los Angeles executive coach Libby Gill. In turn, part of your interview preparation is to read up on the organization’s mission and values—and find spaces where your long-term goals overlap. (“You’re looking for someone with advanced computer skills. Being able to apply my computer skills and build upon them is important to me, and there seems to be opportunities to do that here.”)

Focus on building your brand and the company’s brand

Developing your personal brand in the workplace is certainly beneficial, and “improving your brand and visibility in the industry also benefits your employer,” Cole points out.

So, if one of your long-term goals is to become an industry expert, make sure you explain how your branding will further the company’s mission. (“I’m looking to gain a strong social media presence and start speaking on industry panels, which would improve the company’s reputation in the field.”)

Prove you’re a cultural fit

Employers are looking for people who will integrate seamlessly into their culture—meaning your career goals should address this concern. Your best approach is to show how your personality and work style would fit into the office environment. (“My ideal workplace is one that values individual employees and encourages them to speak up and share ideas, and I see that’s the type of culture you foster here.”)

Show you’re a team player

Employers want to create collaborative workplaces, where employees get along and thrive together. Thus, your goals should show that you’re committed to building relationships with co-workers and creating a team environment. (“I think working in teams is one of the best way to achieve better results. I’d like to continue to do that here.”)

What to do next

Try as you might, the future of your career is still very much unknown; even the most calculated and strategic job seeker will encounter some surprises along the way. Flexibility is key to not missing out on awesome (and unexpected) opportunities. Want to be sure you’re ready for anything? Join Monster today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to different jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Take a detour.