Tough Interview Questions - What are your long term goals?

Following is a tough interview question:

What are your long term goals?

Similar interview questions:
Where would you like to be in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? What is your end goal in your career? Where do you see yourself progressing in your job? What do you think will be your last job before retirement?

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
The interviewer is asking to align expectations for the role with your long-term expectations. While interviewers typically want solid alignment on near term (i.e. under 5 years) expectations, more latitude can and will be given for longer term goals. However, this question is often asked to explore whether the candidate has long-term goals which cannot be met by the employer. It is also used as a reality check to see if the candidate has realistic goals. Finally, it is also used as a measure of the ambition of the candidate. How much ambition is wanted/needed is dependent upon the role.

The best approach to answering this question:
If the short-term/near-term question has not yet been asked, start by briefly addressing the near-term goals. Then focus on your career direction and trajectory based upon being successful in the role during that period of time, yet showing flexibility for taking on a variety of roles over the course of your career to broaden your knowledge and exposure. You want to be ambitious, yet not overly ambitious.

An example of how to best answer this question:
"In the near term, I am focused on becoming a subject matter in my field. I do want to prepare myself for future promotional opportunities, if they come about. I am working to prepare myself for managerial opportunities in the future by taking on the lead role on project teams such as my current network integration project. Yet I am also flexible to take on roles which will broaden my exposure, which is why I have become involved in two cross-functional team projects, one with the finance group and one with the marketing group. This not only strengthens my relationships with other teams, but also broadens my knowledge base for interacting at a higher level."

An example of how you should not answer this question:
"My long term goal is to have your job. Actually, that's more my mid-term goal. My long term goal is to become the CEO. So I want to put myself on that path and continue to make course corrections along the way until I finally achieve that goal. So I'm pretty ambitious in what I want to do, I guess the real question is whether you can provide me with the roadmap to getting to the corner office?"

Remember to answer each interview question behaviorally, whether it is a behavioral question or not. The easiest way to do this is to use an example from your background and experience. Then use the S-T-A-R approach to make the answer a STAR: talk about a Situation or Task (S-T), the Action you took (A) and the Results achieved (R). This is what makes your interview answer uniquely yours and will make your answer a star!