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How to Describe What You’re Looking for in a New Job

05/14/2024

Hiring managers can quickly discern whether a candidate has applied to numerous companies without investing much thought into why, or if they’re genuinely interested in a particular role. And while applying to jobs is a “numbers game” to an extent, you should approach every job interview with a clear idea of how the job aligns with your individual goals. 

It’s standard for interviewers to ask you to describe what you’re looking for in your next role. Simply reciting the job description is not going to win you points. Neither will focusing on the job title, salary, or benefits — of course these factors influenced your decision to apply for the role, but they’re not relevant to this question.  

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Your interviewer is trying to learn more about you and understand what got you excited about applying for this role. So, how should you describe what you’re looking for in your next job? The first step is to get clear on what you want. Ahead we’ll break down how to pinpoint your goal, what to say (and avoid saying), and provide example answers to help you craft your own.   

How to describe what you’re looking for in your next job 

Being a good match for a role often goes beyond ticking boxes on a job description, says Jean du Plessis, Senior Engineering Manager at the cloud platform Upbound. A savvy hiring manager seeks diversity in their team and embraces individuals with different strengths that balance each other out, he says. If you only address what’s outlined in the job description, you’ll blend in as just another candidate.  

The person interviewing you is “constantly matching data points about you with what they know they need on the team,” Jean says. They’re looking for folks who are passionate, confident in their strengths, and aware of areas where they need to improve, he says. 

In other words, this isn’t a throwaway interview question: “People who don’t have a good answer as to what they’re looking for in their career come across as somebody who doesn’t have a growth mindset or looking to learn and improve,” Jean says. A murky answer also fails to demonstrate your excitement about the potential this role offers. “If you don’t know what you want, it’s hard for the interviewer to believe that this role is going to be a good fit for you.” 

Think about your future career goals 

It’s helpful if you can speak to how you’re looking to grow in your career. You don’t have to climb the corporate ladder or found your own company, but you should be able to articulate your career development aspirations. That way you can connect the dots between where you are now, where you want to go, and how this role helps you along your path.  

“Identify how the role is going to help you grow further in your career towards your end goal,” says Jean. “It’s okay if the role is a stepping stone. Don’t be shy to say you’ve got bigger ambitions but have the humility to acknowledge that it’s going to take a while for you to get there.”  

Make it clear that the role is aligned with what you need to do in your career to get to where you want to be one day, Jean says. “That shows you’re thinking about the big picture, more than just what’s ahead of you, which for a hiring manager is great signal to get as well.” 

4 ways to answer what you’re ideally looking for in your next role 

There are a few directions you can go when asked what you’re looking for in your next job. Here are four examples of how to answer this question:  

You’re looking to develop technical skills 

In this response, you can highlight that you’re seeking opportunities to develop specific hard skills, or gain more exposure to a type of technology or framework you’re interested in. For example, if you’ve worked as a Data Scientist, you might be targeting roles in the AI and machine learning space. Or if you were a Junior Developer going for a more senior role, you might be eager to take on more design and implementation work and spend less time writing code for features.  

Developers are constantly learning on the job, so it’s a good signal to interviewers if you’re actively interested in upskilling and learning new languages and technologies. This is a great opportunity to share any side projects (like hackathons or open-source projects) that got you interested in a new language or style of architecture.  

Example answer: “I’m excited about the prospect of joining a startup where I can contribute my skills and grow as a developer. I’m particularly interested in opportunities to hone my expertise in certain programming languages or gain exposure to emerging technologies or frameworks.

For example, I’m eager to deepen my understanding of machine learning and AI — I see where the industry is headed, and believe these technologies hold immense potential for the future. Additionally, I’m keen to expand my proficiency in cloud computing platforms like AWS or Azure, as they are increasingly integral to modern software development. 

Overall, I’m seeking a role where I can immerse myself in challenging projects that allow me to leverage my existing skills and acquire new ones, so I can contribute to the growth and success of the team and the company.”  

You want to level up your soft skills 

You could also focus your answer on getting experience that grows your soft skills, like working more cross-functionally or mentoring others. If you work on a small team and are applying to a larger organization, you could say that you’re looking for opportunities to learn from Senior Engineers.  

Maybe you’re motivated to take more ownership of your projects and develop your project management muscle — these are all thoughtful and valid answers that show you’re thinking beyond what’s listed in the job spec.  

Example answer: “Beyond contributing my technical capabilities, I’m seeking a role where I can also grow as a mentor and collaborator and contribute to a supportive and high-performing team culture. Specifically, I’m looking for a position where I can enhance my abilities in mentoring and cross-functional collaboration. 

I believe that strong soft skills are essential for fostering a positive team dynamic and driving successful project outcomes. As a self-taught developer, I want to share my knowledge and expertise with others while also learning from their perspectives and experiences. Similarly, I’m eager to work in an environment that encourages cross-functional collaboration, because I believe that diverse perspectives and skill sets lead to more innovative solutions.”  

You’re seeking a specific work environment 

If you’re a self-taught developer and have been working independently, you might be excited about working as part of a team in a more collaborative environment.  

Startups and big corporations have very different, but valuable, skills to teach you. You could call out something you’re hoping to gain from a transition if that’s the case for you. Learning to iterate and ship quickly is common in small startups, while larger organizations may provide more support for you to work with and learn from other teams. It’s best to focus on what you’re excited about with this new opportunity, rather than focusing on what you don’t like about your current role. 

Example answer: “In my previous roles, I’ve gained valuable experience navigating the fast-paced and dynamic environment of startups, but now I’m eager to explore the stability and structure offered by an established post-IPO company. 

One of the main reasons I’m seeking a role at a public company is the opportunity for long-term growth and stability, well-defined processes, resources, and a proven track record. Additionally, I’m interested in experiencing the scale and scope of projects that are often found in larger organizations, which can offer valuable learning opportunities and exposure to complex systems and technologies. 

I’m keen to be part of a company that has a strong brand presence and a global impact. Working at an established public company can provide me with a platform to collaborate with diverse teams and contribute to projects that have a broad reach and significance.”  

You care about the company’s mission 

It’s okay if what you’re ideally looking for in your next job has more to do with the company than the role itself. Maybe the company’s mission and the problems it solves align with your own mission and values in some way. Or, you might have a personal connection to the type of customer the business serves. If you weren’t looking for a new role but this opening stood out to you because have been looking for an opportunity to work in the industry or you admire the company, share this with the interviewer. It’s proof that you’re passionate about the role. 

Of course, you will still need to be able to speak to how you’re a fit for the role itself, but managers know that developers can get laser focused on the specifics of their unique role, losing sight of the business goals. Showing genuine enthusiasm for the bigger picture can be a big green flag for interviewers.  

Example answer: “The idea of contributing my skills and expertise to a company dedicated to developing innovative technologies that combat climate change is incredibly motivating for me. I’m passionate about environmental sustainability, and I believe that working for a tech company in this space will allow me to make a tangible impact. I’m drawn to the collaborative and forward-thinking culture often found in climate tech companies and I’m eager to be part of a team that is committed to leveraging technology to address global challenges.” 

This type of interview question is just as important to prepare for as your technical interview questions. If you want a safe space to practice, check out our new Interview Simulator and use the power of AI to build your confidence in interviews. 

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