“What is most important to you in your next position?” is an interview question that comes up all the time, but many applicants aren’t prepared for it.
This guide will help you structure an answer that will leave a great impression, and improve your chance of getting the job.
Why Interviewers Ask “What is Most Important to You in Your Next Position?”
Interviewers often ask open-ended questions that do more than highlight your qualifications and skills. “What is most important to you in your next position?” is a fine example of this.
It’s meant to go deeper into what makes you a suitable candidate, giving you a chance to tell interviewers why you should get the job and how you would fit into the role. Sometimes it might be asked as “Describe the three things that are most important for you in your next position” instead, but your approach when answering it will be the same.
There are several reasons why this particular question comes up.
Alignment With The Company Mission
First and foremost, it’s to gauge whether or not your goals and interests align with the company’s mission.
While most individuals can adapt to new jobs, regardless of whether it fits into their “big picture,” companies want people who are passionate about what they’re doing. They want employees who genuinely care about the position.
Why is this?
Passionate people are naturally motivated! If this position checks off all the boxes of what you want out of your next career move, you’re more likely to have intrinsic motivation. Doing a good job is about more than getting your paycheck. It’s something that makes you feel accomplished and satisfied.
That’s the type of thing hiring managers want to see, and they’re most likely to get it out of applicants that want to be there. Plus, it ensures that your time with the company is more than just a stepping stone.
Hiring managers don’t expect you to stay at the job forever, but they prefer to hire folks who will stick around and grow with the company. Hiring new people is a costly endeavor. That’s why so many organizations focus on boosting retention rates and reducing employee turnover.
Asking “What is most important to you in your next position?” is an open invitation to discuss your goals and ambitions. If those ambitions align with what the position offers, they’ll believe that you’re more likely to be in it for the long haul!
Gauge Culture Fit
This question can also help interviewers see if you’re a good fit for the company’s established culture and work environment. Every organization does things differently. Some are more focused on individualized contributions, while others prioritize teamwork and open communication.
You’ll reveal many of your work preferences by describing what’s important to you in a job. For example, you might say that having the opportunity to participate in large projects is what’s most pivotal for you at this stage in your career. That indicates that you want a collaborative environment with tons of dynamic work.
Again, this goes back to ensuring that your goals align with the company. If you enjoy the culture and day-to-day operations, you’re more likely to be satisfied and motivated in your job. This can be asked at the beginning of the hiring process, or even brought up as a final interview question.
How to Answer This Question
“What is most important to you in your next position?” might seem innocuous at face value, but it holds more weight than you think! Like other personality and goal-oriented interview questions, this one could take you out of the running if you respond with something interviewers don’t want to hear.
Follow these tips to develop a solid answer that leaves a lasting impact.
1. Give Some Context About Your Background
Everyone’s priorities change as their career evolves. What was important to you at the start of your career might not be the same at this point in your life. That could be why you’re looking for a new job and moving forward in your career.
Whatever the case, provide context about your background to show the interviewer why you’re there. You don’t have to get into a long, complex story. A concise answer is always best.
However, some brief context can paint a clear picture of who you are and what you want out of your career. It gives the interviewer more insight into the journey thus far and how you want it to continue changing moving forward. That knowledge helps them learn more about what you have to offer.
Talking about your background explains your motivations and what’s important to you in your next position. It’s more impactful than simply stating that you want to do a good job and contribute to the company. Providing context is like offering proof of those statements, highlighting why you’re a fantastic fit!
Keep your explanation brief, but don’t be afraid to mention where you were and how things are different now. For example, you could talk about your priorities early in your career and discuss how things changed. Then, end on your current priorities and what you’re looking for at this stage in your career and life.
2. Connect It to the Position & Company
The best way to answer “What is most important to you in your next position?” is to link everything back to the position and company. Ultimately, the goal is to show the interviewer why you fit with the company’s mission and culture. Typical answers can do that, but connecting the dots with your response leaves no shadow of a doubt.
When you talk about what’s important to you from a job and career, highlight how the position offers that. For example, you might be at a point where you’re ready to take on more responsibilities. If you’re applying for a management or team head role, it’s the perfect transition.
You can point out how the position fits what you’re looking for, letting the interviewer know precisely why you applied to this job. It also nails the point that you’re motivated to do a good job. When you draw that line, it’s impossible not to see how you have intrinsic motivations to succeed and that this job is about more than money.
Do the same with the company itself. Perhaps a detail in the organization’s mission statement aligns with your big-picture goals. Talk about why this is important to you and link everything back to this job opportunity.
3. Keep Your Answer Brief
This is a question that could easily turn into a long-winded conversation. But always remember that this is just one of many questions the interviewer needs to get through! Don’t spend a ton of time going into too much detail.
Concise responses are always the better choice. Aim for an answer no longer than two minutes.
When you keep things brief, your words are more likely to be memorable. Get to the point quickly, say what you need to say, and move on!
Rambling about random things that are important to you in a job can make you seem unprepared or unorganized. Many people will talk nonsense until they come up with an answer that resembles something meaningful. It’s akin to throwing what you can at the wall and hoping something sticks.
Interviewers hear those responses all the time, and they rarely work out in an applicant’s favor. But those quick and concise answers? They show that you’ve given this question some thought already. It reflects well on you.
Our final tip is an easy one: Practice!
Rehearsing your answer to “What is most important to you in your next position?” is critical. This isn’t something you want to think about on the spot and “wing.” It’s a complex question that requires significant thought and preparation.
Don’t be afraid to write down key points you want to hit. Use those to practice multiple ways to answer. You never know how the interviewer will phrase the question, so you want to have some flexibility.
Avoid creating strict scripts. They come off as over-rehearsed and inauthentic. Instead, know what points you want to hit in your answer and be comfortable talking about them organically.
Practice with several people if you can. Get comfortable providing this answer; it’ll come out naturally during your interview.
How you answer this question depends entirely on your experiences and goals. Everyone’s response will be unique, and there’s no universally correct answer.
That said, it pays to have some examples to draw inspiration from when figuring out what to say.
In our first example, the applicant is applying for a leadership role. They’re interviewing to be a project manager after several years of working as an engineer. With this response, they’re laying out exactly what’s important to them and why they’re there, drawing an undeniable connection between their goals and what this position offers.
“The ability to apply my skills in challenging ways is the most important thing for me at this point in my career. I’ve spent several years working as a civil engineer. During that time, I learned valuable skills I’m ready to use.
I was lucky to work on many projects I was proud of in my previous job. I also worked with many different people and enjoyed the diversity of people and projects.
I believe that the mix of complex commercial and industrial projects your company handles is the perfect way to broaden my horizons and put my skills to the test. My next goal is to run large-scale projects, lead teams, and solve complex engineering challenges.
My career thus far has prepared me for this role, and I am ready for my next challenge.”
In our next example, the applicant’s main priority is opportunities for career growth. This model response can apply to virtually any industry and step up the career ladder. It’s a good response for young workers trying to move beyond entry-level positions.
However, it also applies to those attempting to enter the C-suite territory. With this response, you’re highlighting natural motivations while indicating your willingness to grow with the company.
“At this point in my life and career, the opportunity for growth is what I look for in my next position. My last job afforded me the chance to find my groove within this industry. I learned the ins and outs and got the opportunity to figure out where I wanted to go.
Now, my ultimate goal is growth potential. Whether in my own role, within a company, or as a part of an organization’s larger growth goals, I want to be in a challenging environment with opportunities for continual improvement.
I believe that your company’s focus on innovation, opportunity, and expansion fits that bill. I’m eager to be a part of what your company is doing, and I hope that I can contribute to those goals in this role.”
Our final example shows how being complementary can help make a good impression. In this scenario, the applicant is a teacher looking to get hired at a new school. The response is a bit different from others.
The most important thing for the applicant is not related to personal growth or career development. Instead, it’s finding an employer that supports the position and the employee who holds it.
The applicant shares positives about the organization while showing their ultimate motivation to do a good job.
“As a teacher, my mission is always to prepare my students for success in and out of the classroom. Recently, it’s been a struggle to fulfill that mission due to low budgets, inadequate resources, and high student-to-teacher ratios. Those barriers created many challenges.
At this point in my career, what’s most important to me in my next position is to work for a school capable of supporting teachers. Given your school’s fantastic reputation, the prospect of working here is exciting. Not only do you have the operating budget, but you have the lowest student-to-teacher ratio in the county.
I’m eager for the opportunity to devote the time and attention every student deserves.”
Explaining what’s most important to you in a position can seem challenging at first, but it’s actually quite straightforward. All it takes is a little preparation to score some major points with your answer!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.