How common is this question and why might it be asked?
Although less common than some more traditional questions, “Describe your ideal job” is nonetheless a relatively frequent interview question in strengths-based interviews and one you’re likely to encounter throughout your career, particularly in the early stages.
Seemingly a hypothetical question, it is nonetheless designed to assess a range of very real criteria - namely, what aspects of your work you’re really passionate about, how your dream job measures up to the one you’re actually applying for, and whether you’ll get real job satisfaction (and perform well) as a result.
How to prepare in advance
When approaching this question you should consider what aspects of past roles you were truly passionate about, what really attracted you to apply for the role you are interviewing for, and how they match up.
For many people, it’s easy to identify what areas of a role they enjoy the most. For example, a software engineer might love solving complex coding issues, while a salesperson might enjoy the thrill of negotiating and closing the best deal for their client. For others, it’s not so easy. If you’re finding it tricky, it might help to think back to times you’ve been really happy in a role and what the trigger was.
It could be that you got a great review, that you successfully launched a new project or hit a tricky deadline, or that you helped a colleague solve an issue that required your specific expertise, all of which could be things you’re passionate about in your day-to-day working life.
In every case, it’s vital that you gear your answer around the role you’re interviewing for. After all, it’s no good declaring your love of data analysis if you’re applying for a role as a sales assistant. Your future employer needs to be able to clearly identify how your dream role relates to the one you’re applying for and how it makes you the right person for the job.
Your ideal job may not be this one - but you can still show how you’re a great fit.
What should you avoid?
Even if the job you’re applying for actually is your dream job, you need to be able to backup your answer with factual reasons as to why it is, otherwise you’ll risk your answer sounding vague - or worse, fake.
Conversely, if the job you’re applying for is more of a stepping stone to the job you really want (or quite far from your ideal role), you should focus on any aspects that do bear some resemblance to what you want to be doing. If you really can’t find any, it might be a good idea to reconsider why you’re applying for the position in the first place.
Unless you’re sure the role you’re applying for only focuses on a very specific set of tasks, it’s a good idea not to gear your answer around one particular area, as it could make it sound like you’re only interested or passionate about a small part of the role. Equally, if you’re applying for a target- or commission-based sales role, you should always avoid citing money as a major consideration in your dream role - it will make you seem financially motivated, as opposed to really caring about the role itself.
Effective sample answers
“My dream role is a job where I can use my interpersonal skills and connections to increase my company's client base. I’m really results-driven and thrive on working to a deadline, so it would also be a role that relied heavily on my ability to negotiate and close deals within an allotted time frame, as that’s one of the ways I get the greatest job satisfaction.”
“My dream job would be using my experience to help disadvantaged inner-city children realise their potential through education and organised activities. I’m particularly interested in working at this school because I know you have a high number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds but have seen an improvement in league table results since 2013.
From what I understand, this is thanks in part to your excellent after-school programme run in collaboration with Fight for Youth, a charity I have volunteered with in the past. It sounds like a fantastic initiative and makes me believe we share similar values and goals - something I am definitely looking for in my next role.”
"My ideal job is one where I get to solve problems and build new applications. I love to test out new technology and I’m a team player. I’m happiest when I’m part of a busy team who are all working to fix a particular software problem that will ultimately benefit the whole organisation.”
Other tricky interview questions
Now you know how to describe your ideal job in an interview, take a look at these other tricky interview questions: