Of course successful people are ambitious. You need to be motivated in order to reach great heights of achievement. It’s that internal drive that pushes you to try harder, work more, and persevere through setbacks.

Ambition is a good thing. You should have BHAGs (Big Hairy A$$ Goals), but sometimes you’re better off keeping it to yourself. The trouble is that being on the job market is an exercise in marketing and public relations. Ironically, there can be times when it is your very drive to get ahead that is holding you back.

The truth is that most employers don’t give a hoot about your career goals. They care about your ability to do the job they’re hiring for right now and if you’ll stick around successfully doing it for long enough to make it worthwhile hiring you.

That’s why the common job interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a bit of a trap. The employer isn’t really interested in your grand ambitions. What they are really asking is: How does this role fit in with your overall career goals? Will it be a good move for you so that excelling at it will benefit you professionally as well as us? Or is this just an unrelated job you’re taking now to pay the bills while hoping for something else to happen?

Even though most people change jobs ever few years now, and every job is a stepping stone along the pathway of your career, employers don’t want candidates who are looking to use their job as a stepping stone for a quick job hop.

Many candidates will explain that they are interested in a job because they “want to get their foot in the door” of the industry. This is a terrible answer. Once you’ve gotten your foot in the door and jumped to the next opportunity, the employer will be right back where they started. They’ll have a vacant position they need to fill and have to start hiring all over again.

While it is great to work for an employer who wants to see advance in your career (and of course the good ones do), at the hiring time they’re not looking to advance your goals. They’ll respect that you’re ambitious, but that’s not why they will hire you. They’re looking for someone who will make their life easier.

Your ambition can trip you up in other ways to.


Many traditional resumes start with an objective paragraph about what the candidate is looking for in a job. It’s great to know what you want.

It’s not great to waste some of the most valuable real estate in your resume talking about what you want. Make it about what you can offer, what skills you have and accomplishments you’ve delivered. That’s what employers want.


Being driven by your ambition can harm your ability to successfully network too. If instead of engaging in meaningful two-way dialogues with people, you’re always asking for opportunities or offering your services, you’ll come off as desperate or pushy. Either way, a potentially valuable first impression could be blown.

A straight drive down a dead-end road

Allowing ambition for a career goal to drive your career can cost you opportunities. I’ve spent the past 15 years managing the content for major websites, but when I went to school there was no Internet. I could not have predicted, targeted or prepared for where my career would take me, because it was into an industry that didn’t exist while I was studying.

If I had remained resolutely devoted to my original goal of being a print journalist, I would likely be unemployed, and I would have missed out on a variety of creative jobs I that I have loved.

There are hot, in-demand jobs right now that didn’t exist a decade ago: Social Media Manager, SEO Specialist, App Developer, User Experience Designer, for example.

Similarly, there are jobs that won’t exist five years from now: Taxi Dispatcher, Toll Booth Operator, Travel agent, Telemarketer.

The jobs of ‘Video store clerk’ and ‘photo developer’ are already gone.

That’s why blind ambition can be poor strategy. If your goal is to get that one dream job at your favourite company, you’ll either get it or you won’t. But you could have blinders on to emerging industries, new opportunities.

Whatever field you’re in, your ambition should be to build a long and successful career full of continuous learning, acquiring new skills and connections, and taking on more responsibility. It’s a journey. You don’t have to talk about your end-game at every step along the way. Think about the immediate goals of the employer for the job you want next and demonstrate how you’d be a great asset to them.