There are not many companies and teams that won’t use some sort of goal setting methodology. Which ones they use will depend but there are definitely three main ones that you should be fluent in, even if you’ve not used them before. They are:

Knowing about why goals matter, showing a willingness to participate in goals setting, and having a desire to have your work focused towards outcomes, are all good signals to send to a future employer. But perhaps the most important signal it sends is a desire for accountability.

The flip side is also true. If trust and autonomy are important to you then how the company sets goals and how teams work towards them will have a huge impact on your day-to-day. So there are questions you can ask your interviewer here as well.

This post will share the basics of the 3 main ways companies set goals, and point you towards further reading if you want to go deeper on any of them. Questions to ask and what potential answers could mean at the interview are also shared.


Key Performance Indicators or KPIs are metrics that are literally the most important, or key, performance indicators. They are the numbers that are tracked and shared that tell you how a company, team or even an individual are performing.

KPIs are great at telling you how healthy you are and whether you’re getting healthier or sicker, and can diagnose the problems when you track the right ones. You’ll obviously be aware of KPIS like Revenue and Profit. These are called lagging indicators as they are slow moving and are moved by changes in other KPIs. For example, the number of visitors to a website might predict an increase in sales. KPIs that like this are called Leading Indicators. Every team will have a number of KPIs that tell them how they are doing.

Potential Questions To Ask

  • Which KPIs do you track?
  • Which team KPIs need improving most at the moment?
  • Which KPIs do you think I could help improve?
  • How often do you talk about KPI performance in teams?

Of course you might be asked the opposite questions, like, which KPIs have you been responsible for or contributed to?


SMART goals are a simple way to set goals with SMART standing for:

  • Specific: What needs to be accomplished?
  • Measurable: Which metrics will measure success?
  • Achievable: Is the goal doable?
  • Relevant: How does the goal align with broader goals?
  • Time-Bound: What is the time frame for achieving the goal?

This framework again is popular and by the nature of the ‘measurable’ part borrows from KPIs. In many ways SMART is a KPI that has been singled out for improvement, has been given a target and an end-date, and ownership. Plus by the nature of the ‘achievable’ component, some thought has been given towards skills and resources.

Potential Questions To Ask

  • Which SMART goals are you focusing on at the moment?
  • How often do you set SMART goals – the cadence?
  • How often do you review progress towards these goals?

If you want to read between the lines of possible answers, the one that could be most revealing is the goal setting and review cycle. If goals are set annually or every six months then that’s a relatively slow cadence and the company might be a steady and slow moving one. In the same way, if goal progress is reviewed monthly or quarterly, that’s also relatively slow when compared to faster moving, more agile organisations.

Objectives and Key Results

OKRs are very popular as well and again are an evolution of both KPI and SMART. They are how tech companies like Google and LinkedIn prefer to set goals and other types of companies have been catching on fast. So what do you need to know about OKRs?

OKRs consist of an Objective that describes your goal in a positive and motivational way. Making you want to get up and work on it every morning. For example:

  • Develop a new range of skincare product that cool teens love

Key Results are how success is going to be measured. You typically have 2 or 3 of them. For example, if we add Key Results to the above example it might look like this.

  • Develop a new range of skincare product that cool teens love
  • Sell over £3m in sales
  • Achieve a NPS score of 90 or more

This OKR is basically saying that the goal is to create a range of skincare products that not only sell, but customers love and would recommend to their friends and family.

What OKRs have that the other frameworks do not explicitly have is both ambition and button-up alignment. What is not obvious is that those targets are deliberately hard to achieve and if the company achieves anywhere between near 70% of the goals that would be seen as a win. 

Why are OKRs normally hard? Hard goals have been proven to prolong effort and focus whilst at the same time stimulating innovation and collaboration. There’s a gotcha here though. Stretch goals only work in teams where not achieving 100% is not a cause for alarm and blame. Missing a goal in high performing teams is more of a catalyst for reflection, discussion, and learning.

When you have a goal like the one above, it’s also an invitation to align other goals with it as a means of supporting that achievement. For example, the sales team might look at that and create this OKR:

  • Excite retail buyers and get our products in the places our customers shop
  • Get orders from the big 5 high street retailers
  • Achieve an average first order value of £500K

OKRs work in companies that are trusted and empowered to create aligned goals and work towards achieving them in an agile way. You can read more about the differences between OKRs and KPIs here.

Potential Questions To Ask

  • Would I be involved in helping plan OKRs?
  • How often do teams check-in to discuss priorities, plans and problems?
  • Are OKRs used in appraisals?

The last is a very revealing question as it will tell you how agile the team is and how much autonomy is given to you to achieve goals. It’s typical for teams to share their priorities for the week ahead and any problems being faced in short meetings at the beginning of the week and then be left to execute and collaborate. 

The appraisal question is a minefield. OKRs are designed to be a companies and teams most important goals and commitments in a quarter. Not everyones typically owns an OKRs and you often will play a supporting role. They are very much a collaborative and team based goal setting framework where the goal is to achieve company and team success, not individual glory. As such when a company uses OKRs as a major part of their appraisal process and does not include your contributions in areas like attitudes, behaviours, KPI improvement and maintenance, learning and personal development. 

Best Of Luck

I hope that helps you a little and the best of luck at your interview.

Further Reading and Watching

Author bio:

Matt Roberts is a goal evangelist at OKR Software ZOKRI and writes useful guides and articles to help employees achieve more at work.




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