Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

How to Talk About Your Career Path -- When You're Clueless About It Yourself

By Maurie Backman - Feb 9, 2018 at 6:18AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

You may not know where your career will take you. But what happens when you're supposed to address that topic during an interview?

There are certain questions all job candidates should come to expect during the interview process. Some of them might be easy to address. Others may be tougher. But if there's one question that tends to fall somewhere in the middle, it's the ever-popular "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Of course, it's a fairly simple question to answer if you actually know what you want career-wise. For example, if your goal is to be heading up a design team at that point or to be a high-level financial analyst for a major corporation, then you're likely to breeze through that inquiry without a problem.

Professional male and female shaking hands

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

But what if you're new to the workforce and therefore have no idea what you want to be doing half a decade from now? You can't exactly respond to that question with an uninspired "I don't know," because if you do, you'll come across as unmotivated and unprepared -- even if that is an honest answer. Here's a better way to address that question without seeming flaky or aloof.

1. Offer a range of possibilities

It's hard to know exactly what you're looking for early on in your career, but one thing you can do is talk about a number of paths that interest you. For example, if you're applying for a role as a marketing assistant, you might tell your interviewer that you can see yourself working toward senior copywriter status, or that you might come to enjoy project management. Both answers are valid given the job at hand, and this way, you're not locking yourself into too specific an answer.

Remember, the danger of the "Where do you see yourself" question is that if the role at hand doesn't really support your projected career path, you could end up lowering your chances of getting hired. Keeping your options open is a good way to make yourself a more desirable candidate, so in this regard, not having a specific plan might work to your advantage.

2. Admit you're unsure of a single direction, but share some options that excite you

Not everyone is a planner, and some folks -- especially those just starting out on their career -- might prefer to gain some experience and see where it takes them. If you're one of them, you can try explaining to your interviewer that you'd like to keep yourself open to various possibilities. Chances are, he or she will appreciate your honestly, especially if you're fairly new to the workforce.

At the same time, be prepared to share some directions that excite you so that your interviewer gets a sense of what makes you tick. For example, if you're looking to get hired as an office assistant at an IT company, you might admit that while you're unsure of what you want, you'd be open to the idea of managing an office and becoming a database administrator.

3. Focus on company culture

Maybe you don't know if you want to explore a career in accounting versus marketing versus HR. But one thing you can probably say with certainty is that you're looking to grow at a company that values its employees and fosters a supportive environment. And so in the absence of a detailed, concrete career path, it pays to talk about the sort of environment you're hoping to experience both now and in the future, as opposed to focusing on a particular career path you may or may not have settled on. This will help your interviewer determine whether you're a good fit without having to make up stories.

Remember, it's OK to admit in an interview that you're not 100% sure where you see yourself in five years, but make certain to emphasize where you see yourself today. If you're able to highlight your skills and bring the conversation back to the present, you'll have a real chance to sell yourself and hopefully land the job of your (temporary) dreams.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
317%
 
S&P 500 Returns
112%

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 06/30/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.