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

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

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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


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.

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