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The one interview question new college graduates struggle with – and how to answer it

Graduating college is an exciting time! It’s also time to shift focus from the classroom to resumes, interview skills and careers.

I’ve had the pleasure of coaching many new graduates in all these areas, and there’s one interview question in particular that stumps almost everyone:

Where do you want to go with your career?

Huh? How many people in their early 20s know what they want to do with their lives? Even those who know what job they want now are unsure of how to answer. It can be hard to come up with a reply even when you've been working for 10 years.

Here is a technique for sounding confident and professional, even when you don’t know the answer. Tell them what you do know. Make sure you’ve given it considerable thought and consider using your fingers for emphasis, ticking off one response at a time. That’s what I do.

Say, “That’s a tough question for me to answer, so let me tell you three things I do know:

  1. I'm a business major and I want to work for a company that bases its decisions on data and has consistent growth in the market.

  2. I want to work in a role where I put to use the financial analysis skills I’ve spent the past four years learning. That’s the area I’m most passionate about.

  3. I want to grow professionally and personally while providing value to the company.”

Interviewers also ask tough questions just to see how you handle yourself. Before you answer, keep in mind the type of job for which you are interviewing. It’s probably not the right time to share your dream of opening a bar if you’re looking for a corporate position.

Here are a few tips for wrangling those tough questions:

  • Ask the interviewer to clarify or rephrase their question. More information may help you find your answer.

  • Say, “That’s a great question. Do you mind if I think about that for a minute?” Even a little time to compose your thoughts will help.

  • If you’re still not sure how to answer, say so. Being honest shows that you want to give the question your full attention and answer it thoughtfully.

Happily, you don’t have to be perfect. During one of my first interviews after college, I was asked, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” Without thinking I said, “I’ll be 32!!! I have NO idea!”

I got the job, and the 32-year-old interviewer became my manager. I later learned she was both amused and insulted.

Good luck!

Please share your answer this tough question as a new college graduate below.

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1 Comment

Dee Cee
Dee Cee
Apr 30, 2021

Always excellent tips Linda

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