Interview Insights | Key Question: “What are you looking to do?”

Interview Question: What are you looking to do at this point in your career?

Sometimes this question comes right out of the gate during an informational interview, a screening interview, or during round one.

It’s unnerving most of the time simply because it’s the first question that you might be asked and truthfully you were hoping the conversation would start by asking you to walk them through your resume because you have a clear response for that question.

On the surface, this question seems quite obtuse. You can say almost anything.

Unfortunately, this question too often results in clunky responses.

One reason it’s used is because interviewers want you to let your guard down.

It sets the tone of the interview so that it’s more of a conversation rather than a Q&A back and forth.

However, make no mistake there is a right way and a wrong way to respond to this seemingly innocent question.

Here are some ideas of how to correctly approach this question so that you come out on top:

  • Identify the top skills that are essential for a successful tenure in your desired role and say you want to refine those skills (not learn them from scratch, refine)
  • Bring forth why you want to work for that organization at this point in your career
  • Share an executive summary of what you heard that your peers or the leaders of that firm are doing and say that you want to spearhead initiatives of that kind or take their thinking further
  • Quickly walk through your resume and articulate why that job is the next natural progression where you can add immediate impact because of X yet stand to learn from people like Y

Alternatively, here are some ways that you can really screw up answering this question:

  • Mention that you want to learn new skills that just happen to be essential for the job you desire and are required as per the job description (side note: verify synonyms of potential skills you might consider using)
  • Say that you want to work for that organization for general reasons i.e. the ones that everyone else says i.e. global nature, top brand, etc.
  • Go on and on about all your contacts within an organization and say that you know movers and shakers personally and want to join ambitious leaders like them. PS: You are selling yourself not your internal network.
  • Walking an interviewer through your resume and circumventing the question

Here is an example that illustrates the executive summary approach verses the “I know a lot of people” approach.

I’ve given that question a great amount of thought. Prior to applying, I had the opportunity of leveraging my network and speaking with Brian Halligan, Miles Young, and Gail Goodman. Out of those discussions, I concluded that we have reached a point in content marketing efforts where consumers are accustomed to having access to such high quality free content online. They’ve come to expect our greatest insights at their fingertips across media channels and it’s getting harder and harder to earn their trust must less their email addresses. I know, I spearheaded email marketing for top email marketers alongside Gail Goodman. My best idea was introducing the notion of video emails which produced an average 20% open-rate for many years until now when they are averaging 2% open-rates, on a good day.

As a result of many brainstorming conversations around making a meaningful impact in the marketing field, I now want to turn my efforts towards solving this business challenge. I now want to help you figure out how to produce content marketing that delights and ignites brand fanatics. Your firm is well-positioned to solve that challenge for these ultra specific reasons (i, ii, iii), and from what I know about your existing team these are the skills that they have (A, B, C), and here is what I bring (X, Y, Z), and this is how we can complement one another (1,2,3).

FYI, yes the above example is fictitious. However, I’ve worked with very connected professionals who have strong links within their industries so I have coached them on how to leverage those networks without name-dropping for fun.

Alternatively, here is how you can burn yourself using the “I know a lot of people” approach.

I’m looking to refine my X, Y, Z skills following ten successful years working in various brand ambassadorship roles. Throughout that tenure, I’ve worked with Gail Goodman, Miles Young, and Brian Halligan. I would be happy to connect you with them and am confident that they would have very positive things to say about the quality of my work and extent of my experiences in solving complex marketing challenges.

The latter response is based on a true instance in another industry and with a whole different set of influential key players.

The key insights are that:

  • while your relationships matter greatly when trying to secure executive-level opportunities, what matters more is how you’ve successfully leveraged those relationships in the past
  • additionally what is most impressive is not that you have friends in high places but that you’ve learned from them and you have grown as a professional because of them (and yes, that you can still reach out to them)
  • you can say almost anything in response to the original question, but the best approach is always to have a buttoned up response that takes the conversation in the right direction — because ultimately you are being judged

Are you struggling with the best response to this typical interview question? Leave a comment below and I’ll provide the guidance you need to get unstuck.

Melissa Llarena’s craft is coaching top executives on how to strategically dissect and deliver the perfect job interview. Get instant access to a 20-page interview preparation kit that will give you an edge. Join the thousands who’ve read her career insights in Forbes and The Huffington Post. Follow her at @CareerOutcomes.