Job Interview Question: Why Did You Go Back to School?

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Did you leave the workforce to continue your education? Recruiters will be interested in any apparent changes in direction that candidates have made in their work and education history. If you have gone back to school after a period of time in the work force, employers may ask about the reasoning behind your decision.

How you respond to this question will depend on whether continuing your education has a clear relationship to your target job.

This can give you an excellent opportunity to elaborate on how your new knowledge makes you an ideal candidate, regardless of what field of study you have chosen to pursue.

How to Respond When School is Related to the Job

If you went back to school to study marketing and you are applying for a job in marketing, you will simply need to describe how your interest in marketing emerged. This gives you the opportunity to explain how your coursework and/or research has prepared you specifically for the job for which you are applying.

For example, if the job requires a lot of data analysis and you took courses in marketing analytics, you can highlight this. You can mention how your previous position prepared you to pursue marketing, and what other transferable skills you have.

How to Respond When School is Not Related to the Job

It may require more creativity to explain why you went back to school to study something unrelated (or indirectly related) to the job for which you are applying.

If you went back to school a few years ago for something unrelated to the job you’re now applying for, you will need to share briefly the reasoning behind your prior field of study and your change in interest. Follow up this explanation with a description of the skills you developed in school which are relevant to the job for which you are currently applying.

For example, if you were in school for education and are now applying for a marketing job, you can discuss how your studies helped you develop problem-solving skills, knowledge of the latest technologies, etc. Conclude your answer with an emphasis on how your current skills and interests fit well with the job for which you are applying.

The most challenging scenario will be explaining a current educational engagement that seems unrelated to your target job. You should emphasize how the unrelated studies have helped you to develop relevant skills. There also may be personal reasons, which you can share, to explain why you are pursuing an unrelated degree.

For example, as a candidate, you might state that you chose to study anthropology for intellectual stimulation because you are intrigued by different cultures. This interest could be applicable in a variety of ways for many positions, and you should try to highlight these when possible.

In addition, any course of study is going to enhance certain skills that are applicable in most positions. You can discuss how your research and communications skills have developed while taking courses, and how they will enhance your ability to do the job.