How Your College Experience Prepares You for a Career

job interview
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When you are applying for an entry-level position, a typical job interview question is "How has your college experience prepared you for a career?" In your response, you have an opportunity to provide a solid foundation for your candidacy.  

Read on for advice about how to form a strong response, along with sample answers. 

Tips for Answering

Interviewers are looking for the real-world applications of your college experience. There's no need to list completed classes or degrees earned. Instead, focus on how college prepared you to do the job at hand. Here's how to connect the dots between college and employment:  

Know what employers want in a candidate: As with all open-ended interview questions, start your preparation by examining the key qualifications for the job. Does the employer want a self-starter, dynamic presenter, team player, storyteller, or number cruncher? (Tip: This information is likely listed on the job description.) 

Come up with examples: Now that you've identified what the employer wants, reflect on your full college experience, including class projects, interactions with professors, challenging semesters, volunteer work, internships, campus activities, independent studies, and any other activities done in college. Look for examples of how you developed or enhanced the qualities the employer seeks. (For instance, if the job calls for a self-starter, and you organized the campus' first Gay-Straight Alliance fundraising dance, that's something to mention in your response.) 

List key strengths: Have a few strengths in mind that you developed during your college experience. Be ready to describe a role or situation where you developed the asset and the impact you made. Focus on how these strengths make you a strong candidate. 

Think comparatively: It can be helpful to think about the person you were during high school in comparison to who you are now — that will help you mention ways you developed and grew during your four years of college. 

Examples of the Best Answers

Here are sample interview answers that you can edit to fit your personal experiences and background:

Answer 1: I never thought of myself as a leader before college but during my sophomore year I really blossomed in that area. I learned about the earthquake in Guatemala and was amazed and dismayed by all the devastation. I decided to initiate a campus fund drive to raise contributions for the Red Cross. I recruited volunteers, wrote articles for the campus paper, and organized a benefit concert. We generated over $10,000 in donations. I went on to lead the other student groups you can see from my resume.

Why this answer is great: It highlights an important skill learned during school (leadership) that is also essential in most workplaces. And, the answer shows that the candidate has follow-through and can engage with a long-term project. 

Answer 2: I was somewhat shy during high school, but college really helped me to come out of my shell.  I joined the debate team my freshman year and developed confidence in presenting my views. Since then I have excelled at class projects where we have done team presentations. Now, I feel comfortable presenting and speaking in front of large groups ... and can create some mean PowerPoint slides!

Why this answer is great: This answer shows how the candidate worked to gain an important on-the-job skill. 

Answer 3: My high school didn't really emphasize writing, so I came into college without a great deal of experience. My sociology professors quickly changed that since they required so much writing in their courses. It took me two semesters to hit my stride, but I began to really excel in my papers. I did an independent study in my junior year when I wrote a 50 page paper on the financial impact of decriminalizing marijuana. I also took on a position as assistant editor of the school paper and received very positive feedback from our adviser regarding the quality of my articles.

Why this answer is great: Note the impressive examples in this answer. This would be a strong answer for any job that requires extensive writing or analytical skills. However, if the job only calls for sending emails, and the core responsibilities involve non-writing tasks, this answer might not help further the respondent's candidacy. 

Answer 4: When I first arrived at college, I was frankly overwhelmed by the amount of assignments and work, especially since I played a Division II sport as well. Over the four years, though, I learned to really manage my time. On the first day of every semester, I'd add all away games to my calendar. Then, I'd meet with professors to let them know which days I'd be away and together, come up with a plan so I wouldn't miss out on coursework or information. I'd also add blocks of study time and gym time, along with team practice, to my calendar, too.

Plus, I learned to break down overwhelming projects (like a 20-page page or a giant group presentation) into smaller, more manageable tasks. I think these lessons in time management will serve me well for a lifetime. 

Why this answer is great: Nearly any job requires some level of time management skills — this answer capably shows how the candidate came up with smart solutions to balance two equally important responsibilities.