It's important to be prepared to discuss your education with hiring managers during job interviews. A certain level of education may be a job requirement for the position, so the interview will validate whether you have the credentials listed in your resume or application.
For some jobs, education will relate specifically to the qualifications required for the job for which you're applying. For others, especially entry-level positions, it will be an indication of your ability to handle the role.
What Employers Want to Know
During a job interview, you will likely get one or two questions about your educational background. You might get a general question such as, "Tell me about your educational background," or a more specific question like, "What coursework have you taken that relates to your career?"
The hiring manager will ask questions about your education to learn how it has prepared you for the job. If you are a recent graduate, you can highlight how your education has prepared you for a career.
If your academic background is not very extensive or does not meet the requirements of the position, you can use your answer to explain how the education you do have connects to the job.
Types of Interview Questions About Education
There are a number of types of interview questions an employer might ask about your education. First, he or she might ask a question about how your major or minor, or your coursework, relates to the job you are applying for.
You also might get questions about why you selected particular courses or majors, or even why you chose the college you went to.
Some employers might ask you to describe a particular class project or assignment that relates to the job.
These kinds of questions are most common if you are a recent graduate, because your memory of your coursework is still fresh.
You might also be asked a question about your grades or your GPA. For example, an employer might ask whether you think that your GPA or grades could reflect your ability to do the job.
Finally, a hiring manager may ask a question about why your educational background does not fit the requirements of the job. For example, if a master's degree is recommended for the job and you do not have one, an employer might ask you to explain why you have not pursued a master's degree, or how your lack of a master's might impact your ability to do the job.
Typical Questions Asked About Education in a Job Interview
1. Tell me about your educational background.
What They Want to Know: This is a straightforward question. Interviewers want to confirm what level of education you have, and confirm it matches what you noted on your resume or application. This is also an opportunity for you to connect your education to skills that will be relevant in the job at hand.
My degree in American history helped me develop the research skills necessary for a job in library science. For example, for my senior project, I researched historical newspapers at three different libraries, and also conducted extensive online research. My ability to find and read a variety of sources will allow me to help students that approach me with similar questions.
2. How has your education prepared you for your career?
What They Want to Know: Interviewers are eager to see any connections between your academic knowledge and your career. In some cases, there may be a direct connection — for example, you may have a master's in education, and are applying for a role as a teacher. Other times, the connection may be less clear-cut, and this question can be a way to show you think on your feet and can draw connections.
I know that a bachelor's degree in English literature may feel very far afield from computer science, but one thing I've discovered while working as an engineer is the importance of communication. Those were skills that got really sharp through my undergrad experience. Then, of course, once I was in the workforce and realized programming was a passion, I attended graduate school in computer science at ABC University to strengthen my technological skills.
3. Tell me about how a particular course or course project helped you succeed in a project with an employer.
What They Want to Know: Interviewers are looking for you to connect your academic experience with work, and show that your academic skills are applicable.
In my undergrad history class, we needed to work in groups to present a paper. It involved a lot of collaboration, and our group was chosen randomly, so we didn't have a pre-existing relationship. I quickly realized we needed an organizational leader and assumed that role. I find that often happens in offices too: There are a lot of people with passion and knowledge, but someone needs to direct and organize that energy. Recently, I worked on a project to update the company style guide, and found myself developing the framework for how we would organize the work, solicit feedback, and incorporate ideas.
4. Do your grades reflect your potential?
What They Want to Know: You may get this question if your grades are not high. It's an opportunity for you to explain why they are not higher. If you have a strong GPA, of course, you can answer "yes" and elaborate a bit.
At my college, it was always very clear which classes to take if your goal was a high GPA. Not only did I opt to take the more challenging classes—which meant sometimes getting lower grades than my peers—but I also participated in the track team, which required devoting many hours to practice, and held a part-time job. I'm proud of my experience in college, but as you can see, the grades are just one portion of what I did.
5. Why have you not opted to pursue a master's degree?
What They Want to Know: In some industries, a master's degree can be an indicator of ambition. Or, the interviewer may simply be curious if you plan to return to school. This is also an opportunity to show how you continue to learn and expand your skills, even if you are not getting a graduate degree.
I did not pursue a master's degree because I had developed extensive programming skills while pursuing my undergraduate degree, and for this reason I was ready to begin my career in coding as soon as I graduated. For example, by my senior year, I had become fluent in Java, Python, C#, and PHP. Because of my coding knowledge and professionalism, I successfully moved up in the ranks at the first company I worked for after college. However, I continue to seek educational opportunities; for example, I am currently learning Ruby and Objective-C through an online program.
6. Do you have any regrets about the way you spent your time during college?
What They Want to Know: This question asks you to do some self-reflection, and can show interviewers a lot about your character. While it's likely best to avoid an answer that says flatly, "I don't have any regrets," you'll also want to avoid any response that is too negative or is self-sabotaging.
I had a truly wonderful college experience. In general, I just wish I could have done more: taken more classes, participated in more extracurriculars, and attended even more guest speaker events. I got so much out of the experience, and did my best to balance academics with building relationships.
7. Why did you not complete your college degree?
What They Want to Know: This is an opportunity for you to explain why you haven't completed your degree. Since this can look like you don't have follow-through or commitment, try to point to an explanation for why you didn't finish the degree (a family situation, a better opportunity) that shows you are responsible.
Midway through college, I had a summer internship with a start-up company. During that summer, I got very immersed in the creation of a product that became the focal point for the company's marketing strategy. I was asked to stay on, so deferred going back. I'd imagined it would just be a year, but it wound up turning into a big opportunity, and so I suck with that company, working there for 5 years. It's always on my list to complete the degree, but I've found, so far, that the degree isn't necessary for me to perform in the workplace.
Some other questions you may get about your education include:
- What extracurricular activities did you participate in?
- What influenced your choice of college?
- What other schools did you consider attending?
- Why did you choose your major?
- Who helped you decide which college to attend?
- Do you have any long-term education goals?
- What skills have you learned in college that apply to your career?
- Your major doesn't relate at all to this job. Do you still think your coursework has helped prepare you for this job?
Tips for Answering Questions About Your Education
Connect your education to the job. Whatever the specific question, be sure to connect your educational background and other job qualifications to the position. Before your interview, make a list of the skills and experiences required for the position, and then think about courses you took and projects you completed that helped you develop those skills.
Consider extracurricular activities. You don't only have to include examples from coursework. Think about extracurricular activities at school that helped you develop specific skills or abilities necessary for the job.
Consider transferable skills. If you majored in a topic that is unrelated to the job, try to think of transferable skills you developed in your courses that apply to the job. For example, perhaps you majored in English but are applying for a job in consulting. Talk about how all of your essay assignments helped you develop communication skills, which are required for working with clients.
Go beyond the resume. The hiring manager likely knows what school you went to and what degree you received, since this information will be in the education section of your resume. When answering questions about your education, don't just repeat what is stated on your resume. Mention a unique course or experience that shows how your educational background has prepared you for the job.
Don't be modest. Now is not the time to downplay your academic achievements. Don't be afraid to mention an award you won, or an "A" you received for a project.
Don't lie. If your grades were not good, or you did not complete your degree, don't lie to the employer. He or she will easily be able to find out whether you are lying. However, you can answer a question about your education honestly while still demonstrating why you are a good fit for the job. For example, if you did not complete your degree, you might emphasize the skills you developed through your coursework, and then highlight the work experience you gained when you left school.
How to Make the Best Impression
Be prepared to discuss your education, and draw connections between the skills you gained there and the role at hand.
If you did not complete a program or degree, or did not perform well, this is also an opportunity to explain that. And, if you did perform well, this is your opportunity to mention any acknowledgements or achievements.
Finally, think of questions about your education as being a bit of a conversation-starter.
This is an opportunity for you to share a bit about yourself—your interests, why you chose your major, and so on.
You might find that this question turns the interview from a back-and-forth question-and-answer session into more of a conversation, which is typically a good sign during an interview.