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

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Did you leave the workforce to continue your education? If you did, you may be asked about it during an interview. Recruiters will be interested in any apparent changes in direction that candidates have made in their work and educational history. One of the  questions you’ll be asked will be, “Why did you go back to school?”

Returning to school may be the best decision you could have made, but the reasons why you made that decision might not be obvious to others. So, if you’ve gone back to school after a period of time in the workforce, 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 now you’re applying for a job that’ in the marketing field, you’ll simply need to describe how and when your interest in marketing emerged. This gives you the opportunity to explain how your coursework and research have prepared you specifically for the job for which you are applying.

In this case, the conversation should be fairly easy because you chose to gain knowledge in the same field, and in fact, it can be a major plus for you.

For example, if the job requires a lot of data analysis and you took courses in marketing analytics, you can highlight this. Of course, you’ll still want to talk about your previous job, so you can mention how your previous position triggered your interest in pursuing marketing. You can also describe the various transferable skills you have, such as people skills, research and planning skills, and technical skills.

How to Respond When School is Not Related to the Job

If you decided to go back to school for something that’s not related to the current job opening, you may need to be more creative when the interviewer asks you why you felt the need to study something unrelated (or indirectly related) to the job for which you’re applying.

The timing for when you returned to school may make a difference in your answers. If you went back to study something else a few years ago, whether you completed a new degree or now, you’ll need to share the reasoning behind the choice of your prior field of study and state that you had a change in educational interests or goals. Follow this explanation with a description of the skills you developed in school which are relevant to the job for which you’re currently applying.

For example, if you went back to school to get a degree in education and are now applying for a marketing job, you can discuss how your studies helped you develop problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills, and 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’re being interviewed.

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 new relevant skills. There also may be personal reasons, which you can share, to explain why you’re pursuing an unrelated degree.

For example, as a candidate, you might state that you’re currently in school to study anthropology for intellectual stimulation because you’re intrigued by different cultures. This interest could be applicable in a variety of ways for many positions, and you should try to highlight these if you can.

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’ll enhance your ability to do the job.

It’s important to explain your reasons for going back to school while assuring the interviewer that you’re not going to change your mind again if you get hired for the current job. In addition, you’ll need to explain how your study schedule might affect your work schedule or how you can finish your education while working the new job.