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

Woman in job interview
•••

FangXiaNuo / E+ / Getty Images 

Did you leave the workforce to continue your education? If so, you may be asked about it during an interview.

Interviewers are interested in any apparent changes in direction that you have made in your work and educational history. Expect to be asked interview questions like, “Why did you go back to school?” Prepare answers that show how your education has made you the best person to solve their company’s problems.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

Returning to school may be the best decision you could have made, but the reasons why you made that choice might not be immediately obvious to others. Recruiters and hiring managers will want to know why you chose to continue your education and how your studies makes you stand out from the competition.

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 Answer “Why Did You Go Back to School?”

When School Is Related to the Job

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

For example, if you went back to school to study marketing and now you’re applying for a job that’s 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.

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.

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.

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.

Examples of the Best Answers

I enrolled in an LPN-to-RN program last year, because I wanted the challenge and opportunity of working in a hospital environment like this one. My studies have helped me advance my nursing practice and complimented my years of experience.

Why It Works: In this case, your education is related to your professional goals. Some hospitals hire only nurses who have a four-year degree, so it makes sense that you would return to school in order to expand your professional horizons.

I think that my education has helped me connect better with clients. By returning to school, I kept a commitment with myself to finish my degree, but I also picked up skills that make me better at my job. I took several computer science classes that helped me better understand our products. Plus, I achieved fluency in Spanish, which makes it easier to communicate with customers whose first language is Spanish.

Why It Works: This answer focuses on how your seemingly unrelated degree has given you skills that make you better at your job. In addition, your response shows that you keep your commitments and finish what you start – a plus for any employee.

In my previous job, I worked in book production. Although my job was in project management, I was fascinated by the work our graphic designers performed, creating cover art and illustrations. They sparked my interest in graphic design, which inspired me to take several classes in that area. I think that my understanding of design has made me a better project manager.

Why It Works: With this response, you not only explain why you returned to school and how it relates to your job, you demonstrate passion and curiosity, as well as a desire to learn new skills.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Prepare to Show How Your Studies Relate: If you went back to school to study something related to your field, be ready to show how your new skills will make you a better candidate. Be specific: X class helped you develop Y skill, which leads to Z outcome.

Explain How Unrelated Studies Have Helped You to Develop Relevant SkillsFor 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 communication skills have developed while taking courses, and how they’ll enhance your ability to do the job.

What Not to Say

Avoid Giving the Impression That You’re Drifting: Craft your narrative with consistency in mind. You need to assure the interviewer that you’re not going to change your mind again if you get hired for the current job.

Don’t Leave the Interviewer Wondering About Your Schedule: If you’re currently enrolled in school, be ready to explain how you’ll manage your studies and your professional responsibilities. 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.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Key Takeaways

PREPARE AN ANSWER THAT SHOWS HOW YOUR EDUCATION RELATES TO THE JOB: If your education is unrelated, explain how it helped you develop skills that make you the ideal candidate.

TELL A STORY THAT SHOWS CONSISTENCY: Be ready to explain how your education is part of your career trajectory, not a detour.

ANTICIPATE THE INTERVIEWER’S CONCERNS: For example, if you’re currently in school, be prepared to tell the interviewer how you’ll balance your studies with your job responsibilities.