You're interviewing for your dream job, and everything is going smoothly.
Then the interviewer says, "Tell me about your educational background."
And your mind goes blank.
If interview questions about education have tripped you up, you're not alone. Plenty of job seekers struggle to know how to answer these questions. Maybe you're worried that you don't have enough education. Maybe your education was decades ago or in a subject with nothing to do with your current career.
Or maybe you don't know what the hiring manager wants to hear.
This article will help you impress recruiters when they ask questions about education — regardless of what educational background you have.
The employer doesn’t just want to hear about where you went to school or whether you have any degrees — they already know that from your resume.
They’re trying to find out how your educational background has prepared you for this particular job.
If you’re a recent graduate without much work experience, talking about your education can convince the hiring manager that you’re prepared to enter the workforce.
But, no matter where you are in your career, questions about your educational background are a chance to highlight skills and training that might not come up elsewhere in the interview.
If you’re feeling nervous about tackling tough interview questions, you’re not alone.
93% of Americans have experienced feeling nervous for a job interview. For 41%, the thing that makes them most nervous is not being able to answer a difficult question.
Here’s how to answer interview questions about education.
Interviewers don’t need to know about every class you took in high school or high school equivalent course. They just want to hear about the parts of your education that relate to the job.
At the same time, don’t assume that the hiring manager will look at your resume and understand how your education connects to the position. It’s up to you to tell them how your coursework, degree, and past experiences will make you a great employee.
You don’t have to limit your answers to traditional education. Talk about any type of education or training that’s helped you gain skills relevant to the job, like certificate programs or online courses.
The secret to answering questions about education is making the connection between your educational experience and what the employer wants.
To do that, you need to know what skills and traits the employer is looking for.
The best place to start is with the job description. You’ve looked at it before, but now it’s time to reread it and think about how it relates to your education.
Look for keywords in the job ad that describe the ideal employee.
If you studied any of those skills or developed the listed traits in school (for example, if doing group projects taught you to be a team player), bring it up in the interview.
You can also learn more about what a company wants by researching it on its website and social media.
Transferable skills are skills that are useful in any career. They’re usually soft skills, like problem-solving, teamwork, or communication skills.
These skills are also used in educational programs, so they’re great to bring up when you answer interview questions about education.
You should never memorize your answers to interview questions — it can end up sounding unnatural and cause you to stumble over your responses. But you can think of a few main points you want to mention and practice talking about them out loud.
If possible, get a friend or family member to pretend to be the interviewer and conduct a practice interview. You can look up example interview questions online and go through some of the most popular ones.
Let’s walk through seven common interview questions you may hear about education and look at some examples of how you can answer them.
This is an open-ended question that’s asked in many interviews.
Don’t just list your schools or degrees — talk about how your educational background has prepared you for the job.
You can mention specific courses that taught you relevant skills or focus on how your school experience prepared you to work hard.
“I've always been interested in understanding people. That's why I got a degree in psychology. The things I learned about human thought and behavior in that program helped me understand how to sell to customers as a retail associate and manage my team once I became a store manager. For professional development, I also took an online retail management course that taught me about merchandise planning, which will make me more effective in this position.”
Why it works:
While this candidate didn’t study a subject required for their current career, they do a good job of drawing a connection between what they learned in school and traits that apply to the position.
They also mentioned an online course they took.
Again, the interviewer is looking for a connection between your studies and the job you’re applying for.
You don’t need to touch on every detail of your education — pick out a few important things that you learned.
“My associate degree in medical coding taught me about the major coding systems and important medical terminology in several specialties. One of the most useful parts of the program was the online simulations, which allowed me to prepare for the actual day-to-day challenges of the job.”
Why it works:
This person completed a program that directly relates to the job they want, but they don’t just list the school and degree — they mention part of the program that was especially helpful in building professional skills.
This question helps the interviewer learn about your decision-making process. You don’t want to say that you chose your school because your friend was going there or that it was the only program you knew about.
“I chose the Welding Technology certificate program at City College because it’s one of the best-rated in the state. I visited the school and liked their hands-on approach to training and the fact that they would set me up with an apprenticeship after I finished classes.”
Why it works:
This answer shows that the job applicant was interested in getting quality training in their career and that they took the time to visit and evaluate the program.
This is another chance to relate your background to the required job skills.
Check the job description, make a list of the skills needed, and then think of classes you’ve taken that relate to each one.
“You mentioned that the HR assistant position requires computer literacy and strong writing skills. As part of the general requirements for my degree, I took online courses that improved my abilities in those areas. In English Composition, I learned to communicate clearly in writing. I also took Introduction to Computer Science. I earned As in both classes.“
Why it works:
The interviewee chose two skills that the interviewer had previously mentioned and talked about classes related to those skills.
Needless to say, if you've taken classes that directly relate to the job, you can mention that. For example, if you studied computer science and now you’re a programmer, you can talk about hard skills you learned in your classes that you now use in your career.
But you can also discuss how a class taught you soft skills, like analytical skills or teamwork.
“In a science class I took in high school, we had to do several group projects. My team was disorganized and didn't know who was doing what. I stepped up as the team leader. I delegated tasks and made a written plan for what we would work on each day. In the end, our grades improved. That was one of my first leadership experiences, and it helped me build the skills I now use as a team leader."
Why it works:
This is a good answer to the question because it talks about how the candidate learned specific soft skills in their class.
It also uses the STAR technique, which can be valuable for many interview questions. The STAR technique stands for:
Situation: Explain the details of the situation
Task: Describe how you approached and handled the situation
Action: Be specific about the action you took to solve the problem
Results: Share the positive outcome that you achieved
Many job seekers don’t think to mention extracurriculars, but they can be good preparation for the workforce. If you’re a recent graduate, talking about school clubs and activities can help make your case to an employer.
“When I was in school, I joined the poetry club. I already had strong writing skills, but the biggest challenge was that everyone had to read their poetry aloud. At first, I felt really nervous about speaking in front of the group, but over time I gained confidence and became less shy, which has really helped me in my customer support job. I’m never nervous about speaking in front of strangers anymore.”
Why it works:
This job candidate identified a skill they learned in a school club and related it to their career. The extracurricular activity doesn’t have to be in the same field as the job.
Sometimes we have something in our educational history we’d rather not talk about. It could be the lack of a degree or (if an employer asks for GPA) low grades.
Even though most people want to avoid the subject, it’s best to be prepared with an answer. The good news is that the employer probably doesn’t care about the degree or the grades — if they did, you wouldn’t have gotten the interview.
They just want to know that your previous situation in school doesn’t indicate a problem that will affect you in the workplace.
“After my first year of college, I realized it wasn’t for me. I left and started working as an administrative assistant at a small company. I loved the job and wanted to keep doing it. I’ve been in this position for five years, and a degree hasn’t seemed necessary. But I would be interested in any courses that could improve my skills in my current career.”
Why it works:
If you had to leave school for reasons an interviewer might understand, like financial hardship or family reasons, feel free to briefly explain that. But if you just weren’t into school, that’s okay too.
Just emphasize the ways you’ve demonstrated your skills and work ethic since then.
No matter what kind of educational background you have, the key to answering interview questions about it is the same — connect your education and training to skills that will make you the perfect employee.
Read the sample answers for inspiration and practice your own, and you’re sure to impress your future employer.
For more job search advice, visit the Jobcase Getting Hired Resource Center.