During an interview for an entry-level role, you may be asked to explain why you chose your field of study. It's easy to get flustered and trip up when formulating an answer to this question, especially if you come from an educational background where career goals aren't very obvious.
But if you do a little prep work on how to handle the question "Why did you choose your field of study?" you should experience smooth sailing in the interview.
Know this: The interviewer is asking this question to understand how much planning went into your career selection. Are you there in the interview seat completely by chance, or are you there because the job at hand is part of a well-designed plan?
There is no right or wrong way to answer this interview question. What the interviewer wants to get a handle on is how much thought and effort you've put into your career goals. You should use this opportunity to showcase your relevant natural talents, as well as skills you've learned that would be relevant to the position you're interviewing for.
If your field of study doesn't necessarily apply to the position, focus on how what you learned can transfer or apply to the job. An education is invaluable, so if you answer carefully, you will be able to convince the interviewer that your degree will help you fulfill the job responsibilities.
Continue on for more tips on how to answer the "Why did you choose your field of study" interview question, and at the close, check out some sample answers.
Tips for Answering the Question
Explain how your field of study ties to the job you're interviewing for.
You'll need to connect your field of study, and what you've gained educationally, to the job you're interviewing for. Write down the list of skills and experiences you gained through the process of getting your degree. If you're struggling with that, think of all the assignments and projects you completed in school—what skills did you develop working on those assignments and projects? How many of those skills relate to the requirements of the job? Then, focus on those skills when answering this question in an interview.
Even if your degree is not directly related to the job, you can probably find some connections between the two. Let's suppose you graduated in law, but you're applying for a job as a researcher or analyst in the financial services sector. You might emphasize how you developed critical thinking skills while in law school, and that these skills will be useful when conducting research or analysis at a financial firm.
While you should do your best to connect your field of study to the job you're interviewing for, it is also important to be honest, as an interviewer can likely easily spot if you're being insincere. So give an honest answer to the question (but try to tie it back to the job you're interviewing for).
Show you think through options before making an important decision.
The interviewer will be curious to see how effectively you've planned for your future, so show them that you've researched your options, and note the factors that influenced your decision to apply for the job. If you did advanced research and planning regarding demand in the job market, as well as salary and development opportunities, this will provide a solid foundation for your answer.
Focus on your strengths and what you can add to the company.
This is your chance to highlight your strengths, and to demonstrate how your chosen field of study has prepared you for your future. Talk about the skills you've honed, and make them relevant to the job you're going after.
Mistakes You Should Avoid
You may have picked a field of study because your scholarship only covered certain tracks, but that doesn't mean you should mention this in your interview! Do not:
Talk about a limited number of options—you never want to appear as someone who just fell into a career when discussing your field of study.
Highlight monetary compensation—of course money is important, but you never want to come across as someone who is interested in the job only because of money.
Discuss others choosing your field of study for you (like, for instance, your parents). It suggest that you're unable to make important decisions on your own, and that you don't know what you want.
Here are some examples of good answers to the question.
- I'd always wanted to be a writer, so I thought my school's professional writing program would help me figure out which writing niche would be best for me. I soon discovered that I had a passion for editing and publishing, so I worked in several related internship programs throughout my time at college. Now, I feel fully ready to take my first big step into the professional world of publishing.
- I was drawn to finance while in college. A few of my brother's friends work for Big Four consulting firms, and my brother works in banking, and the type of work they talked about really appealed to me. However, it wasn't until an internship after my second year that I began to develop a highly specific interest in becoming a consultant in the financial advisory sector. These consultants typically work on issues that address financial capabilities, as well as quite often the analytical capabilities within an organization. I was assigned a mentor at that time who helped me understand the field better, and at that point I began mapping out a career plan, which has led me here.
- One of my early mentors was my best friend's father—he was a very successful sales director in the software industry, and he was the one who encouraged me to explore opportunities in the industry. But it was the combination of my own explorations, along with the guidance my instructors provided while in school, that confirmed software sales was the right path for me.
Focus on the tips in this article and you'll easily be able to answer the "Why did you choose your field of study?" interview question. Let your past decisions and achievements regarding your field of study shine through.
If your field of study doesn't exactly tie to the job you're interviewing for, look for ways to do some tying! Focus on skills and educational gains from your unrelated field of study—universal ones that can come in handy in any employment situation—and link them to the job at hand.