Every interview question serves a purpose. While the difficulty level varies throughout the face-to-face meeting, this is your moment to shine from when you shake hands to when you leave the building. All the blood, sweat and tears you have put into your professional life culminates in this 15-minute discussion about your skills and qualifications.
From the list of questions that hiring managers will inevitably present to you, one of the most common enquiries is this: ‘why did you choose your major?’.
It might have been 3 or 23 years ago. Either way, it’s a relevant question for most professional positions you apply for, whether it’s an employment opportunity for software engineering or sales management. But what is behind this question? How do you answer it, anyway? Is there any way you can build on a response to showcase your broader skillset? We’ve compiled a how-to guide for preparing to reply to this interview question.
1. Understand what the hiring manager wants to know
Do you think your undergraduate degree speaks for itself? Think again.
Because your educational background is crucial for most careers, hiring managers are interested in knowing more about the applicants through their postsecondary experience. Your college or university major doesn’t necessarily equate to showing off your skillset on your CV. The reason for this question is more to understand your interests and work ethic. Indeed, you could major in architecture but become a physician if you check off the proper prerequisites.
Moreover, since university presents a diverse array of opportunities, you could expand upon how you took full advantage of everything offered by the institution, from research internships to personal side projects. Essentially, you can spotlight how you kept busy besides studying.
2. Use an anecdote or short story to kick off your answer
When you’re on the spot in any high-pressure situation, it can be challenging to be natural and confident. But is it possible to avoid being robotic? Yes. The solution: be personal.
In other words, as you explain why you chose the major that you did, you can go into a fascinating yarn about what made you interested in this major or how your time in school molded your view on an industry.
You could, for example, state how you felt listless about your future. You were confused about what you would do after college, but you understood that you needed to prepare for your working life no matter what. At this point, you could insert an amusing tale about how you overheard somebody have a conversation that encouraged you to study a particular field or how you picked up a random book on the street and the subject matter piqued your curiosity.
3. Show how you’ve already applied the skills and knowledge you learned from your major
Sure, English might have been your major, but now you’re excelling in the field of business. So, how can the two areas coalesce and allow you to survive and thrive in the corporate world? This is where the hiring manager becomes immensely interested.
Indeed, with this response, you can showcase how you applied what you learned from sitting in English-related lectures and participating in courses. For example, one of the topics you would study is public speaking, which is essential in business. Therefore, you can emphasise how you applied this aspect into your overall career, whether it’s delivering presentations or wowing clients. Or, of course, you can also be sardonic about how mastering the English language helped you craft memos and reports.
That said, if business was your major and is now your professional existence, you can certainly focus on the many courses and projects you worked on to prepare you for your chosen career.
4. Match your major to the job
How exactly does your major in art history translate well in web design? Or how do you think your major in business has supported you in your corporate endeavours?
These are important considerations to make as you try to match your major to the job you are applying for today. Ultimately, you want to home in on the skills you have gained and developed in school and at work. Whatever the case may be, you never want to provide reasons that don’t match the position you want.
5. Demonstrate your passion
Because many millennials and Generation Zers are placing salary expectations lower on their list of reasons why they chose the major and career they did, more young people are enthusiastic, excited and ebullient over the work they do. Indeed, professing your passion is something employers are looking for in applicants, including during the interview process.
But how can you do it maturely and professionally? Here are some recommendations:
- Choose a component of your job you genuinely enjoy
- Explain why this area of your career elicits so much passion
- Provide examples of successes and setbacks in this part of your job and what you did to get better
- Ensure you relate it back to the job at hand and how your passions can easily correlate with this employment opportunity
6. Use example answers for inspiration
Coming up with an answer to ‘Why did you choose your major?’ can be challenging. You want to sound authentic, be honest and impress the hiring manager. Is any of this possible without appearing to be pedantic, mendacious and obsequious? Yes. Here are three examples to help you get started to ensure you have a successful interview.
I know that in this highly advanced global economy, it’s critical to possess skills or knowledge in things like artificial intelligence, coding, machine learning, smart technology and other important elements in the future. I did perform well in my science classes in high school, so I thought I could study the hard sciences in university and find a career that suits my expectations for the future. But, lo and behold, my major in computer science has allowed me to be a part of both research projects and plenty of startups devising flying automobiles, robots and so much more.
I took a gap year because I was unsure what I wanted to do with my life. I know I didn’t want to go deep into debt for something I didn’t know I was going to continue with for years to come. But I understood that having a college degree, even if it was in something I was never going to expand upon, was critical. So, I explored what I was most interested in and what would transition well to other careers. I know I love reading, from Tolstoy to Balzac, so I studied English, which I think has helped me do well in digital marketing since I can convey brand ideas in a succinct and effective manner.
I picked finance as my major because I wanted to gain experience in the investment community before launching my own firm. I know that it’s ambitious, but I think that with the skills I have accumulated over the years, and my knack for stock-picking, I could start a successful consultancy organisation. At the same time, I understand that circumstances change, so if another opportunity comes my way, I will take it!
Passion, honesty and skills. These are the things you need to strategically insert into an answer to the common interview question ‘Why did you choose your major?’. Even if you don’t think there’s a highly relevant reason, you’ll realise that there was a purpose to studying this subject in a higher learning setting after some introspection. Whether you decided or someone in your immediate family made a choice for you, you can always turn a boring tale into something interesting and unique.
Have you ever been asked this question in an interview before? Share your thoughts, experiences and questions with us in the comments section below!
This article is an updated version of an earlier article published on 15 June 2014.