Why Did You Major in [DEGREE]?
Today's question is pretty common in both first and final round interviews. It’s a question that’s designed to probe into your interests, passion, and decision-making process. Selecting your major is one of the prime hallmarks of your college academic experience, and it’s a big milestone in your academic and professional development.
While many jobs require a specific major to complete (re: if you want to be a software engineer, you’re going to pretty much need a Computer Science degree), many others don’t require a particular academic focus.
You can be a Rhetoric major, for instance, and easily be an investment banker. You can be a Gender & Women’s Studies major, and break into consulting. Tech roles are pretty major-specific, but business roles (and non-tech roles in tech) are quite major-agnostic. While business and econ majors may be slightly favored (this is likely not because of the major, but because the people within them are more career-oriented and snakish), nothing is truly preventing you from breaking into these roles.
That’s why you should never apologize for your major, and think that your major sets you back (unless you’re applying for a specific tech/niche role, where there is a required major, but again this does NOT apply to general business roles).
On that note, here are some best practices for tackling this question:
Display a level of maturity in describing how you chose the major — did you choose this major because your parents told you to? Because you were pressured by peers/mentors/friends? Or because you truly are interested in learning about the topics/concentrations espoused in the major? The skills it teaches?
Explain how your personal and professional interests align with the major.
Explain the challenging aspects of the major that attracted you (for instance, the complexity, the topics covered, its ‘applied’ nature or conversely it’s more ‘theoretical’ nature, its ability to challenge perspectives, its analytical and critical thinking skills, maybe you love reading, maybe you love writing, ad infinitum.
Example of a Strong Response
I initially chose Biology because I was attracted to the order and logic of science. However, I’ve always been enormously interested in current events and real-world issues, which is why I ultimately decided on Economics. Economics provides the best of both worlds – a quantitative, analytical backbone along with an understanding of psychology and societal impact. While it’s not an MBA, Econ has also given me the fundamental skills and building-blocks to understand and be successful in business – both in terms of how I think, as well as a knowledge of macro and microeconomics that is central to any business education.
I have always enjoyed reading and writing, especially in an academic and critical level. There is always something to learn from others in the world of texts, and there is no better way to express oneself than through the written word. This is why I initially chose English as my major, and over the past few years I have been able to exponentially improve not only my critical reading and writing skills but also greater appreciate others’ viewpoints and ideas and communicate complex topics as effectively and persuasively as possible.
Depending on the job you’re applying to, you should then align your major with the job description itself and connect the dots. This will make you stand out compared to other candidates, who will likely be thrown off by this question (and not know the best practices you now are equipped with!).
Meanwhile, here are some things NOT to do:
Apologize for the degree you chose — don’t apologize in general during the interview. Interviews are about demonstrating your best professional self. There is a place to apologize in the workplace (like if you screw up), but not in the interview. Be proud of your major; the fact you got an interview round clearly means they are NOT holding your major against you, and will not for the entirety of the recruiting process. It’s time to impress them.
Blame your choice of major on something or someone else — blaming others just isn’t a good fit in general, and when it comes to your major choice blaming others makes you look especially bad. Every employer wants someone who’s independent. You wouldn’t want to hire someone who’s dependent on others to make a decision for them, right? Same logic here.
Give evidence that you took an ‘easy’ route — never say you picked a major because it was easiest or most ‘convenient’ major. Everything you say in an interview can be used against you. What does it say about your character if you openly admit you took the ‘easier’ path? That you’re lazy? That you’ll always take the easier road than the harder one? That you give up at the smallest obstacle?
Example of a Weak Response
It was the major with the least requirements.
I chose my major because business students always get into consulting / banking, and I knew from the start that I wanted to pursue a career in consulting / banking.
Weak responses are non-descriptive, don’t tell a story, and either employ elements of ‘things not to do’ or fail to leverage the ‘best practices’ above (or both!).
In a nutshell, be proud of your major and accomplishments, come prepared with your rationale for your academic interests and path, and equip yourself with stories worth telling and sharing! Best of luck in your interviews, and when you're asked this question:
You now know the drill.