Mentioning Online Courses in a Job Interview

By Denton Zhou | Published July 23, 2018

Pitched the right way, your online courses can leave a lasting impression on interviewers.

We'll look at common questions that come up about yours. We'll also look at how you can create a narrative about them that enhance your qualifications.

If you haven't already, read our article about online course certificates and resumes. It goes over pointers we won't recap here.

When the conversation turns to course certificates

Course certificates don't come up often in interviews. When they do, it's usually enough to go over the basics—how what you've learned makes you a better candidate.

There are times though when you want to put more emphasis on your courses. In those instances, you'll want to guide the conversation to your certificates yourself.

The best time to do this is to mention your courses towards the end of your interview. Here, your interviewer will give you an opportunity to ask questions. You can do two things.

The first is to surface your course achievements. "Before I get into my questions, I'd like to highlight some courses I've taken…"

The second is to ask a question about learning and development opportunities at the company. You'll not only learn about ways you'll grow at the company, but you'll also create a segue into your courses.

A word of caution: only ask this question if you're sincere in wanting to know its answer. This question is generic—something you could ask any interviewer at any company. If you've done your research about the company, you'll have better questions to ask. 

Questions for your consideration

There is no set of standard interview questions about online courses. What you can expect instead are questions on a few common themes. Here are a few we've encountered:

  • How did you decide to take this particular course?
  • What did the course do well? Where did it fall short of your expectations?
  • Have you been able to apply what you’ve learned?
  • How does your course experience compare to that of training you’ve had elsewhere?
  • Was this course as challenging / rigorous as those you’ve taken in college / school?
  • Do you think the course adequately prepared you for this role?

Questions 1-2 cover the first theme—your perceptions of the course. They reveal your thought process for deciding on and evaluating courses meant to further your development. Questions 3-6 try to establish the exact value of a course. They gauge whether your courses contributed meaningfully to your abilities. Not all courses do.

Provided you took completed your course recently, your responses to these questions should come easily. If you struggle with articulating an answer or your answer seems weak, then reconsider bringing them up in your interviews. They may not be as positive of an indicator for your qualifications.

Finally, expect your interviewer to quiz you on what you know based on your course. Like questions 3-6, it’s another way to gauge how well you know what your course certificate claims you know.

Create a short pitch

Interviews are brief. In the short time it takes to complete one, you and your prospective employer can learn a lot about each other. Each minute is valuable. Any discussion you have about your courses should be short and sweet.

Ideally, you'll already have a pitch prepared when you walk into the room. This pitch should be short—30 seconds at most—delivered in a way that:

  • Reiterates your ability to get the job done
  • Highlights productive traits you have

The first point is straightforward. "I learned how to do a, b, and c , which makes me qualified to do x, y, and z."

The second point relates to traits associated with completing online courses. Your interviewer can infer them, but you can take the guesswork out by creating a narrative like this:

  1. You noticed gaps in your skills and knowledge
  2. You took the initiative to close those gaps
  3. Self-motivated and driven, you pushed yourself to earn a course certificate
  4. Because of good time management skills, you accomplished this in addition to your regular work

As you talk about your courses, be mindful of how your interviewer reacts. If they seem disinterested, then move on. If they're engaged, expand on the discussion, but keep an eye on the time. You'll want to allow your interviewer enough time to cover other topics needed to assess your candidacy.

Demonstrate competence

In place of the pitch above, you might focus on demonstrating your competence in the skills you've learned.

Most employers have a difficult time valuing online courses and certificates. Despite their benefits, most courses come with a host of uncertainties. It's tough to determine, for example, how rigorous a course is or what scope it entails. It's even tougher to pin down whether it makes you more qualified at a job.

You can mitigate these uncertainties by showing that you actually know your stuff. The most effective way to prove this is to cite instances when you've applied what you've learned. Specifically, you'll want to describe a time when a course taught something that either:

  • Helped you complete an independent project
  • Contributed meaningfully to projects assigned to you on the job

Articulating these experiences reassures your interviewer of your qualifications. It also shows that you're capable of taking what you've learned and finding ways to use it. That's important because learning is only one half of the story—doing is the other.

Of course, if you don’t have any tangible experiences to point to, it’s better to stick with the pitch above.

In all, a useful aside

Your certificates paint a small part of your professional portrait. Presented well, they cast you in a better light, highlighting your desirable traits and abilities.

If your courses don’t come up, don’t feel obligated to force them into a conversation. Likely, they’re not coming up because there are other topics your interviewer wants to cover.

If they do though, then great. Using what we've described in this article, you'll be prepared to discuss them in a way that makes them shine for you.

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