Graduate School Interview Tips
With careful preparation, you can make the graduate school interview a significant asset to your application. Graduate school interviews can take various forms: one-on-one meeting, group interview, campus/faculty visits, panel interviews, or, recently the most common, on-the-spot phone interviews.
No matter the format, though, there are some general guidelines that can help you prepare:
Before the Interview
- Do your homework: Know the school, the program, and the faculty, especially those with whom you want to work (use the web and your networking skills). Contact graduate students to get the real scoop on the department and faculty. There was a reason you applied to this school and chose this field—recall why and convey that during the interview.
- Know your goals: Consider whether your goal is to teach, to do research, to go into industry, etc. Give thought to what area you’d like to specialize in and on what topic you might pursue for your dissertation/thesis.
- Review your transcript: Be aware of “glitches” in your transcripts and be prepared to explain them (just as you may have done in your statement of purpose). In addition, remind yourself of commitments outside of academia that may have contributed to making you a strong candidate to succeed in graduate school.
- Practice: Do a mock interview, preferably more than one. Use resources such Advising Services, a faculty mentor, or an undergraduate research program. Ask to schedule a mock interview, or at least to discuss interview strategies so you are more prepared when you arrive.
During the Interview
- Dress to impress if in person. First impressions are meaningful; make sure you look neat and professional. In addition, you need to convey your sense of composure and self-confidence.
- Be on time (if not early).
- Bring a copy of your CV, abstract, and a mini-version of your most recent presentation.
- Know your audience. Address them with respect and use their title; don’t talk to them like a friend.
- Follow the cues from the interviewer—follow suit in both your tone and in the timing of introductions and conclusions. Never try to cut off or extend the interview.
- Anticipate questions related to your research and your field.
- Anticipate questions related to facing challenges and persevering in graduate school.
- Convey your passion for your research. That’s why you’re pursuing graduate school, and this is your opportunity to relate that to the committee.
- Ask for a clarification or a repeat of the question if you’re unsure of what’s being asked or if you need some extra time to process and respond. Never interrupt or cut short the question.
- Have questions prepared for the end of the interview. Most likely you will be given a chance to ask your own questions. Ask meaningful questions that demonstrate you have checked out the department and field carefully, as well as ones that show you’ve been listening to the interviewer. It’s also appropriate to ask when you can expect to hear from the admissions committee.
- Be yourself! Act naturally, but also be professional and courteous.
After the Interview
If you do not receive an offer at the end of your interview or visit, follow-up. Thank any networking contacts who may have helped you set up the interview. If you received contact information from the interviewer(s), send a letter or e-mail thanking him/her for the visit and interview. Call the admissions office if you do not hear by the date originally given to you.
Phone interviews have become a new way of weeding out and/or confirming graduate applicants in the last few years. They are very common, almost expected, in the humanities and social sciences (science-based disciplines tend to have more outside funding and enjoy meeting candidates in person). However, this can vary from school to school and from department to department. Phone interviews are almost always on the spot; if you missed the original call, you may receive a message giving you the next time the interviewer will call.
Some advice on how to prepare yourself for phone interviews:
- Have your graduate application files near a phone so you can quickly bring yourself up to speed on the school that is calling.
- Let your roommates know how to respond.
- Make sure you have a neutral message on your answering machine or voice mail, and if you are not prepared, make a tactful excuse (such as being on your way to class) and suggest an alternate time to call.
All other advice from the “during the interview” section above applies to phone interviews; however, be prepared for the interviewer to be a little more blunt or perhaps seem less friendly (remember, phone conversations can sometimes feel impersonal).
Keep in mind that the goal in any interview is to communicate to the interviewer that you are ready for and excited about their graduate program. The interview component is one that you have control over.
McNair Scholars Program
Published by Advising Services, 111 South Hall, University of California, Davis