Graduate school interviews are a crucial part of the application process. They are the last hurdle determining whether you enter graduate training. By the time you are invited for an interview, programs have already decided that you have excellent credentials and are a qualified candidate. However, schools want to interview you to see if you are a good fit for the program. This is a daunting and potentially stressful process. The following is a guide to interviewing, with tips for making a great impression.
After You Submit Applications
Plan for the costs. Interviewing at schools around the country is expensive. Nevertheless, interviewing in person may help your chances of being offered admission; interviews are an opportunity for you to show the school why you are a great fit for the program. If it is not possible for you to interview in person, ask if the school offers scholarships or if they will consider a phone interview.
Check your voicemail. Many professors will call or e-mail you to invite you for an interview. Check your greeting voicemail. Does it sound professional? If not, change it immediately. Also, some professors "screen” applicants by asking them questions on the phone before offering interviews. Start to practice your answers to potential interview questions now.
Think about scheduling. Plan well before schools start to contact you on how you will schedule interviews. Look for interview dates on school websites, and mark these dates on a calendar. If dates for interviews overlap, "star” the school you favor. This will help ensure that you are aware of potential scheduling conflicts when schools call you. When you schedule an interview, do not cancel your interview with less than a week’s notice. This does not provide the school with enough time to find another candidate. This leaves a bad impression on schools that may harm your ability to collaborate with professors in the future.
After You Accept an Interview
Celebrate! Then book your flights. If students are picking you up from the airport, book flights that are convenient (i.e., flights arriving at a reasonable time, at a convenient airport). Booking a 4 am flight landing 50 miles away will leave an impression, but not the type of impression you want to make.
Clothing. Buy your interview clothes in advance in case your suit needs alterations. In general, dress conservatively: a suit in black, dark blue, or grey. Although you may choose to wear one memorable piece of clothing (e.g., a shirt in the school’s colors), you want to make sure that people remember your ideas and personality, not your clothing. Also, pack clothes for other potential interview events (e.g., informal dinners or trips around the area).
Be reflective. Think about your goals for graduate school. What do you hope to accomplish? What are your interests? What are you looking for in a school? Be prepared to talk about these points in your interviews and to explain why the school’s training is a good fit for your interests.
Do your homework! Read about your potential mentor and other faculty members; be prepared to discuss how your interests might fit their current work. Also read about the people in the lab. They are often the best indicator of what life will be like as a student. Prepare a paper file with this information. Paper copies will help you keep track of schools if you go to several interviews. Also, practice potential interview questions with your friends. This will help you feel slightly more relaxed during your interviews.
During the interview
Be yourself and be enthusiastic. Even if the school is not your top choice, these are people who are potential future collaborators. Use the interview to learn more about their work. One way to show enthusiasm is to ask questions. When interviewing with professors, ask them about their work and the kinds of work that you would be doing. Oudekerk and Bottoms (2007) provide a list of potential questions to ask faculty members. Save questions about social life and funding for students.
Gather information. Interviews are a "two-way street,” a chance for both you and the school to gather information about each other (Munsey, 2010). While interviewing, ask yourself, do students seem happy? Would you like it here? Are the courses, training, and environment right for you?
Be on your best behavior at all times. Remember that graduate students often let their professors know their impressions of you. Even during "down time,” be professional. Be yourself, but do not do things or say things that you would not want professors to know about (e.g., drink a lot of alcohol or badger other applicants with competitive questions).
After the Interview
Write notes. Write down your own impressions immediately after your interviews, because it may be hard to remember these impressions after you have been to a few interviews. Within a few days of your interview, write thank you e-mails to faculty and to students. Make notes personal, but keep them relatively short.
Finally, congratulate yourself! You have completed a difficult part of the graduate school admission process. Keep in mind that you only need to have one successful interview to gain admission to graduate school!