Unless you’re applying to medical school or business school, it is fairly unlikely that a formal interview will be part of the application process. However, you should be prepared for one in the event that one does come up (as can be the case with highly competitive programs), or if the school allows you to request an interview (an opportunity you should take advantage of, if possible).
Acing an interview comes down to three things:
- Being prepared.
- Being enthusiastic.
- Being yourself.
Let’s talk about each of them in a little more detail.
Don’t go into an interview “cold” —that is, without first becoming thoroughly acquainted with the program, the school, and (if possible), your interviewer.
How can you prepare?
- Research the program. How long it is? What are the available specializations? Who are some of the notable faculty?
- Undertake self-evaluation. Why do you want to attend this program? What about the program attracts you? What will you do after you graduate? Are there any particular members of the faculty you want to work with? What are your goals within the program? How will you “fit into” what the program has to offer?
- Know your answers. Run through a mock interview in your head. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes—what would you want to know about someone seeking admission into your program? Make sure that you know how to connect the dots between your goals, aspirations, and qualifications and how you fit into the program and school. Imagine yourself as a professor at the university to which you’re seeking admission—what would you look for in a student? Make sure you convey those attributes.
Nothing will turn off an interviewer faster than someone who doesn’t seem to care. It is your job to present yourself in a pleasant, approachable, engaging manner, and to make sure you demonstrate enthusiasm for the program to which you are seeking admission.
How can you convey enthusiasm?
- Be knowledgeable about the program and its offerings. This ties right back into our first point, being prepared. Someone who is excited about a program will know the program—and know it well.
- Be friendly. Smile, shake hands, ask how the interviewer is doing.
- Be polite. Let the interviewer talk and ask questions, and make sure to respond in a thoughtful, thorough manner.
- Dress appropriately. Business casual may be fine for some interviews, but you may need formal business attires for others. Make sure you ask before packing.
- Arrive early. Nothing says “unprofessional” like arriving late.
- Have questions to ask. Don’t let the interviewer do all the talking: Make sure you have intelligent, thoughtful questions of your own—and make sure that your questions aren’t things that can easily be gleaned from the school website.
- Be nice to everyone. Administrative staff, graduate students, people you run into in the hall—you never know what kind of influence different people have. You also never know how small a department might be. News of a rude or unfriendly applicant can get around fast; don’t risk it.
At the end of the day, nothing will work as well for you as being yourself. Prepare for the interview and be ready to present your best side, but don’t let preparation get in the way of your own genuine personality. Remember, that’s what interviewers are looking for—you. They want to put a face to the application, and want to know if you’ll fit in with the rest of the students and faculty. The best way to let them gauge that is by being yourself.