Getting that first interview invitation is such an electrifying feeling, and I remember when I got my first grad school interview invite. I was THAT applicant that submitted all of my applications on December 1st (the very last day to submit). During the first week of January, on the way back from vacation I got my first interview invite from the program that I am in now. It was such an exciting feeling that I will probably never forget. What I didn't realize at the time was getting the interview invite was just half the battle and actually getting through the interview was another thing to tackle entirely. Luckily, I was able to have extremely supportive mentors and received alot of guidance on how to tackle grad school interviews.
In this post I will be sharing all of the tips and tricks I have learned on how to prepare for graduate school interviews.
You are the prize
When applying to schools we tend to be hyper focused on the school picking us, which is completely understandable. However, when it gets to the interview phase YOU ARE THE PRIZE. This program chose to meet you out of thousands of other applicants which means that they saw something in your application that stood out to them. Now that I am on the other side of things, I know how much time and effort goes into setting up interviews with each applicant and I can tell you from firsthand experience the program would not invite you for an interview if they didn't think you were spectacular. Remember, they want to meet you with YOU and you should be confident in knowing that you are that extraordinary and YOU BELONG AT THE INTERVIEW.
2. Show how passionate you are about the program
When talking to your interviewers you always want to convey how passionate you are about the opportunity to join the program. It can be pretty obvious when someone is just saying things that they rehearsed or because it is the “right” answer. Interviewers will be able to tell who is genuinely excited about the program and who is not.
3. Do your research
I cannot stress how important it is to do your research on the school, program, faculty and especially your interviewers. A common question that is asked during interviews is why are you interested in this program in particular. The best way to answer this is by having information about what the school has to offer or any unique features of the program. You might also want to mention some faculty whose work you admire. Last but certainly not least you want to do your research on your interviewers. This is important because if for example your research background is in neuroscience but an interviewer’s background is in bioengineering, you want to be able to tailor your answers for an audience that may not know all of the jargon that is commonly used in your field. Additionally, it is important to look up your interviewers because you may come across information that can be a great conversation starter which can help you feel less nervous during the interview.
4. Look over your application materials
You DO NOT want to go into an interview without having looked back at the application materials that you submitted to the school. You want to go through your application, CV, personal statement, and research statement if applicable. This is extremely important because a lot of times your interviewer has notes on things to ask you from your application packet or they have your application packet sitting right in front of them. You don't want to run into a situation where you cannot answer a question that was drawn from your application packet or you are unable to talk about something on your CV.
5. Practice makes perfect
When I was getting ready for interviews, I did not realize how much I needed to practice to get comfortable answering questions that an interviewer could possibly ask. Even if you are relatively comfortable answering questions, it is helpful to get feedback on things you may not notice such as body language, clarity of your answers, enthusiasm etc. While it is helpful to practice, you also don't want to memorize your answers to particular questions.
6. Think before you speak
Interviews can be a nerve racking experience and when the nerves kick in it can be so tempting to just rush and answer a question once it is asked. It is completely acceptable if you need to take a minute to breathe and think about a question before you answer. While you don't want to take too long, it is good practice to take a pause before answering questions so that you have a chance to put together exactly what you want to say.
7. Ask questions
Make sure you ask questions during your interview, not only does it show enthusiasm, but it also helps you decide whether this program is right for you. As much as they are interviewing you, this is your chance to interview them. Although it may seem repetitive and you might have all of your questions answered already, it is still important to ask questions even if you already have the answer.