In many cases, the graduate school interview has been replaced by your graduate school essay and the application information you provide to your prospective school. Many of you will not need to complete an interview. However, if you are applying to an MBA program or to medical school, an interview could be part of the application process. This article is mainly for those students, the ones who are applying for business school or medical school that find themselves facing a personal interview. Interviews are a great way to show your prospective school the face behind the test scores; the personality behind the transcripts. It’s also great practice for after grad school, when you’ll start your career and interview for positions. Here are some things to consider.
Dress the part
The graduate school interview is a formal event. Dress your best. Dressing in a formal manner communicates to those who will be interviewing you that you are taking the interview seriously.
You may get some information ahead of time from your interviewer that may give you an idea of the types of questions you’ll be asked. If you did, spend some time thinking about how you might answer those questions. If you did not get any information ahead of time, then think about what you’d ask if you were an interviewer for the school. Be ready to explain any bruises to your academic record. Plan to discuss your extracurricular activities and clubs. Think about how you plan to use your graduate degree, what your future goals are, and the steps you plan to take to accomplish your goals. Finally, give some good thought to the question they are really asking with all of the other questions they may ask: Why should they choose you for their graduate program over other qualified applicants? That is the question that you should strive to answer while you are answering all of the others.
Come to the interview armed with personal stories and examples
The best interviews aren’t philosophical debates about what you might do in certain situations. Instead they are an opportunity to apply your past behavior and experiences to your future time as a graduate student. Think of times where you were under pressure to perform, had to really work to get the grade, or were faced with an ethical dilemma. When asked a question like: “Graduate school is very demanding and stressful, what actions will you take to ensure your success?” you can answer the question with an example of a stressful time in the past and the coping mechanisms you used then. Giving a specific example is better than a philosophical “what if” answer because it shows that you were actually able to implement the solution or idea you are proposing.
Eye contact and body language
When we are participating in an in-person interview, we are communicating in many other ways than verbally. Eye contact and body language can often tell the interviewer more than our actual answers. Body language can often communicate on a subconscious level that can affect the attitude and perception one person has for another. Here are some tips:
- Make eye contact repeatedly with each of your interviewers as you speak.
- Keep an open posture towards your interviewers, don’t cross your arms or slouch.
- Lean forward when listening, nod and smile at appropriate times to show that you are listening and engaged in the conversation.
- Shake hands with a firm handshake.
- Take note of each interviewer’s name and ask for their card if they have them.
Send a thank you
The interview doesn’t have to be over when it’s over. If you have their names or asked for their cards, then you can send a thank you card or thank you email to each of them. In your message, thank them for taking the time to interview with you and relate some specific thing from the interview that you found interesting or took special note of. This is one last way to leave an impression, and it demonstrates that you are truly interested in attending their institution.