Be sure to dress appropriately and watch your body language.
Applying to an advanced degree program is a multi-step process: You'll need to select suitable schools, find courses of interest, file the paperwork and take a standardized exam such as the Graduate Record Examination. Once you have filed your applications, there is a chance that you will be asked to attend in-person interviews. Much like a job interview, academic interviews necessitate a high level of preparation. Academic interviews afford you a chance to shine and set yourself apart from the competition, by making your case for why you believe you deserve to be enrolled.
If you have an academic interview coming up and are fretting about how to handle it, fear not. There are a number of simple strategies that can be employed to ensure that you ace the interview and land a place at your desired school. Review the list below:
1. Understand the process
No academic interview is the same in terms of format and if you are interviewing at multiple universities you will likely find that each interview is different, USA Today explained. Indeed, the source elaborated that the interview could consist of a group of leaders from your department asking you questions, or it could simply be a one-one-one set up with the Dean or head of your program. It could even be a combination of both. Some interviews, at the PhD level in particular, can even last over several days, wherein you will meet all faculty. In any case, it is best to know what to expect before you arrive, so that you can prepare as best you can for every scenario and eventuality. Once you receive your interview invitation be sure to review any information or directions carefully to gauge a sense of what to expect. If you are not informed about the structure of the interview in your invitation notice, try reaching out to the program director by email or phone. Not only does it indicate to the director that you are interested in the course enough to take the initiative to ask, it will also be vital to helping you prepare.
2. Outline your academic interests
The primary goal of the interview may be for the institution to get an idea of why you think your research and academic interests would benefit from a place in the program in question. This is especially true if you are interviewing for a place in a PhD program, where you will likely direct much of your own research and study. As detailed by the American Psychological Association, it is important not to simply state what your research area is – rather, you should go into more detail about the nuances of the projects you have been working on and where you wish to take them in the future. Put another way, if you are too vague it could be detrimental to your success. During the preparation stage, therefore, you should review your past work and devise an outline of the crucial points you'd like to cover in the interview. If you become intimately familiar with your work before the interview, you'll have no problem outlining any complexities to your panel.
"Research questions that will likely come up."
3. Research the university and department
Ensure that you have a solid understanding of not only the department you are applying to, but also the institution of higher education in general. You may be asked about why you decided to apply to the program, and if you are able to give a clear response concerning what motivated you, you'll be more likely to impress. Investigate things such as the faculty, their research interests and the overall goals and objectives of the department, the Guardian stated. Furthermore, outline any research or books that have been produced by the department and draw connections in terms of how that research can help support your own. In essence, paint the picture that you understand the school and department and that you envision yourself as a member of their academic family.
4. Practice questions
Research questions that will likely come up and plan answers as best you can, the Guardian advised. While it's not wise to come across as robotic in the interview, if you loosely plan responses beforehand you'll come across as more confident during the interview. The source noted that practicing saying responses out loud also gives you a chance to master the material — you'll be less likely to trip over your words or get confused, two things that can make you appear unprofessional and unprepared. One effective strategy to avoid this, the source elaborated, is to record your practiced answers and listen back. You'll be able to note areas where you speak too quickly, mumble and so on and then work to fix the problem prior to the big day.
5. Watch body language
As with a job interview, it's important to watch your body language during the interview itself, USA Today detailed. That means maintaining eye contact, delivering firm handshakes and smiling often. Also be sure to ask many questions and appear eager and keen. If you are too stern or uneasy it can come across as indifferent or rude, even though you may not intend to be. Conversely, do not allow yourself to become too relaxed. While you may hit it off with a certain professor about your research during the interview, be sure not to let your guard down too much. Keep in mind that you're still in an interview and keep your language and demeanor as professional as possible – do not reveal any inappropriate personal details and do not employ any crass language.
6. Dress appropriately
Be sure to dress in the same way you would for a job interview, unless you are specifically directed otherwise. This means wearing business formal attire, such as jackets, ties, pants or skirts, and button-down shirts.
7. Send thank you notes
Again, as you would after a job interview, be sure to send thank you notes, either by hand or email, to the panel members or person who interviewed you, the Princeton Review explained. The note can be used to emphasize why you think the school would be a good fit. The source elaborated that it's also a good idea to mention anything that you may have bonded over with your panel, such as a particular area of research.