Article contributed by chief-editor of MyGraduateSchool.com - Sarah Brown Tesolin
Unlike the graduate application package, which comes with clear instructions and is straightforward in its requirements, the pre-selection interview does not come with structured guidelines that you can follow to a T. At first glance, it may appear as though the entire purpose and course of the interview is in the hands of the interviewers, which will probably include selection committee members and grad advisors. You can, however, have some influence on how you are perceived by your readiness to answer certain questions. Although there is a certain element of spontaneity in any conversation, including an interview-style conversation, there are several common features of any grad-school selection interview, and knowing what they are will give you an advantage.
What's the purpose of a grad school selection interview?
Not all graduate programs have pre-selection interviews, so for those that do, there must be good reasons for investing the time, effort and money. There are many reasons for integrating an interview into the screening process, but essentially, this is the selection committees' first opportunity to see what you are really like as a person and to assess whether you will be a good match for their graduate program. Similarly to job interviews, your goal is to convince them that you are indeed the best candidate. The best way to do that is to take the time to prepare.
In general, there are three main objectives of any grad school interview:
1- To determine what you are like as a person, including your personality and appearance.
2- To determine whether you are the right candidate for the grad program and confirm positive impressions that have been made in other parts of the application, such as the personal statement or letters of recommendation.
3- To determine the risks involved in accepting you as a grad student.
Determining what you are like as a person - "Tell me about yourself"
How you come across as a person can be defined in many ways and will depend a lot on the interviewers own preconceptions and biases, over which you have no control.
Questions that aim to assess your personality, such as "Tell me about yourself", or "What are your strengths or weaknesses", are bound to come up. You need to have a well-thought out game plan as to how you will tackle these very general questions.
Mona Samar, an employment specialist at CDI College in British Columbia, says that questions such as "Tell me about yourself" are ones to be thankful for: "Before that point of time, you are just on paper or an electronic document to them" . She adds that "sometimes this question is asked to ‘break the ice’ or to put you at ease."
During an interview its important to convey a good impression and dressing appropriately shows that you respect the process and that you are willing to play by their rules. It is wise to also avoid standing out in unusual ways, and for some interviewees, this might require that they adopt a more conservative appearance than they would normally. It may not seem fair, but students who stand out in any way other than academically (tattoos, piercings, makeup, hair style etc.) take a risk of being overlooked and may find it harder to earn respect based on truly relevant strengths that they possess. This is especially true in the case of professional programs (law, medicine, business etc.) There are a lot of great tips on how to dress for an interview. Keep them in mind when you are getting ready the day of the interview, and dress appropriately.
Are you the right candidate for the grad school program that you applying to?
Graduate selection committees are interested in accepting only the most compatible students into their program. If you are to be one of those students, you'll need to do some research about the specific aspects of the program that you have applied to.
Dave G. Mumby, associate professor of Psychology, and author of the popular guidebook, Graduate School: Winning Strategies For Getting In, offers this advice: "The first thing to do is review everything you know about the program, the rest of the department and its faculty members, and the campus. This should involve any notes you took during your advance research about the program and its faculty, anything that you were sent, or that you have learned through correspondence with someone in the program. Do not be content with reviewing what you already know — try to find out even more."
Dr. Mumby also suggests that you review your application material. "You should review everything that the program already knows about you. Carefully review the personal statement you sent with your application. You need to make sure that you do not contradict anything you stated or implied in your statement."
Dr. Mumby also suggests writing out and rehearsing a two-minute summary of who you are, what skills you possess, and what you have done that is outstanding. He points out that "many students are too modest in an interview and although you do not want to brag or exaggerate your credentials, the interviewers do want to hear what you think are your strong points."
You should also be prepared to be asked exactly why you think you are the right candidate for the program. Mona Samar says "there are 232 other candidates outside ready to take your place, so you have to be really original and display your genuine passion for the program and what it has to offer." Take a look at this article by Ms Samar, for some examples of how to best respond to this interview question.
Assessing the risk in taking you on as a grad student
All grad students require resources in order to be successful in graduate school and afterwards. Regardless of whether you are on a scholarship or are paying your own way, all grad students will be taking valuable resources, particularly money and time, from other deserving students. It is for this reason that assessing the likelihood that you that you will be successful and make it through the program in a reasonable time period are important to the selection committee.
Grad school coach and University professor, Dr. Khia Thomas points out the risks involved in taking on any new grad student:
"It may not first occur to you to think about it like this, but in the eyes of a potential faculty mentor, taking you on as their newest protégé is risky business. Every graduate student is an investment of sorts - it takes a huge amount of time, energy, leadership, and wise advice to guide you from Day One of graduate school to Graduation Day. Imagine investing several years in someone's professional development only to have him or her fail to complete their degree, decide "eh, this isn't for me," or get stuck in the rut of unproductivity. You wouldn't want this to be you, right? Well, neither does your future faculty mentor."
Dr. Thomas points out that preselection interviews "are a keen opportunity to select from the best of the best students, and faculty members often have the upper hand in being able to choose from lots of candidates. For all of the risks involved, faculty mentors are looking for students who have great skills or aptitude, who are passionate about making a contribution to the field, and lots of unbridled energy and vigor to guide them over the next two to five (or more) years."
She also points out the importance of explaining what your long-term goals are and how doing so will signal that you are a good investment:
"Make your long-term goals clear. State that how you're in the field for the long haul. Ask about presenting at conferences or writing papers together. What do YOU want to accomplish by the end of your grad school tenure and how can we work together to get there? If all goes well, you will bet on getting admitted to your program of choice, and starting off a beautiful professional collaboration with your faculty mentor for years to come."
At first glance, it may appear that you have little or no control over the interview process. The truth however, is that you do have some say in how things transpire. If you have been invited for an interview, then you have already made a good impression on the selection committee and the interview is probably the last hurdle that stands between you and being accepted into the graduate program. If you understand what the three main objectives are for the interview, then you can certainly prepare and deliver winning responses that will help you stand out above the rest of the candidates.
Dr. Dave Mumby is an Associate Professor of Psychology and author of the 2nd edition of Graduate School: Winning Strategies For Getting In. He is a frequent contributor on the MyGraduateSchool.com web site You can also check out his MyGradSchool blog.
Dr. Khia Thomas created Your Grad School Coach to help you get clear, get into grad school, and get on with your life. She provides one-on-one coaching sessions to help students earn their own acceptance letter! Stay connected with more tips to get into grad school by visiting her website or joining the Your Grad School Coach Facebook page.
Mona Samar Mona is currently hired by the prestigious Eminata Group of Canada, a dynamic organization that specializes in providing market-driven education and training programs ranging from career diplomas and certifications to academic degrees She shares valuable career and job advice on her website Careerflux.com.
Thank you to all our contributors!
Find lots more expert advice on getting into grad school in the newly released book: Graduate School: Winning Strategies For Getting In, 2nd edition, by Dave G. Mumby, Ph.D. It is the most comprehensive advisement handbook for College and University students who are considering graduate school. Whether you are still deciding if grad school is right for you, or are looking for ways to maximize your application, this book is for you. Paperback version available at Amazon & Barnes & Noble. eBook available on Kindle and for Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps. Get Your Copy Now!