Graduate School Interview
After you've submitted your graduate school application materials, some programs will want to interview you, either in person during a campus visit or via video/phone (i.e., a virtual interview).
An interview is a chance for you to demonstrate your academic and professional talents and potential, particularly in the context of the Core Career Competencies that define career readiness. It’s also an opportunity for you and the school/program you’re considering to learn more about each other.
Here are some tips to help you do well in your graduate school interviews, however they may be conducted.
General Tips for Graduate School Interviews
Do Your Research
Familiarize yourself with the academic backgrounds, publications, and research interests of the professors in the program, as well as those of your potential interviewers. Also, note the aspects of the program that make it stand out from other programs. Most of this information can be found online or by talking with admissions coordinators, current students, and program alumni.
Prepare Key Talking Points
Identify two or three key talking points that you want to express during your interview when you have the opening to do so.
Also, prepare at least five questions to ask your interviewers, ones that go beyond the information you can find online. It’s also a good idea to ask about assistantships or other opportunities that would allow you to gain practical experience during your program.
Practice Responding to Questions
If you’d like, you can set up an appointment with a CLA career counselor who can take you through a practice interviewing session that has a graduate school focus. You’ll get feedback immediately afterward.
Though they are more oriented to the job search, you can also take advantage of three other CLA resources:
- InterviewStream, which allows you to do practice interviews through your own computer at your convenience. All you need is a webcam. For access to this free service, log in to Handshake, look for the “Career Center” tab, and select “Resources” from the drop-down menu. Then choose InterviewStream on the page that follows, followed by the umn.interviewstream.com link on the page after that.
- Practice Interview Days, events where professional recruiters come to campus to conduct practice interviews with CLA students. After each interview, the recruiter offers individualized feedback and interviewing tips.
- RATE™ (Reflect-Articulate-Translate-Evaluate), CLA’s innovative online tool, allows you to document your in- and out-of-class experiences—either in writing or in a short video—and pinpoint how they have helped you build your Core Career Competencies. Learn more about RATE and the Core Career Competencies.
Dress Professionally and Be on Time
Dressing professionally in a way that is congruent with your identity but also respects the culture of the program and being on time shows that you're serious about being a successful student and that you understand the demands of graduate school.
You'll work very closely with the faculty of the graduate program you ultimately pursue. Therefore, it’s important to present yourself as a confident, open, and capable student.
Note the connections between the program (including its faculty and research) and your own background and goals. Build rapport and show an interest in your interviewers.
Equally important is the respect you receive in return. Ultimately, your success and well-being in graduate school will be highly correlated with the quality of mentorship you receive from your faculty advisors. So be thoughtful in your approach, and remember to assess your connection as well.
Follow Up. Promptly send a thank-you note to the program director and any students or faculty you interact with at the interview.
Tips for In-Person Interviews
Be Positive and Genuine
From the moment you step on campus until the moment you leave, you're being interviewed: by instructors, office staff, and current students. You're also being compared to other applicants who are competing for the same spots.
So treat every interaction as an opportunity to demonstrate that you will be a quality addition to the program. Smile, be genuine, and show an interest in everyone you meet.
Bring the Essentials
Make sure to carry a notebook or writing pad, a pen, some printed copies of your résumé/CV, and a folder/padfolio where you can store the business cards you gather during your visit. It’s also a good idea to pack some snacks and water so you can stay fueled during the interview day.
Be Ready to Answer Questions About Any Weaknesses in Your Application
If, for example, you have a low GRE score or GPA, you may be asked about it. You’ll need to offer a plausible explanation.
If you have questions or concerns about how to address weaknesses, you can find some helpful tips in the CLA Career Readiness Guide and, of course, from the staff in CLA Career Services.
Prepare to Be Sociable
In some cases, you might be invited to social gatherings the night before the interview, where you’ll get the chance to meet with current students and faculty in a relaxed setting, on-campus or nearby. Think through any questions you might have for folks about their experiences in the program, as this is a chance for you to assess whether or not you will feel supported as a future student.
Also, be mindful that even casual social events are still part of your interview process. So be thoughtful about you how you present yourself. If drinks are provided, it’s always good to limit yourself to one alcoholic beverage if others are drinking. It's best not to drink at all; you’ll want to be in top form that night and the next day.
Be Ready to Participate in a Group Project
In some interview situations, you may be teamed with other applicants or current students and asked to brainstorm together or create something. The interviewers will observe you during this activity, taking note of both the results and the group dynamics.
While you're in the group, speak up and share your thoughts and opinions, but don't dominate. Teamwork, collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills are often important competencies assessed during group interview scenarios.