GRAD SCHOOL INTERVIEWING SKILLS
|Preparing for the Interview
Who are you, what are your strengths & are you prepared?
What to bring & how to dress
|During the interview
Types of questions you
will be asked
|After the Interview
Thank you letters
Preparing for the Interview
Get to know yourself, the field, and the institution
Who am I?
Becoming aware of your strengths, weaknesses, past achievements and future goals will help you convey to the interviewer that you know who you are and what you want to accomplish in the future. Evaluate your Values, Interests, Skills, and Abilities (VISA). This will help you determine how you would like to present yourself to the interviewer. With your VISA in mind, consider your short and long-term goals and how they match up with the institution(s) to which you are applying. Take into consideration the institution’s mission statement and the aims of the specific program, making sure that they fit with your personal aspirations.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Before the interview, pick at least three examples each of your strengths and weaknesses which you feel are most representative of you and your experiences and which you can best relate to the program. It’s important to remember that interviewers realize you are not (or have not) always been perfect. If you can demonstrate how you have grown from your past experiences, you will show the interviewer your ability not only to overcome challenges but also to learn from your mistakes. Through recognizing your areas of weakness and emphasizing what you have done and are continuing to work on you can transform your weaknesses into strengths.
Recall specific situations, whether in a job, internship, volunteer position or during your schooling and how they helped you develop the skills necessary to succeed in your chosen field. Maybe it was contributing to a published paper, or perhaps you devised a new social media marketing strategy during your internship. Ask yourself, how will this program help me build on my past achievements? Formulate a list of transferable skills, qualities, and character traits that you demonstrated in these situations. Interviewers are looking for examples of instances when you set a goal and did whatever it took to achieve it.
The Benefit Statement
Though it can be difficult to sing your own praises, this is a time when you can set your modesty aside for an hour or so and really sell yourself. Think about what makes you unique and prepare yourself to answer questions such as, “Why are you the best candidate?” and “Why did you choose this profession?” Often, interviewers will ask, “Tell me about yourself?” as an icebreaker and a way to allow you to paint a personalized picture of what you can offer and how you view yourself and your experiences. To answer this question, it is helpful to prepare a benefit statement of about 45-60 seconds in length which will highlight your academic accomplishments, related experiences, and other involvements. This is an opportunity to get the interviewers hooked and wanting to know more about your background. Prepare a summary of your skills and qualifications and your interest and any relevant experience in the field. Be calm, confident, and concise in order to generate well thought responses and avoid sounding too rehearsed.
What is the field?
Interviewers will often ask specific questions relating to current issues, trends, and challenges within the field and where you stand on particular topics. Be knowledgeable not only about the “hot topics” of your area but also where the institution stands on the issues. Form your own opinions based on the information and evidence you find but be able to articulate your understanding of all sides of the argument. Make sure that your responses demonstrate that you’ve thought about these issues and know enough to have formed an opinion but also that you are open to other possibilities and further information in what may be a changing field.
Websites of professional associations are a great place to find information about current trends or issues in a given field. These are organizations comprised of professionals from and students interested in specific fields which provide opportunities for networking and exploration activities and the chance to attend conferences and events, all at a discounted student rate. To find professional associations in your interest area, search WEDDLE’s Association Directory which lists the organizations by category and links you to the individual association’s website.
How well do you know the institution?
As mentioned before, it is important to know where the institution stands on current issues. This can be done by reading local publications, such as school newspapers and articles on the institution’s website. Staying informed about what is happening on campus and in your area of interest will allow you to demonstrate to the interviewers how well you would fit in with their program and ideals. If you know that faculty will be interviewing you, try to find information about any research they have done or read publications by faculty who will be (hopefully!) teaching you in the future.
Use the Online Alumni Directory to search for Oles who were or are enrolled in the program, or ask for help from an admissions counselor at the school to get in touch with current students and speak with them about the interview process and what they think of the academic program and any aspects of student life you may be curious about (social life, student organizations, quality of the professors). Use the Piper Center ’s Informational Interviewing resources to connect with alum and/or current students and see if they would be willing to share information about their experiences with the interview process and the school itself.
Finally, do your research on the basics of each institution and take notes to bring with you about the curriculum, class size, mission or focus of the program, and what makes this institution different from others you are considering. Knowing the specifics of the institution before the interview will show the interviewer that you are invested in this process and will allow you to ask more in-depth, meaningful questions in the short amount of time that you have.
After doing your preparatory research, it would be very beneficial to schedule a practice interview with one of the Piper Center ’s professional staff members. You can do this by calling x3268 or stopping by the office (TOH 270) between 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday to schedule.
This interview will mimic the real interview, and we will use the time to discuss the interview process and your strengths and weaknesses with interviewing. During a practice interview you have the option to be recorded and then view your interview and critique it with the staff member so that you can see how you appear to the interviewer and more easily pick up on any nervous habits or distracting speech patterns.
Treat this practice interview as a real interview. This means…
- Dress appropriately
- Bring a portfolio with your resume/CV/personal statement
- Practice your answers to potential questions
- Prepare questions to ask the interviewer
What do I wear?
Though it may not be your individual style, dress conservatively! This generally means wearing a navy, black, or grey suit. Also, make sure that your hair is neat and kept out of your face (women and men) so that it won’t distract either you or the interviewer. It is a good idea to have a nice watch, set to the appropriate time zone, so that you can stick to your schedule without having to pull out your cell phone every few minutes. Finally, it doesn’t hurt to have a comb and toothbrush handy for last minute touch-ups. Find more tips on how to dress here.
During the interview
Relax! Speak slowly, clearly, and concisely. Remember that this is a conversation; you can exchange information with the interviewer as well as demonstrate your sense of humor, ability to think on your feet, and interpersonal skills. Not only is the interviewer evaluating you, but you have the chance to assess them as well and get a feel for how you would fit in at their institution.
While it’s not possible to prepare for every question or situation, the best thing that you can do is remain sincere and honest. It’s important not to get caught up in fabricating answers or making up details just to try to fit the question. If you need to, ask for a moment (and only take a moment!) to think before diving into an answer. Acknowledge that your example may not be exactly what the interviewer was expecting, but that you still understand what they are looking for and how your experiences relate.
Types of questions:
These questions are what may come to mind when you think of a typical interview. They may relate to your short- and long-term goals, experiences on your resume, strengths and weaknesses, and a multitude of other categories.
Frequently asked traditional questions:
- How would you describe yourself? How would others describe you?
- What specific goals have you established for yourself?
- Why do you want to become a _____?
- What made you apply to our school?
- In what ways do you think you can make a contribution to our institution?
- What other schools have you applied for?
- If you are accepted to more than one school, how will you decide which to attend?
- What will you do if you are not accepted?
- Why did you get a poor grade in____?
- Did you participate in any special projects in your undergraduate studies?
- What have you learned from participating in extracurricular activities?
- Why do you think you are better suited for admission than your classmates?
- What has been your most significant accomplishment to date?
- What are your weaknesses?
- How do you rank among other students in your major at your school?
- What were your most favorite and least favorite courses in college?
- Have you ever worked with people, and if so in what capacity?
- What message would you like me to convey to the admission committee in your behalf?
- What major problems have you encountered and how did you deal with them?
- What questions do you have for us?
When asking this type of question, the interviewer will often present you with a scenario which may occur during your studies or at a future time on your career path. These are often designed to test your problem-solving and reasoning abilities, as well as tease out your values and opinions. The interviewer wants to get to know how you think and what drives your decision-making process, and so think out loud as you answer the question. There is often no “right” answer, and so be sure to work through the reasoning behind your answer and develop a logical thought process to support your solution. Draw on past similar experiences which may inform the answer you come up with.
Sample hypothetical questions:
- What would you do if your advisor asked you to do something that you felt was unethical?
- You observe a fellow student cheating on an examination. What would you do?
When interviewers ask behavioral questions they do so with the idea that past performance is indicative of future performance. To answer, you must draw on your past experiences, whether they are from work, internships, school, or other activities, and describe the experience using the S/T.A.R. technique.
- Situation/Task: Description of a specific situation, project or task related to skill sought
- Action: Initiative shown in dealing with the situation or completing the project/task; requires description of specific steps taken
- Result: Outcome resulting from the action taken
Example: Tell me about a time when you displayed empathy?
(SITUATION/TASK) My junior year at St. Olaf, I was a Junior Counselor in a residence hall, responsible for assisting first-year students with transitioning to campus life, and providing mentorship. During a busy fall semester, I was walking through the hall and discovered a student crying in her room. I approached the student and asked her what was wrong. She told me that she was homesick and afraid of failing her classes. (ACTION) I sat down with her and asked her to tell me more about it. She explained her situation to me while I listened attentively. I had been in a similar situation my first year so I empathized with her and asked her what she wanted or needed to help make the situation more comfortable for her. We talked about some of the things that I had done during my first year, and made plans to attend a few upcoming events together so that I could introduce her to some people. We also talked about study groups and set up a time management plan so that she could be successful in her classes. (RESULT) She appeared to feel much better after having me listen to her and with some steps in place. Over the next year we met regularly just to touch base, and she became very involved on campus, made some great friends, and passed all her classes with exemplary marks.
Find more sample behavioral interview questions here.
“Off the Wall”
“Off the wall” questions are less directly connected to the institution or program than the other types of questions and are often unpredictable and dependent on the interviewer. While this makes these questions difficult to prepare for, don’t get discouraged or flustered! Often, the interviewer isn’t looking for one “right” answer, but rather for how you respond to unexpected questions and how well you think on your feet. Your answers to “off the wall” questions can reveal more about your personality and values to the interviewer through the creativity and content of your response. They may also be used to give the institution an idea of how you go about solving problems, whether they are actual challenges which you might encounter in the program or theoretical situations designed more to test your creativity and reasoning abilities. Whenever possible, draw on past experiences and existing knowledge that may inform the answer you come up with.
Sample “off the wall” questions:
- If you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
- What are five things you can do with a straw?
- How would you weigh a 747 using only a small swimming pool, a rubber band and a paper clip?
- If you were a brick in a wall which brick would you be?
- How would you move Mt. Fuji?
- If you saw someone steal a quarter, would you report it?
- What did you play with as a child?
- If I was a genie and could give your dream job, what and where would it be?
- Who are your heroes and why?
- What person, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
Questions to ask the interviewer:
An interviewer will often end the interview by asking whether you have any questions. Remember that you are interviewing them as well to determine if this particular school and program are a good fit for you. Having already done research on the institution, you should avoid asking basic questions such as, “What is the structure of the curriculum?” or, “How many students are accepted to the program each year?” Instead, ask more specific questions which will help you to decide if the school is a good fit, such as:
- What do students report is the most challenging aspect of the program?
- What is the relative importance of admissions test scores, undergraduate grades, recommendations, statements on applications, experience, and other requirements?
- Does the department prefer applicants immediately out of undergraduate programs or do they prefer applicants with work experience? If they prefer or require experience, what kind of experience are they looking for?
- Do most students publish an article or present a paper before graduation?
- What are the major strengths and/or potential weaknesses of this program?
- How would you describe the faculty? (And, if the interviewer is someone you are considering completing your thesis/dissertation with, you could ask specifically about his/her mentoring style.)
- Could you describe the academic environment at the institution? For example, is it more competitive or cooperative?
- What have graduates from this program done with their degree?
Questions to ask current students:
During an interview weekend or campus visit, you may have the opportunity to speak with current students in the graduate program. This is a great opportunity to get a student's perspective on the program and hear about his/her experience. Questions to consider asking include:
- What aspects of the program or institution led you to enroll and complete your graduate studies here?
- What do you consider the most challenging aspect of the program?
- Could you describe the academic environment at the institution? For example, is it more competitive or cooperative?
- What are the research facilities like (i.e. sufficient supplies, equipment, funding)?
- What is the area around campus like? Are there good leisure activities, housing options, and/or other amenities?
After the Interview
At the close of the interview be sure that you have an idea of the timeline of the process which will follow if it hasn’t already been discussed. When can you expect to hear from the school? Are there any other steps you need to take before being considered? Before you leave, thank the interviewer for his or her time and express your appreciation for the opportunity to meet. If possible, get a business card or contact information from each person who interviews you.
Thank you letters
After you leave, follow up with thank you letters to each person who interviewed you, ideally within 24 hours of your interview. Make your letters warm and personal. Use them as an opportunity to reemphasize your strongest qualifications and what you learned through the interview process. Draw attention to the fit between your qualifications and the program requirements. Reiterate your interest and restate your appreciation. If you have any doubt that your handwriting will be easily read it is appropriate to type your letter.
SAMPLE THANK YOU LETTER:
November 30, 2011
1234 College Street
University Town, XX 54321
Dear Professor Thera,
I would like to thank you again for taking the time to interview me yesterday for entry into the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. The information you shared about the University of North Carolina’s mission and the opportunity to learn firsthand about the unique aspects of your program affirmed my interest in pursuing a degree at UNC.
After speaking with you about your work in neurorehabilitation, I was inspired to do a bit more searching on my own and found some very intriguing articles and future directions which I am excited to pursue. My experiences working with patients suffering from mental as well as physical disabilities have strengthened my desire to increase my knowledge of the mind-body connection and apply it to a future practice. Chapel Hill would be the perfect place for me to learn from leading professionals and foster my curiosity and dedication to improving patients’ quality of life.
I would like to reiterate my continued interest in earning North Carolina's eDPT degree. The values and mission of your program align with my own and I would love the opportunity to contribute to and be a part of the leading UNC team! Please feel free to contact me by email or phone if you have any additional questions I can answer. Again, thank you for your time and consideration of my application and I will look forward to hearing from you and the selection committee.
Evaluate the opportunity
Finally, evaluate the program based on your on-campus and interview experience. Do you think that it will fit your needs and help you to attain your goals? It may be helpful to keep a running collection of notes and reactions to each school so that you can refer to and compare specifics about each institution.