Interviews are a final part of the advanced degree application process for some programs and some degrees.
Medical and dental schools require interviews, as do Masters in Physician Assistant programs. You may also be asked to do an interview if you are applying to an MBA program or a teacher credential program. In addition, some PhD programs also conduct interviews prior to your acceptance. Receiving an email or call to come for an interview is exciting because it means you are a top choice for that program. And similar to the application itself, you should make sure to take some time to fully prepare for the interview.
The first thing to do is review common questions for any given program and write out your answers. There are many lists of questions on various websites and there are links provided below. (You may not write out an answer to EVERY question as the lists can be lengthy but you want to get a general idea about how you will answer). Once you have written out your answers so that you have a basic idea of how you would respond then practice articulating the answers out loud. Have a friend or colleague work with you until you are comfortable answering the questions in a succinct and comprehensive way. This may take a couple of practice runs so be patient with yourself. Being well-prepared is essential. During the interview you don’t want to answer in run-on sentences or go off on tangents. Instead you want to make sure you directly answer the question that is asked and make two or three excellent points.
A very valuable interview technique that you might want to practice is the STAR method. You can use this when you are asked a behavioral question such as tell me about a time your values were challenged, or tell me about a time when you took a leadership role on a project. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Results. If you think of this acronym while you construct your answer it will help you stay on track and keep you from rambling. You can give a thorough answer that provides a background scenario, a quick description of the task, what action you took and what were the final results.
The STAR method also points to a generalized way to prepare. You don’t want to memorize your answers, but instead keep in mind several points that you want to make in response to the question. You will probably answer differently every time you practice but the main points will become familiar and you will always sound fresh and not robotic. You will walk into the interview with confidence.
Many questions are generally directed to having you “talk about yourself.” But you need to remember that any interview for a professional program is similar to a job interview. You do not want to answer the questions as if you are talking to a mentor, a counselor or even a professor. You want to “sell yourself.” Through the process the interview committee is getting a good understanding of your interpersonal skills, making sure you are an attentive listener and ensuring you are a good fit for their program. Although the content of the answers is important, a lot of what they are looking for will come across in body language and attention: practicing your answers ahead of time will allow you to relax and be yourself.
Below are links to lists of common questions for various programs and if you do a quick web search you will find many more. For PhD applicants who are asked for an interview, it is best to prepare by learning more about the faculty in your potential department and their research and funding, as well as making sure that you can clearly articulate your own research goals.