You might be an anxious ball of worries, or, hey, maybe you know you shine in person and aren't too ruffled about meeting with someone. Either way, there are still 4 key questions you can anticipate and prepare for ahead of time.
1. Tell Me About Yourself.
But it's likely to be the first part of any interview.
Sometimes my clients are confused about how to answer this frustratingly vague and open-ended question. "Are they asking about my family? If I like dogs? What's my favorite color?"
That's what it sounds like, doesn't it? Tell me about yourself.
But it what they are really asking is: Give me a 1-3 sentence summary of your professional / academic experience relevant to this position.
So if you are applying to be an on-campus daycare worker, sure, you might start off with, "Well, I'm the oldest of six kids, and I've always known I want to have a career in childcare and early childhood education."
However, if you are applying to be, say, a graduate student in University X's Anthropology department, you'd do better to keep the interview on-track by explaining why you love Anthro, what work you accomplished as an undergraduate, any awards, and what you plan to do as a graduate student.
One more note - if they ask you, "What are your strengths?" You don't need to list 15. Give one or two strengths with examples (anecdotes or past accomplishments) that back up your assertion.
And if they ask "What are your weaknesses?" skip the faux-modest "I care too much" or "I'm a perfectionist."
Nope. Be honest - say, "I have a tendency to procrastinate, however, I always get my assignments completed on time and I'm taking steps x,y, and z to improve." You never know - maybe your interviewer is also a procrastinator and will empathize.
2. Why Did You Apply To Our Program?
What they are really asking: How much have you looked into our program and how will you be a good fit for this department and this university?
A detailed answer will demonstrate to the interviewer you researched the school ahead of time and can make a case for why you are a good fit.
You do NOT have to state the program is your first choice. They should not be asking you that. However, if they are offering you admission while there (or the interview is a follow-up to the offer of admission) and you are confident you want to accept, you are welcome to share that information with the interviewer.
3. What Are Your Short And Long-Term Goals?
Short: What do you hope to accomplish in your first year of the program? For your first summer of research? For your capstone project / thesis / dissertation?
Long: What are you planning to do after the program? Become a professor? Work in a lab? Volunteer overseas?
4. Now, Do You Have Any Questions For Me?
Good questions might touch on some aspect regarding the program requirements, the department "culture," or expectations of the student not posted online.
You can even ask something like,
- “What’s your favorite part of working here?”
- "What are you currently researching?"
- “If admitted, is there anything I can do over the summer to prepare for the beginning of classes in the fall?”
People like talking about themselves. So if you end with a question that lets the interviewer talk a little bit about their work or something they love about the program, they might remember you as a fantastically interesting and agreeable person.
Wear professional clothing. You might be accepted and wear jeans and hoodies for the next two years, but until you're officially a student, treat the interview as the professional meeting it is.
Finally, be prepared for the interview by researching the program, school, or position ahead of time. If you know who is interviewing you, look them up.
Before I had my MA and PhD program interviews, I read the interviewers' books and articles. It is highly unlikely they will test you on it, but it's nice to be familiar with their work, especially if you plan on making a point of how your research dovetails with their own.
Oh - and one more thing: some interviewers are nice, normal, and friendly. You will be at ease. And others are socially awkward or come off as a bit brusque. If you experience the latter type, try not to let throw you off.
Stay focused on giving the interviewer the information they need about your skills, qualifications, and experience, as well as how you are prepared to contribute to the program, so that you can walk away knowing you did your best.