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Tips for Interviews

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Interviews are going to start here in a few weeks, and I thought that I would give you some helpful tips (in a conveniently numbered format). A lot of you have the same questions year after year so I thought this would be a convenient place for you to start.

Before you get an interview:

1. Just because people are posting on GradCafe and on here that they got interview invites, doesn't mean you should freak out. As hard as this advice is to take, try to remain calm. There is plenty of time between now and April 15 (at least I really hope there is, I have a ton of crap to get done before then). Interviews come when the come, stressing out about them won't make them happen any faster.

2. If you are reading this at or around April 15th and still don't have any interviews, there is still a chance that you'll get accepted without one (I know that I received an acceptance in May without an interview). To be perfectly honest, though, it probably means you aren't going to get in this year. I know that this can be frustrating, and if you want to go outside and shout the F word as loud as possible and spend the night drowning your sorrows in booze and your favorite XBOX game, go right ahead. But soon afterwards (i.e. after you've calmed down) go over your application and figure out what went wrong. Do you need to apply wider, increase that GMAT, get more research experience. Figure out what you need to do and do it.

When that first email comes:

1. Immediately go and hug your significant other/friend/dog/closest human being who won't call the cops on you. Congratulations, that's awesome you are one step closer.

2. Don't wait too long to respond. You don't have to respond immediately, but this is not like meeting someone at a bar, there is no 3 day required waiting period. Respond as soon as you feel comfortable responding.

3. In your response don't forget to ask who will be interviewing you, you'll need this information later on.

4. That night go out and celebrate. Listen life is full of disappointment and heartbreak. If you listen to no other advice from me, listen to the advice I got a friend a long time ago: "Celebrate everything that you can, especially the little wins, you'll have far more of those than big wins." Whatever you do to celebrate, do it. If that's a drink with friends, or a night alone with a good book, it doesn't matter, make it happen, work/life will wait for a few hours.

5. Start researching the program. If you've done your homework before applying this step shouldn't be too bad. Look over the website and make sure that you know what your interviewers are studying (at a high level). See if there are any questions you want to know that aren't answered on their site. Again this should be easy if you did your work beforehand. Take some notes if you feel inclined, but remember this isn't a test.

6. Practice your responses. Know the answers to these questions (but try not to sound too practiced):

Why school X?
Why a PhD?
Why professor X?
How'd you decide to pursue a PhD?
What type of research are you interested in?
What do you want to do afterwards?
Favorite band?

7. Steam/clean/iron your favorite suit. I can't stress enough that you will be a ball of stress on interview day. If you are wearing a suit that looks good and makes you feel comfortable, it will make you feel a little less stress. If you plan it well ahead of time, it will be one less thing to think/worry about last minute. Plus you'll be sure that it doesn't still have that mustard stain from the company pic-nic (you slob). Side note: if your interview is going to be on skype you don't have to wear the bottom of your suit if you don't want to. However if you will feel more together in your full suit do it, I personally went with shorts and have a funny story about that if you're interested.

8. Think of what questions you want to ask them. Inevitably the last question they'll ask is if you have any questions for them. Try to have some prepared so you don't look like a doofus. Personally I had a notebook with me during the interviews taking notes about what they said, I had my questions written at the top of the page, so that I would be ready. Honestly, though, do what you are most comfortable with. Some questions that are good choices are (in my opinion):

What kind of culture does your program have?
Where do you see your research going in the future?
Do your professors collaborate with each other often?
How does my beard look? (this might not work for everyone)

9. Make sure that you have an active Skype account (assuming your interview is over Skype) and that you have a semi-professional photo up as your avatar. Nothing starts an interview off on a bad foot like that picture of you with your friends in Cabo and all you're wearing is your swim trunks.

On the day of the interview

1. Wake up early enough to take a nice long shower. This will do a few things for you. One: It will make you clean. Two: The steam will help to relax you and wake you up. Three: It will allow you to shave, if that is something you do.

2. Go over your CV and any notes on your interviewers you took. Be brief with this, just refresh yourself.

3. If this is a Skype interview make sure to log in early, ensure that you are active so that when they call they'll get through, and block anyone who may think about calling you in the middle of the interview. This will also ensure that your internet connection is working fine.
3b. I suggest doing this early enough so that if you internet is not working you can get yourself to a place where it will.
3c. Also make sure to turn off any notifications that may go off during the call including

4. Eat a good breakfast that won't give you gas during the interview. I know that sounds disgusting, but it happens. You know what your body can handle.

5. 15 minutes before your interview go outside. Get some fresh air in your lungs or do whatever you do to clear your mind and "center" yourself. This is the point where your mind and heart will begin to race, deep breaths will help. Remain as calm as humanly possible.

6. 5 minutes before the interview sit down at your computer. Make sure the wall behind you is to your liking. Some people like white space, others prefer a tasteful piece of art, do what you are comfortable with. Remember, though, that Korn poster from when you were 12 is not tasteful, the same goes for that skantily clad Jonathon Taylor Thomas poster. Keep it classy.


1. Stay calm. I know, I know, but at least try.

2. Answer their questions with enthusiasm. You applied to this school because you would love to go there, make sure that comes through.

3. Smile, you're not going to necessarily think about this, but you need to do it. Also while you're at it try to make eye contact. If you're on Skype this means that you should look into the camera, not off to the side of the room.

4. Remember how you said you'd stay calm in number 1, well keep on staying calm.

5. Be confident. There was obviously something about you that they want to know more about, so you must have something special.

6. Be precise. They have other things to do, don't waste 30 minutes explaining how you've been dreaming of becoming a PhD since you were born. Use examples, but be as brief as possible and as long as needed.

After the interview
1. Breath!

2. Don't think too much about the interview. Do something else for at least 30 minutes before you think about how it went (ideally try not to overanalyze it after that).

3. Celebrate again. You did an interview and that's worth being happy about.

4. Come here and tell us all about it. At minimum we'll congratulate you and tell you that it is not as bad as you thought it was.

I think this is a good place to start. If any of the rest of you have some additional steps to add please feel free. This is all I can think of, but it is by no means comprehensive. I'm sure I'm missing some stuff. Most importantly, good luck guys. You've worked hard for this. You'll do fine.
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