1. Before You Start…
Regardless of the format of the interview, there’s something important that you’ll need to know before you can adequately prepare for the interview.
If you can find this out early, do so! You might try calling or emailing whomever is scheduling the interviews. Be prepared, they might not know or be able to tell you (that’s what happened in my case). In the worst case scenario, you’ll have to find out right before the interview begins. Hopefully the interviewer will let you know, but if they don’t – be sure to ask if they’ve seen your file or not.
2. Preparing for the Interview
You wouldn’t send the first draft of your personal statement directly to the admissions committee would you? Of course not. You’ve reviewed it. Edited it. Changed it. And (hopefully) asked several others to do the same! In the same way, you should definitely practice for your interview.
Mock interviews are your best bet for practicing for the interview.
If you are still a currently enrolled student, definitely go to your university’s career center (or equivalent) and see if they offer practice interviews. My alma mater has mock interviews with your peers (who are trained in this sort of thing) and also with the Service Corps Of Retired Executives (SCORE). These kinds of preparation tools are great!
If you are not in school any where, don’t fret! Just ask a friend. Set it up and take it seriously. You should both dress up and find a professional-ish space to use (or at least some place where you’ll feel out of your comfort zone).
In either setting, I recommend using a tablet or phone to record yourself. I KNOW that it is SUPER uncomfortable to watch and listen to yourself, but it will help you become aware of any awkward stress responses (like playing with your hair or holding onto the chair with a white-knuckled-death-grip).
Practice Questions will probably be needed to practice for your mock interview. I’ve created a list that you can look at here. Also, if you think of any better questions please let me know so I can update the list!
How to Answer Interview Questions is probably keeping you up at night. The first thing you should do is practice your responses. NOTE, the point here is not to have memorized responses – these will be easily spotted and will make you look terrible. The purpose of practicing is to get comfortable talking about yourself and being mentally prepared with your strongest talking points.
It is very possible that you’ll get a “behavioral” question during your interview. These are questions that sound like “Tell us about a time…” or “Describe a situation in which…” The interviewers are looking at your past behavior as a predictor of future behavior. What you should try to do is give specific examples that illustrate the characteristics in question (If you’re not sure what they’re looking for, read this post on How SLP Schools Evaluate Applications))
- Tell us about a time you had to work with a difficult client or parent.
- Tell us about a time you had to take on a large responsibility.
- Tell me about a time you had to be very flexible to accomplish your goal.
A nifty “tool” to help you answer these types of questions is the S.T.A.R. method. I learned about it when I worked as a Peer Career Assistant and Mock Interviewer at Truman State University’s Career Center.
- S stands for “Situation” : This is where you describe the context and set the scene
- T is for “Task” and this is where you describe what you needed to get done
- A is for “Action.” You should describe what you did in order to complete the task
- R is the “Result” and is mostly forgotten by interviewees. Say what happened! The result doesn’t have to be positive (although if it isn’t, be sure to explain what you learned from the failure).
You Need to Have Questions for Them even if you don’t get a chance to ask them. This is your chance to find out specific information about the program and/or show that you’ve done your research.
- Do not ask for information that is easily available on the department’s website (which you should have read before the interview). This will make you look unprepared.
- DO ask for further information about specific programs. Maybe the department has a study abroad program. Asking about it shows that 1) you’ve done your research about the dept’s offerings and 2) sets you apart with your interest
3. What to Wear
Dressing professionally is important for a graduate school interview regardless of the format.
Being well dressed projects confidence not only to the interviewers but more importantly to yourself. It can make you look more mature and serious as well. Think about it from the perspective of the panelists. Not only are they selecting future students, they are deciding which candidates will be working in hospitals, schools, and other settings which require the highest of ethical and professional standards. Does your dress prove you can handle that?
Some suggested clothing options:
I (me the author) have had the honor of serving for several years on a selection committee for a prestigious international scholarship. As part of that responsibility, I worked with a committee of three to five people to interview hundreds of candidates. Not even once have I thought (or heard another committee member say) “That candidate is overdressed.” On the other hand, I distinctly remember a few candidates (who I did not recommend) who dressed too casually; I can assure you that I wasn’t the only committee member who noticed that they were undressed. Is it an official part of the decision making process? No. Does it affect my perception of the candidate? Yes. Does that seep into the comments I leave on the evaluation form? Yes. Does it subtly affect whether I rank the candidate as a four or five on different criteria? Yes.
One more anecdote: For that same scholarship, I interviewed a young US American who was living in Perú. The interview was via Skype and the candidate was wearing a full suit and tie. He was also visibly sweating. After the Skype interview as we were wrapping up the interview, one of the panelists made a comment – something to the effect of “Are you sweating because you’re nervous or because of the heat?” The candidate answered that it was sweltering hot but that he wanted to make a good impression by dressing in a suit. I cannot honestly say for sure if that small, offhand comment which plays no official part in the selection process made a difference in each committee member’s decision; However, I can say that the young man won the fellowship.
Are you worried about being overdressed? Don’t be. You can’t overdress for something as important as a graduate school interview (well… a tuxedo and cocktail dress might be too far!). You might find many other candidates at the interview are dressed more casually. You might think, “If I get in, I don’t want my future classmates to think of me as that person.” You should ask yourself, if you don’t get in – will you even have future classmates to worry about?
Still have doubts? Check out this Frequently Asked Questions page.
When in doubt, remember to be professional.
4. Phone & TeleConference Interviews
If your interview is schedule over the phone or via Skype (or any other teleconferencing platform), there are some special considerations to keep in mind.
- Quiet Place: For either medium, it is very important that you find a quiet place to conduct the interview. You don’t want loud noise in the background, constant interruptions, dogs barking, etc. Those things waste time and can frustrate the interviewers.
- Dress Up: If you’re being interviewed via teleconference, you’ll probably be visible over the camera. Dress just as you would for an in-person interview. Even if the interview is audio only (like over the phone) you should still dress up. Wearing professional clothing will be a subconscious reminder to you to be professional. It will affect your answers, tone of voice, rhythm, and overall quality of the interview. Definitely dress up for a phone interview.
- Avoid Verbal Fillers: If you are the type of person who uses lots of feedback cues such as “Yes,” or “Okay,” during conversation, you’ll need to cut those out. They can be very distracting over phone or Skype. The interview might think you’re interrupting.
For interviews conducted via teleconferencing platforms such as Skype or Google Hangouts, consider the following…
- Ethernet connection: You should get an ethernet cable and plug directly into the router rather than using WiFi. The connection is faster and more stable. You might think you have fast wifi, but do you want to put it to the test during an interview? Connection problems where your voice fades in and out and can easily frustrate the committee. Unfortunately, they don’t have the time to wait for you to reconnect or repeat each of your answers through fadeouts and static.
- Headphones and Mic: have a pair of headphones preferably with a microphone to use. The small earbuds that come with an iPhone or Apple computer are great and almost universally compatible. They make it easier for you and the interviewers to hear each other.
- Professional/Neutral Background: It is not only important that you’re well dressed, but that the background behind you is neutral or professional: Plain walls, no flashy colors or posters, good lighting, etc. Take the time to plan this before hand.
- I remember one candidate who sat on the edge of her unmade bed in jeans and a t-shirt. Immediately after the call, all of the committee members asked if each other if they thought she had just rolled out of bed for the interview!
- Another candidate from Mexico conducted her interview in a cybercafe. Unfortunately, there were teenage boys in the background on a big screen tv blowing up tanks in videogames. Surely she had few options for a reliable internet connection, but the distracting background noise made it impossible to hear the candidates’ responses.
5. Pro Tips
If you are already a pretty good interviewee or you’ve practiced extensively, read through these tips to help step up your interviewing game….
Connect with Interviewers: Apart from wanting to impress the interviewers with your well thought out and critical responses, you want to find a way to connect with them as people and professionals. Listen for something that you can use to link your interests and experiences with those of the interviewers. It is best not to be contrived and insincere. If you genuinely express yourself, something will most likely come up.
Skills to Mention: There are certain things that faculty look for in their students because they know they’ll be necessary for success as clinicians. ASHA put out a report about the changing needs of SLP and Audiology students in the new century. The article is worth a read – especially this section on called Nine Workplace Success Skills Graduate Students Need to Learn. I’ve copied out these nine skills for you here, but be sure to read the actual article for more info on each one.
- Planning and priority setting
- Organizing and time management
- Managing diversity
- Team building
- Interpersonal savvy and peer relationships
- Organizational agility
- Conflict Management
- Problem solving, perspective, and creativity
- Dealing with paradox and learning on the fly
Another useful document is ASHA’s 2010 report on trends in the profession. Several of the trends won’t help you out in the interview, but there are a few worth working into your responses.
- A Diverse Future: This section of the report talks about increasing diversity of all types; “cultural competence” among clinicians is increasingly important. It is important to note that “culture” can mean so many things: Socioeconomic, racial, national, sexual orientation, linguistic, regional, etc.
- Technology Marches Forward: This section discusses issues like online education, telepractice, virtual clinical experiences, and innovation.
- Clinical Population Outlook: This section basically discusses the fact that the average age of the population is rising and that they will need services.
Research the School: This should be pretty obvious, but learn everything you possible can about the department and university before the interview. Look for key objectives that appear in multiple places on the website. These are part of ongoing institutional dialog. Using certain “key words” and “buzz words” can subtly indicate you’re a part of that dialog. Note you should not memorize the departments key objectives and try to pass them off as your life goals (that would be silly), but if you use the same language that the department uses it could have a subtle influence how the interviewers perceive your responses.
Work the Waiting Room: If your interview is in-person, the interview starts the moment you step on campus! Always be extremely polite to anyone you interact with, especially departmental secretaries or other office workers. You have no idea the power they can wield over your application. If you’re in a waiting room with other candidates, be friendly and make small talk. Maybe there will be current students present to speak with. Anyone you’re speaking with could be giving feedback regarding your application!
6. Follow Up – The Thank You Note
How you handle yourself after the interview can almost be as important as how you handle yourself during the interview! In other words, you need to write a thank you note.
During your interview, be sure to get the names of all of the interviewers you interact with; this will mean you can personalize your thank you’s. Your thank you note should be something simple and professional (nothing flashy or over the top). You can use nice stationary or buy blank notes from the store.
Absolutely do not consider doing something like sending flowers, chocolates, or any other “gift” beyond a simple thank you note. Just don’t do it. Far from impressing the committee, you’ll make them think you are desperate, unable to measure professional boundaries or even trying to bribe them.
If the interview was via phone, consider emailing your thank-you’s. I suggest emailing them to the department office for distribution unless professors specifically provided you their email during the interview.
As for what to write, that’s simple: Thank you!
- Be sure to address the person by name and title for example: Dr. Blaker or Professor Hanson.
- Express your thanks for their time
- Mention a connection you might have made during the interview OR use this as a chance to get in another subtle reminder about one of your strengths.
Professor Kate Blaker,
Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me regarding my application. I appreciate that personalized element to the process. Moreover, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that you are also interested in accent modification! It would be a pleasure to learn from you on that topic and others.
Professor Jennifer Hanson,
I would like to express my sincere thanks for your taking the time to speak with me. I am impressed by the personalized and thorough approach UNM takes towards admissions. I hope to have the opportunity to learn with you, especially in the (specialized program/clinic/lab that professor runs.
I prefer to keep thank-you notes short and sweet. You don’t want to waste the person’s time or seem sly / scheming by using it as a second-chance to talk about yourself.
Also, be sure to send a thank you note to the secretary or program administrator who helped you schedule the interview! This person is often overlooked by applicants but is very close to the faculty.
Try to send thank you notes a day or two after the interview.
Don’t be a Pest
After the interview you’re going to be even more anxious to know the results of the admission process. Be patient! Do not upset whomever you might email for information by contacting them constantly.
Interviews can be a critical part of the admissions process. Be sure to set aside time to practice your interviewing skills and get feedback from peers and mentors. You wouldn’t send in an essay without reviewing it once and you shouldn’t go into an interview without preparation.
In the end, remember to be professional and sincere.