Machiavelli once suggested that the way to succeed in any endeavor is to rely only on those resources over which you have control and not to count on those over which you don't. The interview is a process in which you control your own destiny. It is your greatest opportunity to prove yourself to a graduate school admissions committee and show that you are the right person for the position.
The graduate school interview is the crucial step in the graduate school selection process with the highest return on investment. The little time spent interviewing, if successful, has a greater chance of landing you the position than any other step in the graduate selection process. It is your moment to shine, and you want to be well polished.
Some graduate school selection strategies will recommend doing exhaustive research on a school, finding the one that you think would be your dream school. After spending countless hours doing the necessary research and finally understanding more about the school than most of the faculty members, you are told to go and seek an interview. Once in the interview you would clearly be able to impress an interviewer with your knowledge of the school and would theoretically be a great student selection.
The best approach is the direct opposite. The research is critical and the interview is critical, but you should reverse the order in which you do them. You should already have the interview scheduled before you go and spend hours doing research on the school. The reason is simple. Why do research and potentially waste your time if the chance exists that you might not even be able to get the graduate school interview?
You should already know the type of position that you are interested in and the schools in certain regions that have those positions. First, try to secure the interview, and then conduct your research. The objective is not to memorize every little fact about the school, but only to have a good general understanding about the school, the graduate program as a whole, and the particular division or department to which you would be applying. The goal is to be able to ask intelligent questions that show you know something about the school and have “done your homework.” A bad question asked by someone that has done exhaustive research is much worse than a good question asked by someone that has done minimal research. You aren’t getting graded on your research. No test will be asked beyond your ability to carry on a basic conversation.
A great source of information in your research is the internet. First, go to the school website. Look for the programs to be posted and anything else you can quickly determine. Then go to a local newspaper site and read any recent news or articles on the school. Check out their recent school reports and read the message boards where students exchange information on the school. If you have any questions, it might be worthwhile to post a question on there and see if you get any responses. You will be able to find out a lot of background information on their internal culture. Finally, conduct some random searches using a search engine such as www.google.com and see if you can find anything interesting on the Internet. If you can’t find something specific about the school, then find what you can about the surrounding area.
All of these sites are great sources of information that you can use for research in the comfort of your home or school. The goal is to find out information that you can translate into questions, such as, “I noticed that your program received the Johnson Award for excellence last year. Do you think that is a result of your implementation of reduced class size?”
Asking these questions will differentiate you from any other interviewers that haven’t done any research. Also, just conducting the research isn’t enough. You have to know the proper way to use that research. You can know all the facts in the world about a school, but still leave the interview without the interviewer realizing it. But don’t use your knowledge as an opportunity to show off. This isn’t your chance to regurgitate all of the numbers from last year’s class. You want to come across as well informed, not well rehearsed.
Even if the position that you are interviewing for is a specialist position, such as a master’s in physical therapy, don’t think that knowing a basic face knowledge about the school is not important. You want to give the interviewer the impression that you care about the entire school, not just that one position. The company’s profitability doesn’t just affect the CEO. Even the lowliest employee is impacted by the overall business environment and company performance.
Often at the end of a graduate school interview, the question may be asked, “Well, is there anything else that you’d like to know about the school?” This is an excellent opportunity for you to ask a couple of your prepared questions, showing that you are knowledgeable about the school and have done your research.
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