Most people get apprehensive about interviews, whether they’re for an academic program or for a job. It is the part of the process over which you have the least amount of control — but that doesn’t mean you’re out of control. Follow these four tips to put your best foot forward in your next interview.
1. Just because your resume is awesome doesn’t mean that you can piece it together into a cohesive and intelligent response.
Resumes, by their nature, break things down into the smallest digestible parts. It can be frustrating that, now that you’ve taken the time to divide everything up into bullet points, you’ll need to piece it back together for the interview. However, that’s exactly what you’ll need to do. What was the meaning of each bullet point? What was the bigger picture for each project? How does it all fit together? The interviewer will want a three-dimensional and multifaceted view of you as a professional and as an individual.
2. Your speech is probably not as smooth as you imagine.
You know that you’re a smooth talker. You think you’ve “got it” because you’ve gone over it so many times with your friends and colleagues. However, those are situations where you have more control than you will during the interview. Do a bunch of “ums” and “ahs” find their way into your speech when you’re under pressure?
Also, there are some minor gender differences when speaking under pressure. Women have more of a tendency to use the High Rising Terminal, making their responses sound like questions. Men have more of a tendency to laugh (read: giggle) and say “I don’t know” for no reason in the middle of a sentence. Feedback can help you minimize these nervous tics during the interview.
3. You might have the basics, but do you have the follow-ups?
Books and articles can give you all of the basic questions asked in interviews, and honestly there is a lot of consistency in interview questions. Every academic program and every company will want to know about your basic background and qualifications. In that way, advance research can certainly be helpful.
But the books don’t know you as an individual. They can’t assess your specific background and then provide the inevitable follow-up questions that your interviewer will have for you. If you seem flustered or lost during the follow-up questions, this can be a real red flag for the interviewer and cause them to wonder if your original answer was a real and spontaneous response to their question.
4. Can you stay cool regardless of what your interviewer does?
Your interviewer asks you a question that you’ve practiced. In your mind, you think, “Yes! I’ve got this one.” However, two sentences into your response, the interviewer interrupts you to ask a follow-up question. Are you ready? Can you answer the question while also controlling the conversation to bring the natural flow of the interaction back to the original question? Or has the interviewer completely thrown you off? During your interview, the interviewer might take a call in the middle of one of your responses, continually ask questions and write notes while never looking you in the eye, type into a laptop, or just generally be distracted the entire time.
That’s not the typical case; the interviewer has scheduled time for you and will generally devote that time to you. Even so, you need to practice in order to be prepared for the worst-case scenario and be able to keep your focus and emotional cool regardless of the interviewer’s behavior.
Have you ever been taken off guard in an interview? Share the questions that you found most challenging in the comments.
About the Author
Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.