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Interview coming up - please help!!

Posted: Mon Jan 23, 2017 1:53 pm
by phyz
Just received an email from a professor who claims to be on the admissions committee of the physics dept. He says my application has been rated highly and that he'd like to talk for fifteen minutes.

Slightly nervous - does anyone have any tips for me? Should I expect a grilling in the field I'm thinking of going into or are these interviews more casual?

Re: Interview coming up - please help!!

Posted: Mon Jan 23, 2017 2:43 pm
by Kartof123
It will probably be casual. I had an impromptu phone conversation, about 15 minutes, with a PI and it was very relaxed.

Re: Interview coming up - please help!!

Posted: Mon Jan 23, 2017 2:50 pm
by TakeruK
No one can say for sure, but usually these interviews are quite casual compared to a job interview. The main goal is for them to get to know you and basically interact with you as a person instead of just a pile of papers from your application package. They will also want to tell you about their program. This is unlikely to be an "exam" type interview (but I can't say for certain of course!).

Here's what you should know / how you should prepare:

1. If it's a Skype or phone interview, ensure that you have a quiet place to conduct your interview. Your own home is best, ensure that others are not around or that they know you have an interview. If your school allows you to book rooms (some schools have rooms specifically for this), then do that. Ensure you have a good internet connection. For Skype, also make sure that whatever the camera view is, it is something appropriate for an interview (blank wall is best). Test out the connection and check the camera view if necessary.

2. For every item on your resume/CV or in your essay, be prepared to speak about them. Don't assume the interviewer has read and have remembered all the details in your application package. Practice a 30-60 second summary of everything you write about in your resume/essays so if they ask something like "Tell me more about X", you can go ahead and do that. Be knowledgeable about these topics, especially the research experience (if any), in case they ask follow up questions. Be prepared to speak about your specific contributions to each project.

3. Match your tone to the interviewers. They will likely start casual and maybe even make some small talk at the beginning. Be prepared for this. I know interviews can be stressful, and sometimes people go into them with a "battle" or "exam" mentality, while the interviewers are looking for a friendly chat. This can make it a little awkward! So, react based on their cues and remember that it's more likely than not that they are looking for a friendly interaction.

4. Be prepared to answer a question like, "Tell us a little more about yourself" and other questions about your career goals, what other programs you are applying to, and what you are looking for in a graduate program. Feel free to repeat stuff from your essays. I mention this because sometimes people only prepare for the "science" part of the interview and then struggle when switching to "personal" topics. Although I say these are "personal", also remember to keep it professional. Remember that scientists are people too, so it's okay to talk a little bit about your hobbies. That said, I would weigh most of my answer on research related goals and topics.

5. Finally, make sure you have 1 or 2 good questions to ask them about their program. You probably have some questions on things like what classes are like, what quals are like, whether you are guaranteed summer funding etc. so it's fine to ask them. It's also okay to ask questions that come up based on the conversation. If you know who the interviewer(s) are, and if they are doing work directly related to your interest, you can also ask a question about their research. However, I would say for a short 15 minute interview, you can just ask a simple logistics type question.

good luck! Don't be surprised if you actually only speak for a few minutes and they spend most of the time talking to you instead :)

Re: Interview coming up - please help!!

Posted: Mon Jan 23, 2017 3:06 pm
by metapuff
I just had an interview like this (probably from the same school, I'm also doing CMT), and TakeruK's advice is spot-on.

Re: Interview coming up - please help!!

Posted: Tue Jan 24, 2017 5:33 am
by phyz
Thank you all, especially Takeru for the points. I will update again on how it goes down.

Re: Interview coming up - please help!!

Posted: Thu Jan 26, 2017 12:00 pm
by phyz
Just finished - it was, as you guys predicted, very casual. From what I understand, the main purpose was to evaluate my teaching ability but there was no specific question on that matter - it seemed to be more about whether you could hold a decent conversation or not.

Re: Interview coming up - please help!!

Posted: Thu Jan 26, 2017 11:53 pm
by TakeruK
phyz wrote:Just finished - it was, as you guys predicted, very casual. From what I understand, the main purpose was to evaluate my teaching ability but there was no specific question on that matter - it seemed to be more about whether you could hold a decent conversation or not.
Thanks for the update. Sometimes programs actually only interview international students as a way to check that your English ability is good enough to do TA work and to communicate your results with others in the department. I personally feel that the way many schools do this (specifically targeting only international students and adding this requirement on top of TOEFL etc.) is unfair!

But, I didn't want to bring up this possibility because I didn't know if you were international, I didn't know if I would be right, and I didn't want to raise extra unwarranted anxiety. So I just decided to give general all-purpose interview tips and I'm glad it all worked out. The good news is that if it was this type of "screening" interview, then it's more of a pass/fail test instead of a "graded" test.

Re: Interview coming up - please help!!

Posted: Sat Jan 28, 2017 3:01 am
by phyz
You're right, I am an international student but English is my first language so I had no problems there.

I hope this thread is useful to anyone else with upcoming interviews!

Re: Interview coming up - please help!!

Posted: Sat Jan 28, 2017 10:49 am
by eternalwait
I indeed would like to thank phyz for opening this thread, and TakerUK for his great advice!

Re: Interview coming up - please help!!

Posted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 3:36 pm
by F_Mukul_Sharma_gWOS
eternalwait wrote:I indeed would like to thank phyz for opening this thread, and TakerUK for his great advice!

My "eternal wait" has ended... I'm accepted into one of my dream schools :)
Can you please share your profile and tell us which school you got admitted into? Thank you :)