Congratulations! You successfully made it through your courses, submitted your graduate school application, got your references submitted, and completed the multitude of personal statements and the research experience essay. Time to think about one of the last and crucial stages of the graduate school application process: graduate school interviews.
With the coronavirus pandemic going on, many graduate schools have selected to hold their interviews virtually. While it may be an anxiety provoking thought to have so much riding on a conversation over Zoom, I’ll give you the top three tips to help you stand out from behind the screen in your virtual graduate school interviews.
Tip #1: Control your environment
I found that the biggest advantage of virtual interviews is that you can better control your environment. First, it is important to pick a setting that is professional and uncluttered. What you display in the background could take away from the important things you’re saying - and that’s where the real focus should be while being interviewed. During my interviews, I sat at my desk with a white wall as my background. Secondly, make sure that you’re sitting somewhere very quiet, well-lit, comfortable, and dressed to impress (at least for your top half…I wore pajama bottoms during my interview with Harvard). I elevated my computer screen so that my camera was level with my face. Unfortunately, one thing that is always hard to control is your Wi-Fi connection, but you may want to consider using an ethernet cable to maximize your stability. If that is not an option, and your Wi-Fi is not stable, make sure to clearly communicate to the interviewer that you have spotty Wi-Fi - just in case your computer goes out on you, it’s better to give them a heads up!
Tip #2: Practice, Practice, Practice
We must acknowledge that the flow of conversation over a virtual interview is simple different. To maximize your performance and make you feel more comfortable during the interview, it is crucial that you practice. Unfortunately during one of my interviews, my computer began to lag and I cut the interviewer off. Google potential questions and ponder what your answers may be. Although it can be hard to rehearse answers to questions you may not know in advance, conducting a mock interview will allow you to focus on how to answer specific types of questions (and try to have this mock interview over a virtual platform)! Another huge tip is to use your computer to record yourself answering interview questions and use that recording to gauge your facial expressions, fluidity of speech, and eye contact. This will allow you to learn a few techniques to help you answer unanticipated questions.
Tip #3: Follow-up with a thank you!
Many prospective applicants do not follow up with the people who took the time to interview them; either because they don’t believe it’s necessary or because they don’t know the best way of doing it. However, everyone likes a thank you! Sending a friendly thank you email after your interview allows the program to see that you are genuinely interested and take the process and the interviewer's time seriously. Regardless of whether or not you are admitted or not, it’s good to build a network!
The most appropriate time to email the interviewer thank you is within 24-48 hours after completing the interview. A generic thank you email won’t cut it here. Keep in mind that the interviewers will often meet several candidates in a small period of time. Incorporate something memorable in your interview about your background and something you discussed in the email. Make it personable. Once you’ve compiled a few notes, start writing! Don’t be too overwhelmed…this email doesn’t have to be a thesis (a paragraph or two will do)! Taking this initiative will help you be remembered, and also show that you recognize the importance of gratitude, taking initiative, and follow-up.
Virtual interviews are difficult, but doable! Just remember that you can control your environment, practice makes perfect, and always say thank you. Good luck!