One purpose of the graduate school interview is to permit members of the department to get a better look at you. Interviewers want to see if you have the characteristics it takes to succeed in graduate school, such as maturity, interpersonal skills, self-determination, and sincere interest and motivation.
The graduate school interview also serves a purpose for you. During the interview, you should be evaluating the program just as they are evaluating you. This is your chance to determine if the school, program, faculty, and potential fellow students are all a match for you.
Preparing for your interview
Do background research on the school, program, and individual faculty members. Understand the training emphasis of the program and faculty research interests. Read up on research performed by faculty members with whom you may be interested in working.
Review your own interests, goals, and qualifications and be prepared to talk about them. Note the characteristics that make you a good match for the program and be able to explain how those interests, goals, and qualifications match what the program has to offer.
Anticipate questions about any weaknesses in your application (grades, test scores, etc.). Formulate responses to questions about weaknesses in terms of how you have addressed them. Do not make excuses for your weaknesses. Make it clear that a) the problem was temporary, b) you have recovered from it and c) it will not follow you to graduate school.
Take the perspective of faculty members. What can you contribute to their graduate program and research? Why should they accept you into the program?
If you are invited for an interview for which you must travel, consider arriving a day early to familiarize yourself with your interview destination and to learn about the campus and surrounding community.
BE ON TIME!
Think of your graduate school interview as a professional job interview. All of the same rules apply.
Bring copies of your CV/resume.
Remember the purposes of the interview: to communicate your interest, motivation, and professionalism, and to gather the information you need to determine if this is the graduate program for you.
In meetings with current graduate students, try to ask questions to learn what they really think about their advisors and the program. Most students will be forthcoming, especially in one-on-one conversations.
Don’t underestimate the potential influence of current graduate students on the selection committee. Present your best side to everyone because every person you encounter during your interview process might be in a position to help or hurt your application.
Ask intelligent and informed questions. Interviewers tend to judge preparedness by the answers you give and intelligence by the questions you ask.
Do not ask questions that could have been answered on their website or in a brochure. See bullet above.
After the interview
As soon as possible after the interview, write down the questions you were asked as best you can recall them. Reflect on the answers you gave, the follow-up questions that may have been generated, and the responses of your interviewer(s). Are you satisfied with the answers you gave? If you had it to do over again (and you very likely will!), would you give the same answers? Sometimes the perfect answer is the one that comes to us in the car on the way home from the interview. Write down not only what you said, but what you wish you’d said. This will help you prepare for and feel more confident in your next interview.
Follow up with your interviewer(s) by sending a thank-you note. A hand-written note will be more memorable (and tangible) for the recipient although an email thank-you is better than doing nothing at all! Make the note personal and specific to that interview, not a generic thank-you that could go to every school you’ve visited.