The secret of successful postgraduate interviews

How to make an outstanding impression at the interview for your postgraduate course.
Woman waiting for an interview

When applying for postgraduate study, you will need to demonstrate a strong interest in the programme to which you are applying and outline why you are a strong applicant. You will not always be interviewed for a taught Masters, but PhD candidates will usually be interviewed.

There are many similarities to job interviews, such as the need to prepare well, to show enthusiasm and to ask appropriate questions. Academic interviews are usually less formal than job interviews, but occasionally you might get a grilling on your subject knowledge.

What should I wear?

Interviews for vocational courses are likely to be more formal than interviews for research and you will probably be expected to dress in exactly the same way as for a job interview.

Smart casual dress is usually acceptable for academic interviews, but business studies departments might expect more formality than art and design departments. Interviews for research are likely to require less formal dress, but dress smartly if in doubt.

Who will interview me?

For most taught programmes you can expect to find the Programme Manager or Head of Department and/or a member of academic staff on the panel. For research programmes, the Research Supervisor will sit in on the interview. Remember that academics may not be trained interviewers, so you may occasionally have to take the initiative.

How can I make myself stand out?

They will want to find out about you as an individual: will you fit in? Are you a good team member? This is especially important in smaller departments. They will also be looking for evidence of your enthusiasm in your subject.

Avoid simple 'yes' or 'no' answers: if you are asked a closed question, such as 'Have you enjoyed your course?' open it up. Be polite, and do not be afraid to enter into discussion and to stand your ground. Some interviewers will deliberately challenge your replies to see if you can argue your point effectively. Remember that they will be looking at your ability to think for yourself and will be more interested in your ideas, attitudes and opinions than getting the 'right answer'.

Research the department carefully before you go for interview, and note any questions you want to ask. Check out the research interests of academic staff in the department. Read the draft of your application again to anticipate questions they may ask you, and work out in advance rough answers to commonly asked questions.