Good morning/afternoon/evening, people. I trust you are doing well. I also trust that you are here because you are curious about how you are supposed to approach the very general and rather overwhelming interview questions outlined in the first post of this series.
Allow me to reassure you that these questions ARE broad and they ARE scary. Especially because you want to say the right thing, but you don’t know what that is. And especially because you don’t want your interview to take away from the progress you’ve made so far. And that’s not to mention the uncertainty about how you could possibly sell yourself, your amazing self, in such a short period of time. Plus, you’re probably nervous. You just want them to know you’re a nice person and would do a really good job at their school and want to go!! You don’t know what to say!
So we will go over the questions listed in the previous post. What I will not do is tell you what to say. What I will do is tell you how to think about what you want to say. And the key word here is “want”. This about saying what you want in a way that conveys meaning and conviction, not about saying what you think is “right”. There is no definite right, there is only what is true for you.
Now that we have that understanding, let’s begin the breakdown. First, let’s understand what exactly the question is asking, followed by WHY. When we understand why the question is being asked, it gives us a sneak peak into how we should provide an answer that continues the conversation.
Keep this in mind: the goal is to continue the conversation with the interviewer in a way that a) informs, b) intrigues, and c) gets some of your personality across.
And so, here we go.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
What: You need to say something about yourself that basically introduces who you are.
Why: Because the interviewer really doesn’t know you and wants to have a feel for who they are talking to before they jump right into specific questions. They need context.
Approach: Introduce yourself- your name, your school, and maybe a little reference to your interest in the school you are being interviewed by.
Suggestion: If you had only this intro to set an image for yourself, what would you say and HOW would you say it? Meaning, what would your tone be? Your word choice? Your energy level? Keep all this in mind when presenting yourself.
2. What are your interests/what would you like to pursue and why?
What: Again, a very general question. Describe what you are interested in, and, if it is truly relevant, how it might connect to your interest in this particular institution. What gets you going? What stirs you to action? Why?
Why: They want to know what you care about to decide if they care about you. Does your passion evoke any appreciation from them? What are your goals? Do you even have goals? Where is your thought process taking you?
Approach: So the thing to realize with this question is that you have the ability to drive. You can steer the conversation in essentially any direction you want by establishing the main topic of your goals, because follow up questions may then center around expanding upon this/these priorities of yours. Share more of what you care about with warmth, energy, and awareness.
Suggestion: Try to really express your drive and commitment to whatever topics you are explaining. Make eye contact and speak in a manner that lets you show your curiosity.
3. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Alternatively, what do you feel is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?
What: What are you good at? What are you bad at? Simple enough.
Why: Can you honestly assess yourself and provide a respectable analysis of your own capacities? Does your response indicate potential for learning and growth? For openness and rationality?
Approach: So obviously you don’t want to say, “Well, I suck at X,Y, and Z.” Naturally. But the goal here is two-fold. One, explain one of your strengths but with reserve, meaning, don’t go all out flaunting. State your strength and provide a little blurb about how this is relevant to you, when has it come in handy, when did you develop it, etc. Two, acknowledge something you are weak at but follow up by saying why you think it’s a weakness and how you intend to remedy that weakness. How do you plan to improve that problem?
Suggestion: Don’t make this personal. Well, it is personal. But describing your strengths and weaknesses is not about your ego. It’s about trying to separate yourself from yourself and give a fair analysis of your pros and cons in a way that is level with the interviewer. Because they don’t know you, so be a ‘third-party’ when describing yourself to them.
4. Describe a time you had to overcome some sort of adversity and what you gained from that experience.
What: This could be anything.
Why: They want to get more of you. In some ways, this is like your personal statement essay but in oral form. They want some tangible example of your experiences to understand you better, to get some insight into how you approach things in general, and to, hint hint, remember you.
Approach: You want to paint a picture for them, filled with detail (as much is reasonable) and reflection so that you create a mind-movie and associated feelings for them to recall when they see your name next time.
Suggestion: Really think beforehand of an experience that showcases your conflict and more so your thought process as you addressed the issue. What did you learn from this scenario about the world and about yourself?
5. What is one thing about you that you would like the admissions committee to know?
What: It’s in the question.
Why: What else could you add? Do you have anything more you want to say? What’s on your mind?
Approach: On the one hand, this could be anything at all. Go all out, I could say. But, I won’t, because you want to be aware of the line between being open and being too casual and disrespectful. Let your personality shine through, but within boundaries.
Suggestion: You could mention a hobby. You could reference why you want to go to this school so much. You may not want to add anything, but if you do, think critically before you add it. How will it come off?
6. Why do you want to attend this school? What could you contribute here?
What: Why is this school important to you?
Why: Does this school really matter to you, or it’s just another school? Oftentimes, your interviewer will be an alumni of the school, so they have serious ties to the institution and actually care about the kinds of students that attend and want to know why they should recommend you to the admission committee. If you show that you really care, that will likely come through in their opinion of your own determination.
Approach: First things first: do your homework. Perhaps that sounds overwhelming. But by all means, if you want to go to a certain school, understand yourself. Why do you want to go to a certain school? Is it their programs? Their campus? The students? The vibe? The research opportunities- or better yet, a specific lab that you would like to work in? Connect this back to your interests, and overall, what you are looking for in your college experience.
Suggestion: Even better, try to include a bit about not only what the school would do for you, but how you would fit into the school. What would you contribute? You don’t necessarily have to explicitly phrase it as such (you shouldn’t), but convey how you attending that institution would give you the chance to grow and give back.
That’s it for Part 2. Of course, this does not encompass all interview questions, nor is it a this-way-or-no-way type of guide. But, hopefully it will get your brain juices flowing and give yourself room to be honest with yourself and allow yourself to be creative.
Go ahead and think of the crazy answers that are floating around in your head. Also consider the more conventional, diplomatic speeches lined up in your head. How can you mix and match these different elements, styles, and material to present yourself to the interviewer in a way that represents your personality, interests, and merit?
What kinds of interview questions have you faced? What stumped you? Let us know in the comments!