Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Interview: some tips

Many of our candidates are being interviewed this month and next. It's one of SAIS Bologna's distinguishing features and also very satisfying for members of the Admissions Committee, who have the chance to probe beyond the written application to better understand candidates' motivations and qualifications.

Here are some tips for candidates as they prepare for their interview:

- Like porridge in the story of Goldilocks (neither too hot nor too cold), it's best to arrive neither too early nor too late for an interview. I'll leave the exact time frame up to your judgment. But to be able to arrive at any set time, you will need to organize in advance and know how long it takes to get there and what the potential impediments may be. Plan ahead. Always have a phone number at hand that you can call if you are unexpectedly delayed.

For those doing the interview over the phone or Skype, be ready to call or to receive the call at the agreed time. If you call earlier, you're likely to find a busy line.

- The interviews generally last about 20-25 minutes. Your challenge is to say what you think you need to say in that time frame. What do you think is most important for you to say to the interviewer? They will have read your dossier, so you don't want to merely repeat what you've written. Again, this takes some planning and thinking ahead.

- There is no dress code. When I was growing up in the United States, our generation resisted all dress codes. But one of my children told me the other day: "You cannot overdress for an interview." Taken to the extreme, that statement might lead to disastrous outfits. But I think the point was that the candidate should look neat. But not so neat as to look uncomfortable. It's a balance one often has to strike in the workaday world.

- It's OK to take notes during the interview. But I would not do so at the cost of being able to have a conversation (and to look the interviewer in the eye -- unless it's over the phone). This is a dialog between two people, not a lecture or a class.

- Relax. Speak slowly. The thoughts will come out if you give them time.

- What questions do you have that have not been addressed? You should make sure to ask them at some point during the interview, often at the end. Don't ask questions that can be answered by spending a few minutes on the SAIS website or by reading the SAIS Bologna catalog. Ask the questions that you really want answered -- not the ones you think we expect you should ask.

- You can watch videos on interviews with prof. Erik Jones and prof. Michael Plummer here and here.

Nelson Graves

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