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How to prepare for an interview?


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I got an email from a faculty member inviting me for a skype phone interview. This is not a "usual" interview, as the school does not usually conduct interviews with prospective students, as far as I know. I guess the reason for this interview is that my English proficiency test results were not very good. So, I believe they are concerned if I can speak fluent enough to be a teaching assistant. The professor said they wanted to talk to me about my research and my interest in the PhD program as well. I won't disclose the name of the school (not yet), but it is definitely one of my top choices. This is the first interview I will participate, and I am worried in case I cannot speak fluently during the interview. I really feel very nervous.


Could you please give me some tips on how to prepare for this interview and how to behave during the interview? Also, I am curious if they are going to ask me about details of my research and my opinions about the works of the faculty members (potential advisors) I referred in my SOP?



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I attended an interview weekend back when I was applying to programs. I think most of these guidelines apply to skype interviews as well. Here are my experiences:

1. Take a deep breath and try to relax. An interview invite is a very positive sign so be confident.

2. Be prepared to answer questions like:

"Why sociology?"

"Why this department?"

"What are your future plans?"

Also be prepared to answer questions pertaining to your own research. Basically, know your shit. They will most likely not ask you any grand theoretical questions about other people's research, but they will expect you to know your own work and be somewhat familiar with the works of those in your subfield.

3. Ask them questions about the program. This is also a good strategy to relieve the tension early on. By asking them questions about their concentrations areas, how the prelims are set up, what the typical length of study is, etc, you are showing them that you are very interested in their program, while at the same time making them ask less and answer more. You don't want to overdo this and seem rude, but by all means ask questions you want answers to.

4. Don't ask money-related questions.

5. Don't act too competitive or uptight. Don't be a jerk. Don't criticize other people's work or get into sociological debates. You're interviewing to get in. This is not the place or time to publicize your hatred for Durkheim or Marx. No one cares about your limited knowledge of what you think you know (other than your own work) so keep it to yourself.

6. Read some recent papers of faculty members. This shows the department that you are interested in them, and that you did your homework. No need to write a grand summary, just a few minutes on each paper glancing at the intro, methods, and results will do. Doing this will allow you to throw in something like "I read Dr. X's paper on Y and think there's some overlap with my own research/your department is a good fit for my interests, etc.

7. This may sound counter-intuitive but whether you're interviewing in person or via skype, you should really focus on trying to enjoy it as much as you can. There are hundreds of people out there who would give anything to be in your shoes right now. Nail it.

I will add more to this list when I have more time.

Edited by cultsoc
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Thank you for the great advice and encouragement cultsoc. I will think over all the points you mentioned. I am not sure about the questions I can ask them though, since they put all the relevant information I needed on their website. I will try to get ready and do the things you said, but it seems things will depend on my mood and calmness at the time of the interview. Thank you very much again.

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Here's some advice I would offer:


1)  Like you, I was really nervous for my skype interview. The skype aspect takes a little time to adjust to and doesn't feel as natural as being in-person does. I would recommend that you practice having a conversation through that medium with a friend beforehand and have that friend give you feedback. For my interview, I remember feeling simultaneously self-conscious because I could see a video of myself on the screen, and uncertain whether I should be looking at a video of my interviewer's face or the camera hole to make 'eye contact.' Get used to it ahead of time so you can relax and focus your energy on the interview.


2) Your application should have already answered the big questions like "Why Sociology?" or "Why this department?" It probably did if you are being interviewed. In my opinion, I think interviews are used either to answer questions that were raised in the application, or simply to get a feel for the person behind the application. Review your application and be ready to talk more in-depth about what is there, as there's only so much space in the application to talk about it at length. Be ready to address weaknesses, but don't assume that's the only reason they want to speak with you. I have a low GRE Math score and was prepared to talk about that, but they never even mentioned it.


3) I was perhaps overly prepared to answer the usual questions (why soc, why this department, etc.) that when I got asked "If you weren't doing a PhD in Sociology, what would you be doing instead?" I was stumped. So prepare for that possibility as well!


4) Remember that at the end of the day you are choosing them as much as they are choosing you. This is an opportunity to learn from them what you couldn't gather from their website. Ask questions with enthusiasm and genuine curiosity.


5) At the same time, present yourself as an asset to the department, describe how you will complement the working being done there. Everyone has weaknesses. If you got an interview, they already believe that you show potential. Build upon that.


Good luck!

Edited by lunababy5
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All I can say is, be yourself! If you try to hard you'll give them this impression that you practiced just to make it through that one interview. On the other hand, if you show them what you're really made of and they see you're doing everything you can, it can be brownie points for your application as well. Hopefully this helps!

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