9 Tips to Prepare for a Skype Graduate School Interview
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By Tara Kuther, Ph.D.
For many graduate programs submitting your application is just the first step in seeking admission. Graduate school admissions interviews are common in many fields. Interviews offer an important opportunity let faculty and members of the admissions committee get to know you, beyond your application materials. Interviews, however, are expensive and time consuming, especially if you are applying to graduate programs that are far from home. Many, if not most, graduate programs expect applicants to pay their own travel expenses. Because of this, grad school interviews are often described as ďoptional.Ē However, optional or not, itís in your best interest to make the trip and interview in person. Fortunately, many graduate programs are moving towards conducting interviews by video conferencing via platforms like Skype. Skype interviews permit graduate programs to interview students cheaply and efficiently Ė and perhaps even squeeze even more applicant interviews in than they would in real life.
Skype interviews pose special challenges.
An interview for admission to graduate study, regardless of whether it's on campus or by Skype, means that the admissions committee is interested in you and is your opportunity to demonstrate your fit to the faculty and graduate program. The standard advice about interviews applies, but a Skype interview entails unique challenges. Here are 9 tips to avoid some of the technological and environmental problems that arise during Skype interviews.
Share Phone Numbers
Share your phone number and have the number for the graduate department or someone on the admissions committee on hand. Should you have difficulties logging in or other technical problems, such as a malfunctioning computer, youíll want to be able to contact the admissions committee to let them know that you havenít forgotten about the interview. Otherwise they may assume that you are no longer interested in admission or that you are unreliable and therefore not a good fit to the graduate program.
Consider Your Background
What will the committee see behind you? Pay attention to your background. Posters, signs, photos, and art can detract from your professional demeanor. Donít give professors an opportunity to judge you on anything other than your words and persona.
Choose a well-lighted space. Do not sit with your back to a window or light because only your silhouette will be visible. Avoid harsh overhead light. Place a light in front of you, several feet away. Consider using an additional shade or placing a cloth over the lamp to dilute the light.
Sit at a desk. The camera should be level with your face. Position your laptop atop a stack of books, if needed, but be sure that it is secure. Do not look down into the camera. Sit far enough away that your interviewer can see your shoulders. Look into the camera, not at the image on the screen Ė and certainly not at yourself. If you look at the image of your interviewers, youíll appear to be looking away. Challenging as it may seem, try to look at the camera to simulate eye contact.
Be sure that the interviewers can hear you. Know where the microphone is located and direct your speech towards it. Speak slowly and pause after the interviewer finishes speaking. Sometimes video lag can interfere with communication, making it harder to interviewers to understand you or making it appear as if you are interrupting them.
Dress for your Skype interview just as you would for an in-person interview. Donít be tempted to just dress ďon top.Ē That is, donít wear sweatpants or pajama pants. Donít assume that your interviewers will see only the top half of your body. You never know. You might have to stand up to retrieve something and then suffer in embarrassment (and make a poor impression).
Reduce Environmental Distractions
Keep pets in another room. Leave children with a babysitter or family member Ė or donít interview at home. Eliminate any potential sources of background noise, such as barking dogs, crying children, or insensitive roommates.
Charge your laptop. Preferably, plug it in. Turn off your cell ringer and any other phone in the vicinity. Log out of messaging programs, Facebook, and other apps with sound notifications. Mute notifications in Skype. Make sure that you will not be interrupted by any sounds on your computer. Whatever you hear, your interviewers hear.
Do a practice run with a friend. How do you look? Sound? Are there any distractions? Are your clothes appropriate and professional?
Skype interviews share the same purpose as old fashioned in-person interviews: An opportunity for the graduate admissions committee to get to know you. Preparing for the technological aspects of video interviews can sometimes overshadow the basic interview preparation that will help you learn about the program and put your best foot forward. As you prep, donít forget to focus on the content of the interview. Prepare responses to common questions that you might be asked as well as questions to ask. Donít forget that your interview is also your chance to learn more about the program. If youíre accepted youíll spend the next 2 to 6 or more years in graduate school. Be sure that itís the program for you. Ask questions that are meaningful to you and make the interview work for you.
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