Whether you’re applying for graduate programs or a new job, you’re likely to encounter behavioral interviews. For grad school applicants, the application process doesn’t end with the tests and the essays. After written applications, many programs require applicants to participate in behavioral interviews with alumni or faculty. Read on to find out how to prepare for those grad school behavioral interviews.
We sat down with one of our consultants, Kristin, to get some actionable advice on how to master your behavioral interview. As Kristin puts it, “The whole point of an interview is for you to pass the airplane test, where you’re trying to get them to walk away from sitting next to you with ‘Wow, I’d be okay with sitting next to this person as a roommate or a desk-mate for a really long time, and feel good about it.'”
Behavioral interviews can be challenging to prepare for because you never quite know what interviewers will ask. Still, there are steps that you can take to prepare for a behavioral interview. Following these tips will help you be better prepared and more comfortable in your next interview.
Aim for more than being likable. While it’s understandable that you may aim for being agreeable when applying for a job or graduate program, there’s more to it than that. Kristin shared, “Your goal is not just to be likable, but also to enhance somebody’s life just by being there.”
That means that you’ll want to work to demonstrate your knowledge and thought process beyond just agreeing with interviewers. While you want your interviewers to like you, you also want to be seen as someone who can offer value to a classroom or workplace. To accomplish this, be mindful of narrating your thought process and decision-making. Many interview questions are less about providing a correct answer, and more about showing how you think through a question or situation.
For virtual interviews, consider using a virtual background to minimize distraction. Virtual interviews are most likely going to be the norm until further notice. One way that Kristin suggests that you adapt to this new reality is to leverage virtual backgrounds. “The idea is, you’re putting your best foot forward, so minimize distractions. Make sure how you present yourself on the screen is going to be how you want [interviewers] to see you in person.”
This feature should be available in Zoom if your computer meets specific performance requirements. Within Google Meet, you can also use the Blur Background feature, which accomplishes something similar. Minimizing distractions will help make sure nothing is detracting from the value of what you’re saying.
Research to find connecting points. Before an interview, research is crucial. It’s a given that you’ll want to know about the company or program and have a good reason for why you’re interested in it. However, you can go a few steps further to really impress your interviewers.
Kristin recommends conducting in-depth research to find something particular to tie you to the graduate program you’re applying to. “Having very specific, niche things that you’re bringing to the table, that you probably had to do analyst-level research to figure out why there’s a connection between you and what you’re interviewing for; that’s always going to be really interesting.” Finding this level of connection demonstrates your research skills and the link you have to the school. It will also help you answer the critical question of why you want to be a part of the school.
Moreover, research can help you find ways to connect with interviewers. As Kristin puts it, “Pick up as much as you can personally about the person who’s across the table, because starting with that is going to make the whole interview so much easier.”
Even if you don’t let on that you’ve looked up a person beyond their role, you can still leverage information to help you connect with your interviewer. For example, if you learn that the person you are speaking with is a former college athlete, you can reference any relevant athletic experience you might have in an interview answer. Researching your interviewers can make them feel more connected to you.
Consider adding interesting facts about yourself to your resume. Outside of researching your interviewer, you may also consider adding some unique points to your resume. One of our mindset coaches, Nicole, chimed in on this subject: “It’s about putting things that are really interesting and unique on your resume. Be really specific, something like ‘I hiked the Camino de Santiago in Spain and I wrote a manuscript.’” Putting something interesting on your resume can be a conversation starter or icebreaker that can help reduce any potential awkwardness in your conversation.
Anticipate questions or scenarios. One of the more intimidating aspects of a behavioral interview is that you can’t fully anticipate the questions. However, there are still ways to prepare for them. For example, one of Kristin’s tips is to create a “book” or a list of scenarios that you can reference in interviews. While you may not know what questions interviewers will ask, having a list of project examples or situations you’ve experienced can prepare you for any questions that come your way.
Behavioral interviews are inevitable. Unlike crafting a resume or an essay, you don’t have weeks or months to respond to the questions you’ll receive during a grad school behavioral interview.
Take some time to anticipate questions, prepare responses, and find ways to connect with your interviewer. Using the tips in this article to better prepare for your next interview can reduce some of the nervousness associated with interviewing, and help you craft a story around why you’re a good fit for your dream grad school.