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Tips and Tricks for a Successful Postgraduate Interview


Pursuing a postgraduate qualification means you are about to embark on new and exciting chapter in your academic journey. Whether you are applying for a master’s programme, a research position or any other postgraduate opportunity, depending on the course and the institution, it’s likely you’ll be invited to interview.  

Despite this being a daunting prospect, remember, the fact that you have even been selected to interview means the university is already impressed with your application and can see your potential as a postgrad student. Moreover, interviews, albeit scary, are quite predictable, so if you can anticipate the questions, you’ll be better equipped to manage them.  

How you perform during the interview, will not necessarily be a deal breaker, there are many other factors the university will consider such as academic background, research, work experience in your chosen field and motivation for pursuing a postgrad. Much of this will already be evident from your application and personal statement. Even though the interview might not be a deal breaker; it could well be a deal maker. This is your opportunity to shine and demonstrate your passion for your subject area, your commitment to academia, and how you envisage the postgrad’s impact on your future career success.  

Tips and tricks for success: 

Do background research 

Research the programme and institution thoroughly and be sure the course aligns with your career aspirations and goals. Familiarise yourself with the course structure, curriculum, faculty, research areas and more importantly, any recent achievements or developments there have been within the department. Find out about potential lecturers and their research; has their work inspired you? If so, be able to reference it during the interview. This will demonstrate your genuine interest and commitment to the programme.  

Find out about interview format  

Different institutions may have varying interview formats, such as panel interviews, one-to-one, group discussions or even virtual. Take the time to find out the specific structure your interview will follow, so you know what to expect. Speaking to current or former students can really help to allay concerns. The Ambassador Platform is a fantastic tool if you want to connect with students from a specific university and find out about their experience. You can find out if there are any particular topics or focus areas the interviewers may raise; what questions they had; was there anything else in the assessment process and what would they have done differently or what surprised them.  

Review your CV and personal statement 

Review your application, CV and personal statement thoroughly. Be prepared to elaborate on anything you have mentioned, referencing any experience, achievements or research and methodologies in your application. The interviewer is looking to understand you, by referencing previous experiences you can demonstrate how they have shaped your current trajectory: your goals, aspirations and motivations. 

Research common postgrad interview questions 

Go on to the university website and see if it has a dedicated page about interviews and what questions to expect. While you cannot predict all the questions they may ask, some are very common and by practising the answers, you will be more articulate and feel more confident. Keep answers concise and to the point, while avoiding ‘yes’ ‘no’ answers by giving examples of your experiences to showcase yourself at every opportunity—highlighting your skills, knowledge and suitability for the programme. It’s okay to take your time answering a question, if you need a moment to consider your response, then that’s okay. You can also, help process a question, by repeating it back just to check you have understood it correctly, while allowing yourself more time to think.  

Demonstrate passion and commitment 

Demonstrate your passion for your research focus and the contribution you feel you can make to the field. Do your homework, find out about what papers the department has produced or areas currently being researched, overtly showing how this aligns with your interests and desire to explore similar themes in more depth, as well as your knowledge of the faculty’s work. If you have a portfolio or other evidence of your research focus, bring it with you.  

Remember the three Cs  

Communication, collaboration and critical thinking are essential elements of the learning process. Postgraduate interviews often assess your ability to think critically and solve complex problems. Review any relevant case studies, academic articles or research papers relevant to you field so you can develop your thoughts and articulate your viewpoint, referencing these during your interview. In addition, recognise the value of collaboration with others to grow and learn—that a diversity of reasoned arguments may be challenging, but ultimately can achieve the best outcomes—hence, why collaboration is of value to you. This could be one of your questions at the end of the interview: “What opportunities are there to collaborate with others?” 

First impressions count 

As with all interviews, first impressions count. Dress smartly; yes, academia is more casual, but still how you present yourself will have an impression. Wear comfortable but smart attire. Be mindful to acknowledge multiple names if it is a panel. Shake hands, firmly, but not too hard, but enough to exhibit confidence. Wait until they gesture for you to take a seat. Maintain good eye contact as this is creates trust. Sit comfortably with arms resting on your lap—never crossed— and avoid using too much hand gesturing. The calmer your body appears, the more confident you come across. Plan your journey in advance, allowing plenty of time to get there and know exactly where you need to go beforehand, as this will help reduce stress on the day. Make sure you are well hydrated so your brain is functioning at optimal levels and if you feel nervous, practise breathing in through your nose, hold and slowly out through your mouth, repeat several times, your brain will be well oxygenated and your mind calmer. Be courteous, remember to thank the interviewer/panel for their time before you get up to leave.  

Prepare thoughtful questions 

At the end of the interview, you will be asked if you have any questions. Prepare thoughtful questions, which again, allow you to showcase your knowledge and interest in the department, demonstrating your suitability for the course as well as your enthusiasm and passion for your subject area.  

In sum... 

Finally, the most important thing is to be yourself; let your passion and drive for your chosen field shine through. Usually, postgrads require a good undergraduate degree (2:1). However, maturity and dedication can count for a lot and if you are authentic and honest about your motivations, it will resonate.  

Should you not be successful, don’t less this discourage you. Every interview is a valuable experience and there is always something to learn. You can reflect on what went well, and what you think you need to do to be more prepared next time.  

Good luck, stay positive and remember… the three Ps: preparation, preparation, preparation! 

Next: Get more university application advice 



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