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Grad School: How Do I Prepare for Inteviews at I/O Psychology Master’s/Ph.D. Programs?

2011 August 10

Grad School Series: Applying to Graduate School in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
Starting Sophomore Year: Should I get a Ph.D. or Master’s? | How to Get Research Experience
Starting Junior Year: Preparing for the GRE | Getting Recommendations
Starting Senior Year: Where to Apply | Traditional vs. Online Degrees | Personal Statements
Interviews/Visits: Preparing for Interviews | Going to Interviews
In Graduate School: What to Expect First Year

So you want to go to graduate school in industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology? Lots of decisions, not much direction. I bet I can help!

While my undergraduate students are lucky to be at a school with I/O psychologists, many students interested in I/O psychology aren’t at schools with people they can talk to. I/O psychology is still fairly uncommon in the grand scheme of psychologists; there are around 7,000 members of SIOP, the dominant professional organization of I/O, compared to the 150,000 in the American Psychological Association. As a result, many schools simply don’t have faculty with expertise in this area, leading many promising graduate students to apply elsewhere. That’s great from the perspective of I/O psychologists – lots of jobs – but not so great for grad-students-to-be or the field as a whole.

As a faculty member at ODU with a small army of undergraduate research assistants, I often find myself answering the same questions over and over again about graduate school. So why not share this advice with everyone?


This week, I’d like to talk about an important step in preparation to enter grad school: how to prepare for interviews and visits.

A graduate school will offer you an interview or a visit after they make initial admission decisions, usually several months after applications are due.

If you get a visit, that means you have been accepted outright – it is up to you as to whether or not you wish to accept that offer and attend graduate school there.  If you get an interview, that means the place you are applying wants to meet you first – the school has not yet made you an offer and will not necessarily accept you.

Typically, only the best of the best schools offer visits.  This is because these schools are competing to attract the very best of the best graduate students and realize that if you are given both a visit and an interview, you are likely to have a much more favorable view of the school offering you a visit.  But here’s the dirty secret – the education you get at the school offering you a visit will not necessarily be any better for you.  It just means they have a bigger budget for admissions.  Schools offering visits will often pay your travel and provide lodging (usually with current graduate students in the program), while this will vary widely for schools offering interviews.

Either way, you are on the short list for the school.  For many, that means the school has narrowed their applicant pool down from 100 applicants or more down to less than 10.  So even if you get an interview, you’ve already passed some major hurdles.  If you get a visit, you’ve passed even more.  Either way, you want to make a good impression.

If you are interviewing, you want to make a good impression because that impression will help the faculty decide whether or not you should attend.  If you are visiting, you want to make a good impression because that will change how the faculty interact with you once you get there.  Graduate school is very unlike undergraduate in that you are now receiving focused career training rather than general studies.  In addition to the next two to six years, you will likely know and interact with the faculty at your graduate school for the rest of your life.  These people can make or break your career.  You want them to like you.

You should first make a good impression by dressing the part.  Just like with job interviews, how you appear during graduate school interviews will be interpreted as the best you will ever be dressed as a graduate student.  If you can’t pull it together enough to look good for an interview, you won’t look good for class or clients.  Suits are only the top end though – as long as you look professional, you’re fine.  If you’re not comfortable in suit and tie, just go for nice khakis and a button up.  Definitely don’t show up in ratty jeans or shorts.  If you’re interviewing at a business school I/O program, play it safe and put on the suit.

You should second make a good impression by being informed.  This includes:

  • Learn about the program.  What classes look interesting?
  • Learn about the faculty.  Who do most you want to learn from?
  • Learn about the faculty’s research.  Which projects do you want to be a part of?
  • Figure out what you want out of the program.  What do you want to learn?
  • Have answers ready to standard graduate school interview questions:
    • Why do you want to go to graduate school?
    • What do you want out of graduate school?
    • What attracted you to I/O psychology?
    • What did you do in college to prepare for graduate school?
    • Why did you apply here?
    • Why should we accept you?
    • What are your research interests?
    • What did you mean by [___] in your application essay?
    • I noticed you worked on [___] project (or with [__] person).  How did that go?
    • What was your role on [___] project?
    • What would you do if you weren’t accepted to graduate school?
    • Do you want to be an academic or practitioner after graduate school?
    • Any standard job interview questions (just replace “job” with “school” or “program”)

You should third make a good impression by following this simple rule: don’t be a jackass.  If you’ve reached the interview stage, the faculty has already decided that your qualifications are sufficient to go to graduate school.  The remaining question becomes, “Should you come to this graduate school?”  In I/O terms, one of the major goals of the faculty at this point is to assess your fit – how well would you match both the program itself and the other graduate students already in the program.  Being arrogant/a know-it-all, bored/uninterested, unprofessional/overly familiar, condescending, dishonest – these are all signs that you will be a poor colleague to your fellow students and a pain to have in the program.

Of course, if you really are these things – do us all a favor and don’t apply in the first place.

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