Tuesday, 1 February 2011

The Interview

It's February 1. Your application is in our hands or an express courier service is scrambling to get it to us. Yes, you can breathe a sigh of relief.

But only a sigh, because it's not over yet.

There's good news and bad news. The good news: you'll have a chance to speak to us in order to impress upon us your bona fides. The bad news: it's an interview.

Actually, that's a joke. There is no bad news because after reading this post you'll both impress us and survive the interview.

First, the reason for the interview. We are lucky enough to be able to speak, either in person or on the phone, with each applicant who applies to Admissions here in Bologna.

This conversation gives us an opportunity to get to know the candidate better, and vice versa. If this is going to be a good fit, then both of us -- SAIS Bologna and you -- have to be convinced of it.

We receive applications from all over the world. So far this year, our candidates come from 64 different countries. That means hundreds of different universities in dozens of different countries. It is very difficult to make comparisons, and the interviews allow us to delve a bit deeper and you to ask us questions.


Here is how we plan to organize the interviews:

On your application form you were asked to note your preferred location for an on-site interview. We plan at this point to conduct interviews in Bologna, Brussels, Frankfurt, Istanbul, London, Paris and Vienna. Here are the tentative dates:

Feb 25 - Brussels
Mar 4 & 8 - Bologna
Mar 5 - Istanbul
Mar 10 & 11 - London
Mar 11 - Paris
Mar 12 - Frankfurt
Mar 19 - Vienna

Please note that the venues and dates are tentative. They might change.

In the next two weeks we will contact you to pin down an on-site interview at one of these venues or, if you can't go to one of those cities, to start arrangements for an interview by phone or Skype.

The interviews are done by faculty and senior staff; in each case, one professor or one senior staff member meets with the candidate one-on-one.

The interviews are not meant to test your knowledge of international relations or economics. Don't worry if you've forgotten the years of the Crimean War. Rather, it is an opportunity for you to explain how you would make a difference at SAIS and why it would benefit you. For more information on the interview, you can click here.

All of this leads up to the meeting of our Admissions Committee in late March when decisions will be taken. Candidates will be notified of the decisions in early April.


Candidates often ask what they can do to prepare for an interview. You've heard the tips before: Get a good night's sleep. Dress well but not too well. Avoid drinking too much coffee beforehand. A firm handshake.

There is an ocean of advice on the Internet. I won't repeat it here.

But today, like yesterday when writing about deadlines, I can't resist some general points. I make these after interviewing for a fair number of jobs myself and having grilled hundreds of individuals during my years as an editorial manager.

Consider an interview as an opportunity to show you are the right person for the opening. If it's for a job, you can prove you understand the demands and can meet them. If it's for a spot in a graduate school, you can prove that you are up to the challenge, that you are special and that you know how the experience will benefit you.

All of this requires you to project yourself forward, to understand what the experience entails and how you would make the most of it. In the case of a job, it means you should know what the hiring manager is looking for. What needs doing? What skills, capabilities and experience are they looking for?

This can require you to do a fair amount of digging to learn about the job. That can take time and energy. In the case of SAIS, you should know what we are looking for, why it would be a good match and how you would benefit from the opportunity.

Crucially, if you plan beforehand, during the interview you will be able to make the points you want to make. You can never control the agenda totally, but if you have thought through your message carefully, you'll find the right moment to make your points.

One tip that could be worth remembering: Consider what qualities the person interviewing you is looking for. What have you done in the past to demonstrate such qualities? It's much more powerful to describe specific actions that capture a quality than to simply say you have it. As you've heard before: show, don't tell.

I could go on and on. But then I'd be violating one of my own interview rules:

Say just enough -- and not too much.

Tomorrow: Careers

Nelson Graves