Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A chance to put your best foot forward

We've discussed interviews before in this blog but perhaps did not make one important point clearly enough: Although some applicants interview in person and others do not, it is a level playing field for all.

I can hear you ask: How in the dickens could someone interviewing over the phone from thousands of miles away make as much of an impression as someone who speaks with an interviewer in person?

Very good question. (Have you heard me say before that there are no dumb questions, only dumb answers?)

Let me try to explain.

The Admissions Committee looks at a variety of elements when evaluating candidacies. An applicant's academic record is, of course, crucial. But a host of other aspects can come into play: the candidate's background and experiences; their motivations for applying; the likelihood they will contribute to life at SAIS.

It is not simply a matter of determining whether you are adequately prepared. The Committee wants to be sure you will participate fully, benefit from the SAIS experience and then embark on a fulfilling career.

You have already submitted a wealth of material to the Committee: your undergraduate transcript, a statement of purpose, a CV, letters of recommendation, proof of English proficiency. Many of you have been in touch with us in person, on the phone or via email. We could call it quits there. But we want to know as much as we can about our candidates, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and an interview is an opportunity for us to learn more.

(Keep in mind that we interview candidates who apply through the Admissions Office in Bologna. U.S. citizens, who apply through Washington, are not interviewed.)

From your standpoint, the interview is a chance to put your best foot forward. There will be aspects of your candidacy that you will want to emphasize. There may be gaps in your application that you will want to explain (raise your hand if you're perfect). You want to make sure the Committee has all the elements it needs to evaluate your application fairly.

Whether in person, on the phone or via Skype, the interview is an exchange that adds to your dossier. You have a chance to make the points you want and to ask the questions you want.

There is no denying that a face-to-face interview is different from one on the phone or through cyberspace. But the discussion, I can assure you, will revolve around the same points regardless of the format. I would not want someone who is preparing for a face-to-face encounter to think that they can somehow hoodwink the interviewer through sheer charm. Nor would I want someone interviewing on the phone to think they cannot make the points they want to make.

So please understand that there is no advantage or disadvantage in the format of your interview.

I can hear another question here, this one from candidates who applied through our DC Admissions Office: Are we at a disadvantage because we were not interviewed? The answer, again, is no. The Washington office gathers more information on candidates through their online application than we in Bologna do. Also, it is easier to compare academic performance across candidates who come primarily from the U.S. system.

For more information on interviews, you can read our two previous blog posts: here and here.

Yesterday I received some questions from a loyal reader about the interview. We like to receive questions and feedback. It helps us focus. I'll try to answer the questions here.

Q: Will the interviewer have had an opportunity to review an application before interviewing a candidate?

A: Yes. The interviewer will have read your file, and so there is no need to repeat slavishly what is in there. It's a better strategy to build on what you have already provided and to emphasize what you consider to be your main points. And if you have weak points, don't ignore them either; a person who recognizes their gaps and has a plan for addressing them can still present a strong case.

Q: Are candidates allocated to interviewers according to their intended concentration or geographical interest?

A: No. In some cases interviewers know a good deal about the country of the applicant, including its educational system. That can help the Committee make a fairer decision. But applicants are not divided up according to their preferred fields of study.

One last thing: We feel lucky that we can interview our applicants. It helps us in our work. And the energy  that candidates emit is a powerful reminder of the value of the SAIS education. That helps motivate us even more.

So thank you, candidates!

Nelson Graves