While not a requirement for all programmes, some institutions may ask you to complete a postgraduate interview. To ensure you secure a place on your preferred course, take a look at these example Masters interview questions

Admissions tutors use postgraduate interviews to establish whether you're committed to, and prepared for, study at Masters or PhD level. While less formal than job interviews, you still need to take academic interviews seriously - your ambitions to pursue further study depends on your performance.

You'll be asked a variety of questions focusing on your preparedness for postgraduate life. Below are some of the most common postgraduate interview questions.

Can you tell me about yourself?

This question allows you to set the agenda and explain anything unusual about your application - for example, if you're choosing a subject that's different from previous studies.

It also gives you the opportunity to emphasise things that you didn't articulate strongly in your CV, postgraduate application or personal statement. You'll need to discuss your education and work experience, highlighting your achievements and qualifications.

Bear in mind that the interviewer isn't interested in unrelated hobbies or your social life, instead focus on how your non-academic background - in combination with your undergraduate degree - has prepared you for postgraduate study.

Shine a spotlight on things that demonstrate your ability, determination and drive. Maybe you set up an event or implemented a business idea. Perhaps you've completed a period of volunteering abroad or raised money for charity by running a marathon. All these things could help to set you apart from the competition.

Why have you chosen this course/institution?

Demonstrate to the interviewer that you're determined to gain a place on the course by doing your research into the programme and university.

With regards to the course, be specific. If your heart is set on this particular programme because it offers modules that will enable you to gain a deeper understanding of your area of interest, say so. If you're drawn to the course due to the expertise of its leaders or because it provides a unique placement opportunity, talk about that.

When explaining why you want to study at this particular institution, be honest. If it's as simple as their state-of-the-art facilities or their impressive graduate employment rates, it's ok to say so. To make your answer stand out though you could mention that you want to be taught by an eminent lecturer or that you've spoken to alumni of your chosen course and the university and programme comes highly recommended.

Do you think your undergraduate record reflects your effort and ability?

While this question gives you the opportunity to explain a poor grade or a bad semester you need to make sure you don't come across in a bad light by blaming other people - for example, your tutors.

Use this as your opportunity to let the interviewer know if you really did have extenuating circumstances. It's unlikely that you'd be able to explain away a year of poor marks without serious mitigation, as interviewers can clearly see through excuses but if you feel the need to explain a bad mark that was out of character then this is your chance to do so.

To ensure that your answer strikes the right tone, practice with friends or family beforehand.

What are your strengths?

Talk about things that will make your application look positive. Mention soft skills, such as teamwork, organisation, and the ability to remain calm under pressure.

Anything that highlights how you've overcome a challenge is useful, as this shows what type of problem-solver you are. However, you must have concrete, practical examples of every skill that you mention.

Demonstrate the skill of leadership and give details to show the depth of your commitment. You don't have to hold an office or a title to display leadership - it can be demonstrated in many different ways. Describing how you organised something or motivated a group of people is just as impressive.

Avoid mention of anything irrelevant or obvious, or things that a graduate in any discipline will have, such as the ability to write essays, use email, social media or word processors. Sell yourself here, but make sure you don't sound too boastful either.

What are your weaknesses?

This is a classic postgraduate interview question. The first rule is to never say that you don't have any weaknesses - even a perfect candidate has something they could work on. On the other hand, don't get carried away listing your faults. Concentrate on one or two weaknesses at the most.

To ensure that this this question doesn't work against you, choose a weakness that you're currently succeeding in overcoming. For example:

  • 'I struggle with my self-confidence but joining a club/society during my undergraduate studies and my voluntary/work experience has helped hugely with this.'
  • 'I used to stress about deadlines, but now I allow myself plenty of time before a deadline to make sure that I don't leave everything to the last minute.'
  • 'I tend to be disorganised, but the calendar on my phone is helping me to stay organised so I can be truly effective.'

Be prepared to back up these initial statements with solid examples of how you're working to overcome your weakness.

Describe your dream job in the future

This question is asked to see if you have logically thought through your future plans and how the postgraduate degree fits in with these.

If there is a massive disconnect it doesn't reflect well, so your career trajectory must look sensible and relevant in the context of the course you have chosen to study.

Postgraduate study shouldn't be undertaken to bide time while you decide what you want to do. Admissions tutors will expect you to have a solid reason for wanting to study the course and some sort of career plan in place once you graduate.

The job you aspire to should demonstrate that you have knowledge of the prospective industry and the job market.

If you want to start your own business, that's great, but you need to explain how the degree will enable you to do this.

Which academic or businessperson do you most admire and why?

When interviewers ask this question, they're trying to learn something about you through the person that you admire most - so explain your choice. Avoid well-known figures, unless you can say something original about them.

A variation on this question could be 'what is your favourite book and why?' Again, the interviewer is not looking for a detailed report. They want to learn more about you from the books that you read. This is because your answer can indicate your interests, beliefs or goals.

What difficult decision have you had to make in the last six months?

Everyone has had to make tough decisions at times. This question aims to test the candidate's reasoning ability, problem-solving skills and judgement.

Think of examples from part-time work experience, undergraduate study or your social or family background.

An okay answer shows that you can make a difficult analytical or reasoning-based decision, for example, being able to sieve through lots of data to find an optimum solution. A good answer shows that you can make a difficult interpersonal decision, or even more impressive, a tricky data-driven decision that includes interpersonal considerations.

Making decisions based on data is important, but almost every decision has an impact on people too. The best candidates look at all sides of an issue and try to make an informed, balanced decision. It's good to talk through your logic as you try to solve the problem - admissions tutors like that.

How do you plan to fund your studies?

While the interviewer won't need a breakdown of your financial situation, they might be keen to know how you'll pay for your studies and if you've applied for any postgraduate funding.

The financial side of things can seem a little complicated so before your interview it's a good idea to gain an overview of any postgraduate loans, scholarships/bursaries, Research Council grants, employer sponsorship etc. so you can briefly discuss this. Having a handle on this aspect also shows the interviewer that you're well organised.

If you plan to work throughout your studies, don't be afraid to mention this. It won't reflect badly on your application and if offered a place on the course you'll be able to get help and support.

What questions do you have for me, or about the course or university?

Don't be fooled. While this is an opportunity for you to ask your interviewer some questions, you're still being assessed.

Avoid asking about anything that's already been explained through the institution's literature as this shows a lack of research. Questions about how many holidays you'll get or whether you'll have lectures or seminars every day are also a no-go. Similarly, you shouldn't say that you have no questions at all.

To impress, you'll need to do your homework and come up with a few focused questions such as:

  • 'What would graduates say was the most valuable thing about the postgraduate programme?'
  • 'I read that there is the opportunity to study abroad or complete an internship - can you tell me more about that?'

Try to come up with four or five - you might not get the chance to ask all of them but you'll have some in reserve if a couple have been covered during the course of the interview.

This Prospects webinar aired July 2021.

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