Interview Skills - Advice desperately needed


======= Date Modified 16 13 2010 20:13:36 =======

I am not sure if someone can really help me with this, but I’d be grateful for any advice nevertheless!

I’ve just found out the other day that I’ve been rejected from a PhD after yet again. Even though the project was spot on related to my MSc project, interests and the work experience I had I still wasn’t able to bring this across.
I’ve applied to 8 funded PhDs since graduating from my MSc in 2008, managing to get interviews for 6 of them. Whilst I think that I am good on paper (this is something I assume because otherwise I think I wouldn’t even get shortlisted) the generic feedback response post interview is always along the lines of “your approach to the potential PhD project was not sufficiently focussed and analytic”. I think that my failure is a result of my horrendous interview skills. I can do as much practice, as I like beforehand, but whenever I am in an interview situation I get so nervous that I am unable to sound enthusiastic and match up my experience & knowledge to the questions they ask me. Instead I always manage to sound like a complete disinterested nutter who can't think of anything better to do with her time other than a PhD, which would get every shortlister wary of offering me the position.
This makes me so fustrated. I just do not know what to do anymore. I really, really want to do a PhD, but I can’t go on expecting my referees to write 100s of references (if I keep going on like this I’ll end up with no one as my referee), applying and applying, managing to get shortlisted only to end up failing at the interview :-(


Hi Velony,

Is it possible for you to arrange an informal meeting with someone in the department you're applying to before the interview itself? I don't know enough about how the system works & can only speak from my own experience, but I contacted a professor to indicate my interest in doing a PhD, we met for tea & a chat & this sort of ended up as an interview.

I hope things turn out well for you, Mog :-)

Avatar for sneaks

Don't get too disheartend. Don't forget that a large proportion of PhD interviews you go to, there will have already been an internal candidate lined up, so a lot of it is just procedure. I know its annoying, but realistically its true. There hasn't been a single vacancy in my department that hasn't gone to somebody who was already known to the department e.g ex student, ex-employee.

What kind of things do they ask you about in the interviews?


Sneaks is right, often there's nothing you can do. And I'd second Mog's sugegstion, it might help both your chances and your nerves if you were able to meet people beforehand.

Could your career's service give you some sort of practice interview so you can get your confidence up a little? It sounds like you could really benefit from just learning how to answer questions on the spot and maybe practicing techniques for calming down in that situation. In terms of the interviews themselves, remember that it's always ok to ask for clarification or to take a few seconds to marshal your thoughts before answering.

If its just the anxiety of the whole situation then you could even consider trying something like hypnotherapy to help you master your nerves.


======= Date Modified 18 Feb 2010 16:31:44 =======
It does seem to be incredibly competitive at the moment - I've had a couple of rejections so far, and the feedback has been along the lines of 'you were a strong candidate, however one of the other applicants was marginally better/had a little more relevant experience'.

So rejection doesn't necessarily mean you were awful, just that when there's so much competition for a limited number or places or amount of funding, plenty of good people are getting turned away. I'm sure your referees will understand this. I know what you mean though, it does start to feel awkward asking for so many references :(


The thing I found really helpful was to find as many example interview questions as possible- you can find these online- and write down what you would like to say to these and learn them! You can even find model answers online that you can adapt to fit your situation. Although you can't predict what you will be asked, having very strong answers ready for the obvious questions will offset any poor answers you might happen to give to the unexpected ones.

Hope this helps!


Thanks a lot for your replies; they are very much appreciated & helpful!

I did have contact with the supervisor in question beforehand (however I couldn’t meet him/her in person as the interview was at a uni quite a distance away and it would have been difficult to take time off work) and at the time being s/he appeared to be pretty interested in me, stating that my work experience and especially my MSc dissertation matched the studentship in question really well. But once I am in an interview I get so anxious that I never manage to bring my enthusiasm for the project in question across, as well as being unable to answer generic questions (why do you want to do it, pros/cons of MSc project, pros/cons of doing PhD, future plans, etc).

As for your suggestions with practicing interview questions beforehand, I’ve done this already but I never seem to get so anxious that I am unable to string coherent sentences together. I just don’t know what’s wrong with me. Maybe I should indeed do more practice and hope that it’ll get better over time. Even though I have my heart set on doing a PhD, how much time do I have or better say how much more time shall I invest in my search (given that some PhDs already have an internal candidate in mind like Sneaks suggested)? Maybe I am also projecting an “I know that I will not get this anyway” image, because I faced so many PhD rejections post interview already.

I am also getting a bit worked up at the moment, as I haven’t done anything relevant to my area since September after the funding ran out for my old job. I’ve been looking like crazy but have been unable to find anything. So admittedly I am worried that this counts against me big time and I’ll give the impression of being a slacker to shortlisters.

I know it’s competitive out there right now, but I really feel as if time is counting against me at the moment and that I am loosing the race…