This weekend, I got to sit on the other side of the table. I got to smile, say welcome, jot down notes, host, and answer any questions anyone had.
That’s right… it was… drumroll please…
PROSPECTIVE CANDIDATE INTERVIEW DAYS!
It is very hard to reflect over the past year and know that in just a few short, (okay sometimes they felt very, VERY long), twelve months, I found a program, I started a new job, completed my first semester, and am now acting as a guide for prospective students as they begin their search.
This blows. my. mind.
All in all, I don’t think I had ever been more challenged than when I interviewed for graduate programs. The growth I experienced in two short weekends was remarkable. I’d always return home affirmed that I had found my field. I couldn’t wait to work alongside the individuals I had met as professional colleagues.
Regardless of the glow I now feel when reflecting back on my interview experience, there are some tidbits of advice I wish I would have heard and taken to heart. For all of you embarking on your interview weekends, or maybe those of you that want to relive the glory of finding a grad program, below is a list of my best nuggets of wisdom for every prospective candidate.
The competition is fierce, but so are you.
As I mingled with other prospective candidates, I think my eyebrows only raised higher and higher as I heard the impressive accomplishments of my potential peers. I was floored with the expertise each candidate brought to the table, and of course, inwardly, I was panicking. It’s one thing to feel confident in your skills and resume when you’re alone and listening to Eye of the Tiger on repeat. But it’s another to realize that everyone could potentially be as qualified as you thought you were for a position.
Don’t ignore this feeling, but instead, embrace it. You were chosen to interview BECAUSE you have just as much to contribute to the field as these peers. Even better, you still have your specific unique experiences to draw on. Potentially, there are more candidates interviewing than spots available. But even if you don’t end up with an offer from this particular institution, look at all of these impacting individuals you have just met who can help you in the field as a colleague, not a competitor. Allow yourself to see these peers as walking and talking fountains of knowledge and know that they see you similarly.
Be gracious to others.
Interviews are intense for the prospective candidate, for sure. But they are also a whirlwind of emotions for current students and interviewers alike. Show your appreciation to the folks who have gone out of the way to host you, guide you, and interview you, even if those particular conversations didn’t leave you feeling invigorated and ready to change the world. You’ll have those impacting conversations with others. It’s much easier to remember to thank those folks than it is to remember to thank the person who coordinated the meals for the entire weekend. But can you imagine doing interviews without being fed? Not a pretty picture.
Self care is a real and necessary thing.
When I interviewed, it wasn’t until my second school that I realized I needed to take a break for myself. Your schedule will be packed with opportunities to meet folks, to chat with an ambassador or host, and to get the feel for the program. This doesn’t mean you should put aside your own needs to prioritize engaging with others. Instead, find a balance. If you need to say no to things to just sit by yourself for a quick half an hour on a random bench eating a cookie, do it. If this will make you feel recharged and more motivated to engage later, it’s worth it. Also, I took absolutely zero time for myself my first interview weekend and came home with a sinus infection and ended up missing two days of work. Take care of yourself. Learn from my mistakes.
The “magical fit” is a real thing and you find it by listening to your gut.
Pay attention to your gut as you interview with programs. If something feels off or a red flag pops up, take note and ask about it. If you walk into a room as a prospective candidate and it feels like someone just threw glitter confetti over your heart, follow that feeling. Evaluate your needs and what you can’t compromise in finding a program and align them with those gut feelings. This is how you will find a program that will make your grad experience bearable when your life feels like it’s in shambles and you’ve gone through an entire Costco-size tub of coffee. Finding that fit is a magical thing, but it requires a lot of reflection and a lot of decision making. You can do it, and you will do it by listening to your gut.
This post is part of the Emerging SA Pro series following 4 awesome people: Aracelis, Emalie, Felicia, and Patrick, as they blog monthly about 1 year of their journey as either a new SA Pro or SA grad student. We are proud to help them share their stories as they break into our field.