Structure of a STEM interview
The final step of a STEM interview will usually be for the person giving the interview to ask if you have any further questions. Saying no at this stage makes it seem as though the candidate is not very interested in actually attending the course, so it is best to always have at least a few questions prepared. Having a question about the structure of the course will indicate that you are serious about wanting to attend. Failing that, asking about the research that is currently being undertaken at the University will prove that you have investigated the latest work of the department and could flatter the academic ego of the interviewer.
Preparation for the interview
During a STEM interview you must remember that if you are applying for a prestigious university, they will have applicants from around the world. This means that the interviewer will sometimes have only a hazy understanding of the standards that any applicant will have had to measure up to. Stemming from this, many interviewers will ask technical questions for subjects that should be well known to the interviewee. The message from this is to prepare for the interview as if preparing for an exam, as a section of the interview may be very similar in content to one. Make sure you are not caught out by assuming that your qualifications speak for themselves.
The other area of technical questions that are asked in STEM interviews are of a more difficult nature. Often, interviewers will try and test the critical thinking and analysis skills of candidates by posing a question that they will have not encountered or have never thought of before. Such questions can include “how many windows do you think are in New York City”, “Why did they used to make the mill chimneys so tall?” or “Why do sausages split lengthways, rather than around the circumference?”. The aim of these questions are to try and ascertain the thought processes of the potential student. STEM courses are not simply about learning equations and facts, and then being able to regurgitate them at will, but try to prepare graduates for their working lives in which they will be creating novel applications and processes.
The key here is to realise that getting the exact right answer is not the most important thing, rather it is to show how the problem can be analysed. As a first step, come up with some assumptions about the question and work from there, narrating your thought processes. The worst thing that can be done is to either immediately say “I don’t know”, or to remain silent whilst thinking. The first displays the wrong sort of attitude compared to what they are looking for, and the second requires the interviewer to be a mind reader, not something that is optimal when they are assessing the quality of your thought processes.
Although at first it may seem impossible to prepare for unexpected questions, in reality this is something which can also feature in your preparation. The best method to prepare for a STEM university interview is to stage your own mock interview. With the help of a relative or friend, you can go through the structure of the interview described in this article, with your trial interviewer researching challenging technical questions to pose to you beforehand.
Dos and Don’t checklist
In conclusion, going for a STEM interview can be a nerve wracking task, but you should simply aim to show the interviewer your enthusiasm and competence. With the right preparation you should have all the right tools to succeed.