One mistake in your interview won’t dramatically damage your chances of being offered a place on your chosen course. However, there are certain things that you should try to avoid – things that might damage the rapport you’ve built up or distract your interviewer from the things that you are saying. This resource highlights three common interview behaviours to try and avoid.
Most academics will agree that, the further they get into their careers, the more humble they become. There are no universally accepted ‘truths’ in the majority of academic fields, and academics are particularly attuned to argumentative caution. Some Oxbridge applicants are erroneously taught to be highly forthright and cocksure in their approach to interview questions. This will most likely raise the impression of the applicant as incapable of flexible thinking and nuance. Instead, show sympathy with multiple ways to approach the question, particularly if it is a broad, ‘critical thinking’ style question, common for many subjects. Take heed, however; avoiding absolutism does not mean saying nothing of substance at all. It simply requires acknowledging the many possible ways of approaching a question, and evaluating your own approach.
In mock interviews, we sometimes come across applicants who answer questions as if they are banal and basic. These applicants tend to speak quickly, spilling many different ideas relating vaguely to the question, and make the interviewer feel they have asked them something rather silly. They might regularly score top marks in school exams, and have a knack for getting the right answer. At university-level, this is definitely an attitude to avoid. Regardless of your initial impressions of the question, the interviewer will not have asked it to you if it does not have significant depth of exploration. In fact, it might be a question the interviewer has personally grappled with throughout their academic career. After all, any question can be broken apart and analysed, no matter how simple. The trick here is to actively seek out why a question has been posed; look for the muddy, the ambiguous, and the complicated, rather than trying to shut it down.
Suffering in silence
Regardless of the type of question or field of academia, the interview is there to test your suitability to the Oxford or Cambridge style of small-group discourse-based teaching. What the interviewer does not want is to pose a question, and then, after 5 minutes of silence, for you to present your answer in summary. Of course, take some time to think about the question (perhaps around 10 seconds), but then begin to talk through your thought process, even if that means asking questions to the interviewer. This increases the efficiency of the interview because it allows the interviewer to latch onto anything you are saying and guide you. This is perhaps most challenging for physical science and maths applicants, due to the way in which these subjects tend to be taught at school, but it's an essential skill to build to stand the best chances at your interview.
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