There are many very difficult (intellectually and morally!) questions that you can and will get asked at an interview for a social science subject. This blog is not going to give you the answers to all of them as these are complex questions and the answer will depend greatly upon your own judgement, but I do want to consider how you can best prepare so as to reduce the chance of you being asked about a topic you have not prepared an answer to. These questions are characterised by having no correct answer so what your interviewer is testing your ability to interact and engage with complex topics.
The first way to prepare is to be as well read as you can in advance of your interview. Many students make the mistake of getting carried away with the theoretical concepts of their subject and stop applying it to real life. Political theories are very interesting but more so when you can apply them to real life situations. Economic models are useful concepts but need to be applied in order to really become effective. Ensure that when you are reading, you are devoting enough time to current affairs and that you are practicing applying this to your new knowledge. I advise students to collect articles in the lead up to the interview so that in the final ten days you can refresh your memory about the context and lead up to events. This also ensures that you can demonstrate you have more extensive knowledge and awareness than could be gleaned from just reading a newspaper the day before your interview.
The second important way to spend your time is to anticipate questions and prepare for them. Make a list of the relevant questions that relate to current affairs and consider your answers. The same questions could be asked in a law interview and an economics interview so remember your subject and tailor your answer accordingly. It is important to be able to demonstrate that you understand no subject is studied as a singular academic topic and that there will be other angles and aspects to consider, while retaining a focus on your own subject for the purposes of the question. Brainstorming each question on a different piece of paper will allow you to note down all of your ideas as well as relevant reading/lectures so that you can refresh your memory just before the interview.
The third and most valuable method for dealing with complex intellectual questions is to practice. The old adage really is true when it comes to interviews. Enlist the help of a friend (ideally one who understands your subject). You should both spend some time individually preparing a list of the most difficult questions that you can think of and then use them to test the other person. The tougher you are now, the less you will be thrown in the actual interview! This is a really good way to work together to anticipate more difficult questions and improve your ability to defend your point of view.
You will never be able to anticipate every complex question but when there is no “right answer” the point of the question is to test your your ability to deal with new material, to formulate a cohesive answer and most importantly to be able to justify and explain it. Just remember to keep it related to your subject and to bring in all of your reading and theory when you can!
All views and ideas represented in this blog post are exclusive to Resham, and do not represent those of any other third party.