Interviewing Best Practices

Holistic Admissions

Applications provide admissions committees a slice of insight into an applicant’s ability to succeed in and contribute to your graduate program. Admission interviews are an important tool to provide a fuller picture of an applicant’s experiences, academic or professional interests, and abilities. It's important to establish an equitable interview process that is effective for your program.

Benefits of an admissions interview

Provides additional context and information that contribute to holistic review

  • The applicant is given space to provide greater detail about their experiences than they are afforded in their essays or resume/CV.

  • An interview can provide helpful context. For instance, an applicant may be able to more fully explain all of their responsibilities and the skills they gained during a research, educational, or professional experience. They may talk about how they balanced their academic, extracurricular, and personal responsibilities while working 25 hours/week, yet didn’t include that 25 hours/week job on their resume/CV. 

  • An interviewer can ask questions to gather additional information about any perceived gaps in an applicant’s resume or transcript.

  • Interviews allow for discussion of future goals and ambitions. Does the applicant have projects they want to explore, skills they want to develop, or experiences they are hoping to have? This allows applicants to discuss why UW-Madison and the program is a good fit for them.

Programs can develop behavioral interview questions to gain insight into how applicants have responded to specific types of challenges previously. Behavioral interview questions focus on assessing applicants past experiences and the skills they used when navigating specific situations. This may provide insight into how they may approach challenges in the future.

Provides an opportunity for “unscripted” responses

An applicant’s essays and resume/CV may have gone through several revisions before being uploaded to the application portal. However, in an interview, while an applicant can and should prepare, they will not be able to anticipate every aspect of the conversation. They must demonstrate the ability to be responsive to real-time prompts for information and reply, both exceptional qualities for success in graduate school. 

Provides a recruitment opportunity

During the interview, an applicant will organically talk about their specific interests in your program and ask for more information to address their questions. As a result, the interview presents a key opportunity to promote the strengths of the program as a recruitment tool for applicants. This is an opportunity to highlight what makes your program unique versus your competitors. Spending time with an applicant in an interview also builds rapport between the applicant and faculty, staff, and current students within the program.

In addition to providing details about the academic, scholarly, and/or research strengths of your program, be sure to supply applicants with information about funding opportunities, the competitiveness of UW-Madison stipends and benefits, the strength of student support services at our university, and the appeal of living in Madison. The Graduate School offers a selection of digital and print recruitment materials for this purpose.

 How to implement admissions interviews 

There are multiple ways to incorporate interviews into the admissions review process depending on the goal of the interview and the capacity you have to conduct interviews. One example is to select a small group of finalists to invite to campus; during that visit faculty on the admissions committee will interview this group to help determine who will receive an admissions offer. Another example is to virtually interview all highly qualified applicants. Interviews may be done by individual faculty or as a small admissions committee, which may include current graduate students.

Determining whom to interview

When the admissions committee meets to discuss the upcoming application cycle, they should discuss the purpose of their admissions interview as well as their administrative capacity to schedule and host these interviews. The admissions committee will need to determine the amount of time available to schedule interviews in. For example, do all interviews need to be scheduled to be completed within one week, or can they be scheduled to take place over a month? This can help the group determine how many individuals to invite to interview and during which part of the review process.

Determining who will be the interviewers

While there may be a large number of faculty and academic staff available to interview applicants, the following should be considered before creating the interviewer pool.

  • Recruit volunteers thoughtfully, aiming to have a representation of identities such as race, ethnicity, gender, program specialization, geographic location, etc. among your interviewer pool.

  • Consider asking applicants to provide a list of faculty names of who they are interested in speaking to, especially if the program is research based.
  • Ensure all interviewers have the relevant application documentation. Having access to all applicants asked to interview will help faculty determine the candidate pool and competitiveness. Consider creating a research summary document with details about each applicant interviewing for all faculty to review.

  • Current graduate students should not be asked to participate solely in interviews and any input they provide is considered advisory. To read more about the guidelines for graduate students on admissions committee: 

Determining virtual or in-person interviews

Programs may offer interviews virtually, in-person, or both. Consider the advantages and disadvantages applicants may have in each setting.

For virtual interviews:

  • Applicants may not have access to reliable internet, a working webcam, or a quiet, private space. 

  • Background visuals and noise may impact the interviewer’s perspective of an applicant’s professionalism or fit. 

  • For international applicants, consider the time zones where most of your applicants live. Consider asking the applicants what time of day works best for them and schedule applicants in similar time zones around the same time.

  • Assign an interview coordinator. 

    • This person should not be an interviewer and should be available to troubleshoot and be a resource for any logistical questions and issues that arise. 

    • This person should have personal contact information for the interviewers and applicants (i.e. cell phone) in case someone does not show up to the virtual interview.

    • Consider creating a virtual meeting with breakout rooms for each interviewee where the interview coordinator stays in the main room to be available to help with any issues. 

Providing an equitable experience

Creating structure around the interview process will assist with providing all applicants a similar interview experience. This is especially important if several individuals, all with their own perspectives, opinions, and biases, are interviewing candidates.

Create a list of interview questions or topics

  • Review your program criteria for your graduate program. What information about skills, abilities, or competencies are you still looking to gather from applicants that is not provided in other application materials such as their essay(s) or resume/CV?

  • Share interview guidelines and goals with both the applicants and the interviewers.
  • If creating a list of questions:

    • What are the key questions you want to make sure every applicant is asked in the allotted time, and what is the priority of those questions? This will determine your question order. 

    • Create a standardized list of questions that will be asked of every applicant. Provide all interviewers with direction on their ability to ask additional follow-up or clarifying questions as needed, and what to do if there is not enough time to ask all questions in the time allotted. Discuss with your interviewers the amount of flexibility they have with your interview question list (e.g. should they make sure each question is asked? Can they tailor questions to specific candidates?)

    • Ensure that each applicant is not asked the same question by multiple interviewers.

  • Consider providing the list of topics and/or questions to the interviewee to review before the interview.

Create an interview rubric and evaluation form

  • Refer to Evaluation Rubrics Best Practice and Examples for details on how to set up a rubric.

  • Provide all interviewers with an evaluation form. If a specific list of questions were developed or a list of skills, abilities, and/or competencies were created, add them to the evaluation form. 

  • Create a rubric to guide answer ranges.

  • Include a section on the evaluation form for interviewers to note any bias they may have reflected on during the interview (e.g. they realized a personal connection with the applicant, they went to the same high school, etc.)

Interviewers training

Require all interviewers to train on recognizing implicit bias and an overview of the interview questions. Explain what the program is looking for in each question and review the rubric. In an interview, interviewers may be biased toward someone’s appearance, clothing, or location (Zoom background, residence hall room or other). Provide interviewers with tools to identify and address these biases.

Communicate expectations to interviewees

  • When scheduling interviews, send confirmation and reminder emails so applicants have easy access to their interview information. This will also improve interview attendance.

  • Include information about the length of the interview, who the interview is with, and what information the interview will cover overall.

  • If there is an expectation of “business casual” attire, note this in the confirmation email and interview registration, and explain how the program defines “business casual.” 

  • Consider letting applicants know about UW backgrounds they could optionally use for the interview.

English speaking skills

If interviewers are asked to evaluate an applicant’s English speaking skills, as evidenced in the interview, additional training should be offered along with a rubric for speaking competency. Like many other assessments, English proficiency evaluations rely on evidence-based best practice techniques and strategies. Attempts to assess the English proficiency of an applicant without field-based expertise or additional training can introduce bias and inequity. If assessments are conducted, programs should provide examples of speaking competency levels at each rubric level to assist interviewers with evaluating these skills.

Additional resources

A list of resources for more information about select interview topics.


Behavioral interviews

Behavioral Interviewing and the STAR Approach from Northwestern University

Non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements

An example of Admissions Committee Member Confidentiality and Conflict of Interest Agreement from Kornberg School of Dentistry at Temple University

Creating inclusive video interviews

6 Best Practices for Creating an Inclusive and Equitable Interview Process from Harvard Business School

Interview rubrics

Rubric Checklist from the Equity in Graduate Education Resource Center

Sample Application Review or Interview Scoring Rubric from University of Washington

Implicit Bias

Reducing Implicit Bias in the Admissions Process from Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science

Implicit Bias Video Series from UCLA

Implicit Bias Training from The Ohio State University


View additional modules in the Holistic Admissions Toolkit:

Target iconAdmissions Committees

Ribbon iconEvaluation Rubrics

Microphone iconInterviewing

Globe iconInternational Applicants

KeywordsHolistic, Admissions, Toolkit, Graduate, Interview, Applicant   Doc ID131849
OwnerKatie B.GroupGraduate School
Created2023-10-03 11:54:02Updated2024-04-23 11:58:53
SitesGraduate School
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