Job of a Graduate Assistant allows you to earn some extra cash during your studies, while learning important skills and gaining interesting connections both with the members of the student community and the members of academic staff.

You may respond for a variety of duties (this changes from one University to another), ranging from supervising Resident Assistants and Student Directors, to providing assistants for Lecturers, grading exams, or even providing counseling for regular students. This really depends on the faculty and your superior.

Now we will have a look at some questions you may get while interviewing for this interesting position. Besides preparing for the questions, I encourage you to read the job description carefully. To know what duties you’ll be responsible for will help a lot with good answers to some of the questions…

 

Why do you want to work as a graduate assistant?

Try to combine more reasons in your answer. Earning some extra cash (typically less than $20,000 annually in the US) should not be your only, or primary reason.

You can talk about your interest in the academic life, and an honest desire to do something for the student community. Of course it’s give and take, and you understand it. You will benefit from the connections with the professors and with other motivated students, who also decided to represent the community (resident assistants, student directors, etc).

Another alternative is referring to your plan of continuing your studies after earning Master’s Degree. You plan to continue as a PhD student, and see this opportunity as a great way to learn more about doing academic research, writing papers, and even teaching.

Show the interviewers that you have your reasons, and that they aren’t entirely selfish.

 

How do you imagine a typical week in the job of a Graduate Assistant?

At this point it really helps if you read the job description before. Of course, as you certainly know, many job descriptions are written in a complicated way, and your real responsibilities won’t match the responsibilities from the list.

Nevertheless, it should at least give you an idea whether you will work more with the professor (or group of professors), or with the area director, resident assistants, or directly with the students. This really depends on the faculty, the way they organize the student life, and the role graduate assistants play in the organization.

In any case, you should emphasize that you expect to work 20 hours a week, or more. Then you can name several duties (from the job description), and say that each week may require you to work on different stuff.

Some weeks you may spend proctoring for tests, or conducting training sessions with new resident assistants, on other days you may do administrative tasks for the professor, helping them with the research.

As I already said, check the job description carefully, because various faculties have various expectations on the graduate assistants, and you should show realistic expectations in your interview.

You can also say that you want to be always available, at least on a call, to help address any emergency situations that may occur in the residency hall or elsewhere, as long as they fall under the scope of your responsibility.

 

How do you plan to handle both your studies, and the duties of a Graduate Assistant?

I suggest you to not give priority to one or the other. Say that you plan to sacrifice most of your free time activities (going to club, doing some sports, etc). You simply give both your studies and your work the first priority, and will adjust your schedule accordingly.

Tell them about your daily and weekly planning. You did your math, and you came to a conclusion that it is within your powers to remain a good student, and at the same time give your 100% to your job of a graduate assistant.

It won’t be easy–you know it, but you also know why you want to work as a graduate assistant, and are ready to sacrifice some of your leisure time activities for this role.

In fact, the most important thing is to show confidence in your ability to handle your job, while remaining a good student. Unless you show this confidence in your interview, they won’t hire you…

Can you tell us more about any previous roles you held within the student community?

Speaking honestly, it is tough to get this job unless you worked as an RA, or as a student director before. Or unless you had some other role in the student community.

If you had one of the roles, you can talk about the responsibilities you had, things you did, and how they prepared you for the role of a graduate assistant.

For example, you can narrate a conflict situation in which you intervened, or how you represented the interests of the student community in front of the representatives of the teachers and school administrators.

Ensure the interviewers that you know the life of RA’s from first hand experience, the problems they experience, how challenging it is to get into the role as a novice. Hence you will be able to help with check-ins and orientation and basically any problem they may face in their job. You feel ready to lead them.

If you have no direct experience working for the student community, you should explain why. Why you weren’t interested before, and now suddenly you are interested.

You can refer to a part time job you had outside of the faculty, or some other activities you devoted yourself to up to this point. Activities that prevented you from applying for one of the roles in the student community.

Things have changed, however. Now you are ready to do something for the community, and are confident that you’ll handle the job even though you have no previous experience.

* Download the full list of questions in a one page long PDF, and practice your interview answers anytime later:

graduate assistant interview questions, PDF

What are your expectations on the Area Director, or on other staff members?

They should get an impression that you do not expect them to spoon-feed you. You have your experience, you understand the job precisely, and will be able to come up with your own ideas and inputs. In my opinion, you have two good options how to answer this question.

First one is saying that you expect a clear and honest communication from their side. You want to know what they expect from you, in different areas of your job, and a clear definition of your responsibilities, and your position within the department or community. You wish for an honest constructive feedback from their side, because obviously this will be a new role for you, and you may not do everything right at the beginning.

Second option is saying that you have high expectations on one person only–on yourself. You will try your best to cooperate with other faculty members in the best possible way, to help whenever you can. But you do not care much about the way they go about their job–because it’s not your duty to evaluate someone else’s work.

 

Behavioral questions you may face while interviewing for a job of a graduate assistant

In most cases you will get at least 3 or 4 questions from the first five we already analyzed in this article. And sometimes that may be it–that will be the end of your graduate assistant interview.

In other cases, however, interviewers will inquire about certain situations you experienced before, while studying or working at school. We call such questions behavioral, and your answers to them help the interviewers understand your attitude to certain situations you may experience while working as a graduate assistant. To such question belong:

  • Tell us about the last conflict you had with another student. What was the conflict about, and how did you solve it?
  • Describe a situation when you had to meet a tight deadline. What did you do to meet the deadline?
  • Tell us about a situation when you failed in your work as a RA (or other position).
  • Describe a time when you successfully trained someone to do something.
  • It’s 11pm, Friday, and you get a call from a student who complains that there is a party in one of the rooms in the dormitory. What will you do?
  • Tell us about a time when you disagreed with your superior or supervisor.
  • Tell us about a time when you  felt overwhelmed with work.
  • When you had to work on multiple projects (tasks), how did you prioritize?

* Special Tip: Most people struggle with behavioral (scenario-based) questions. If you also aren’t sure how to answer them, or simply want to gain a competitive edge for your graduate assistant interview (and all other job interview you will ever go to), have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 7 premium answers to 31 most common behavioral interview questions will make your life much easier in every job interview. Thank you for checking it out!

 

Conclusion, next steps

Interview for a job of a Graduate Assistant belongs to interviews with average difficulty. Everything is much easier when you have a proven experience of doing something for a student community before (for example working as a resident assistant).

But you can succeed also without any previous experience, just it will be more difficult, and you may have to beat the other applicants in tricky parts of the interview process, for example with much better answers to behavioral questions.

Read the job description two or three times, and show realistic expectations about the job. Prepare for the questions from this article, and do not forget to try to build a good connection with your interviewers. At the end of the day, they are academics, not HR professionals. Personal preferences will always play a role in this case…

May also help you succeed in your graduate assistant interview:

Matthew Chulaw
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