Open File versus Closed File Interviews: What’s the Difference?

One of the most significant differences between types of interviews is whether they are open or closed file.

In an open file interview, the interviewer has access to your application materials. Prior to the interview, he or she will already be familiar with your GPA, test scores, extracurricular and work activities and personal statement. By contrast, in a completely closed file or “blind” interview, the interviewer knows little or nothing about you beyond your name. Between these two extremes lies the semi-open interview. In this case, the interviewer will have limited information about you, such as your basic background information and personal statement, but will not know your grades or test scores.

Why do schools even have closed file interviews? After all, you spent many hours crafting a careful worded application telling the schools everything about you from the number of siblings you have to your grades in every class. Why don’t the schools pass this information along to the interviewers?

The answer is that a closed interview avoids what is known as “the halo effect.” If an applicant with a 3.9 and test scores in the ninety-ninth percentile walks in, the interviewer may be biased in that person’s favor. Such an applicant’s responses may be more favorably received given the brilliant glow cast by those great numbers. Later on, the committee will meet and compile all of the information as they consider the applicant’s candidacy , including grades, scores, activities, interview results; however during the actual interview, a closed or semi-open format allows for the interviewer to more easily evaluate the applicant’s responses on their own merits.

Some schools will reveal to applicants prior to the interview whether the interview is open or closed file. Other times, the interviewer may mention at the start of the interview that he or she has only limited information about the applicant. However, you may sometimes take part in an interview without knowing the exact information the interviewer has about you. If you are in doubt, approach the interview as though it is closed file. That way, you will not leave out basic information if asked by the interviewer to “Tell me about yourself” or other questions designed to help the interviewer understand your background.

Some applicants prefer open interviews, while others are happy that their numbers are unknown to the interviewer. However, success in any type of interview depends on thorough preparation, clear, focused answers and presenting yourself professionally. Make sure that you research the school, review potential questions and practice your responses so that you can make a positive impression on that important day.

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