Do You Know How to Interview? Part 2
By Jeannette Webb
Last time we looked at how to help younger children learn communication skills that will, in time, help them be better interviewers. Now we turn our focus to students at the cusp of college interviews.
Before ever walking into the interview, you need to spend time thinking about what the last four years of high school have meant to you. What have you learned about yourself? How have you grown? What matters to you? Why do you do what you do? What are your triumphs and failures? What do you want for your future? Do a Google search of common interview questions.
Students should be thoroughly familiar with their resume and be prepared to discuss anything on it. You should have a copy with you and ask the interviewer if it would be helpful for them. If not, leave it in a folder on your lap.
Interviewing is very much like playing a sport. You have to practice to be good. I recommend starting several months prior to college interviews (think October of the senior year). If interviewing is difficult or you need to re-train, you will need plenty of time.
Start with your friends who are applying to college and interview each other. Most kids make very similar mistakes and you will catch these in your friends if you are paying attention. If you are smart, you’ll then avoid those errors yourself. Then practice with your parents or other adults. The next step is to video yourself in an interview situation. Try to arrange a taped interview with someone you don’t know that well, then watch the tape carefully to see how you are responding. What does your face look like when asked a tough question? Do you play with your hair if under stress? Do you fidget? Do you look confident? Do you laugh and smile?
Do Your Homework
If you are interviewing for college, you obviously need to have spent time researching the college in question and understand the atmosphere and values of the institution. If you are interviewing with an alum of the institution, find out anything you can about them – occupation, pet projects, their college major. Look for common ground to break the ice. If you are interviewing for a scholarship, learn about past recipients and try to identify what the interviewers are looking for. Research the goals of the scholarship and be prepared to discuss how you fit and what you can contribute. Always be prepared to ask questions of your interviewer. It shows you’ve done your homework and that you are interested in them as well as an interesting person.
The goal is to dress simply and appropriately. I always advise my clients to dress one step above the average kid. While you no longer need to wear a suit and tie for college campus interviews, I suggest at least dress pants and a collared shirt for guys. However, if you are interviewing with an alum at their place of business, dress like the professionals you will be around.
Girls can wear dressy slacks. If you wear a skirt or dress, make sure it is long enough when you sit down that you are comfortable. I’ve seen too many girls spend the entire interview shifting in their seats, tugging at a skirt that suddenly feels too short. Don’t wear distracting jewelry. Noisy bracelets, huge earrings can be a disturbance to you and your interviewer. We want the focus on your face and your words, not outlandish extras.
If you are interviewing for a prestigious scholarship, you need to dress like a leader. In this instance suits are appropriate for guys and girls.
I have often found that boys with extremely youthful looks can be transformed into mature looking young men with dark-rimmed glasses.
If you meet at a restaurant, order something that is easy to eat. Greasy burger juice can run down your elbows. Salad greens can get caught in your teeth. Don’t even think about BBQ ribs.
Watch your Answers
While you shouldn’t be nervous about your interview, it is wise to watch your step. Keep your politics and your faith to yourself (unless you are interviewing at a Christian school). You must also stay in tune with your interviewer. Watch their faces and wrap your answer up if they are growing weary or want to move on. Always quit BEFORE their eyes glaze over.
Don’t Get Shaken
It is extremely rare to get an aggressive interviewer at this level, but I still throw hard questions at kids to see how they handle it. Here’s why. One of the most valuable interview experiences I ever had was during my sophomore year in college. It was to prepare me for the statewide competition of the Truman Scholarship and I will never EVER forget it. I walked into a sunless room with a huge conference table filled with dour looking political science professors. Then spent the next two hours grilling me on areas totally outside my expertise. It was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve ever gone through. I had never failed so badly at anything. After it was over, I walked on shaking legs back to my dorm, threw myself on my bed, and wept.
After that disastrous experience, nothing ever seemed hard again. The actual Truman interview was a piece of cake by comparison. I waltzed away with the scholarship that would fund the last two years of my undergraduate degree as well as my master’s degree.
Because a difficult experience benefitted me so greatly, I enlisted the help of an attorney friend who disagreed with us on many other fronts to shake my son up prior to his college interviews. As I secretly predicted, my son got himself off on the wrong foot by talking about politics and my friend skewered him over it. It taught Austin an important lesson on knowing his audience and being careful in his answers.
Hard questions and difficult experiences will prepare you to stay calm. Don’t shy away from them or protect your kids from them.
Watch Your Body Language
In a difficult interview situation, it is important to stay in control. Even if you are being faced with negativity, maintain a smile. Sit forward on your seat. Under a barrage of tough questions, sliding back in your chair signals retreat or defeat. Crossed arms shows defiance or you are using them as a protective mechanism to shield you from the other person.
Other Important Stuff
The main thing is to be yourself. It’s okay to laugh or to pause and think about an answer. It is fine to ask for clarification when necessary (but not every question).
Everyone you meet in an office (admissions office or business office of an alum) are watching you. Be friendly and polite. Get a business card and send a thank you note to your interviewer immediately. I prefer handwritten, but if email is the only means of communicating, do that.
Use any situation to learn about yourself. After you are out of the interview situation, write down the questions you got. What did you answer well? What did you flub? How could you do it better next time? What should you have included in your answers? Experiences have little value unless they are evaluated.
Note to Parents
Even though you’ve been such a part of your children’s lives, you need to be out of sight for the college interviews. Students need to make arrangements themselves for campus visits and college or scholarship interviews. If your student doesn’t drive, drop them off where they need to meet the interviewer and leave the premises. Your presence during the interview could throw your child and will certainly give the idea that your kids are not mature enough to handle things themselves.
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