Friday, November 14, 2008

Nailing the Interview

I realize that some of you have applied early decision / action to schools already, and you have the option / requirement of an interview. Always opt to have an interview, especially for your reach and match schools. If a school holds interviews, but doesn't set them up for you, then make sure you take the iniative and find out how to get one. Just call the admissions office and ask them about it. Really, it's not a big hassle and it's completely worth it.

Here are the important parts of an interview:

1. Preparation - Never go into a college interview cold turkey; you should have an idea of what sorts of questions they will ask and how you want to answer them. Google "college interviews" for some of the archetypal questions that are asked. Also, know what specifically draws you to the school, such as its aspects of its academics, its campus, etc. If you have to, do a little research beforehand. This topic always comes up interviews, so you want your reasons for interest in the college solidified in your mind. Secondly, think about your best qualities - in academics, personality, and extracurriculars - and be sure you can cite experiences that exemplify them. For example, when was a time when you showed leadership and acted under pressure? I was asked this at my Columbia interview. It might be a good idea to look over your resume before an interview and pick out what best exemplifies you.

2. Pre-Interview - Dress for the occasion. It's better to overdress and show that you mean really business than underdress. Make sure you show up early for the interview. Punctuality demonstrates your earnestness and allows you to collect your nerves. On that note, don't be nervous. Be yourself; that is, only be the best parts of yourself. Speak in your everyday voice but don't use colloquialisms. "Yeah, i pwn3d the SATs" is not adequate.

3. The Interview - This is your opportunity to portray your best qualities and also your human-ness. You're more than just numbers on a paper, and now you have to prove it. If possible, try not to mention things that are already on your application, such as your GPA, SAT scores, etc. It's best to try to answer questions using anecdotes about rewarding experiences you've had; even if you don't think they were so beneficial, embellish the experience to show how you became a better or more complete person out of it. To illustrate, say camping is one of your favorite hobbies. Be prepared to talk about how you've gained independence, resilience, and meticulousness from it with examples. Furthermore, always elaborate your answers and make them pertinent to yourself. Remember, this is a showcase of YOU. At my MIT interview, I was asked what my favorite book was. I gave an explanation of the book and why I liked it, but I never really related it to me. I should have said something along the lines of, "I could really relate to the protagonist of Atlas Shrugged. We had many resonances in character, like diligence . . ." Of course, I would want to back that up with a specific example from my life and that of the protagonist. No matter how cheesy or abstract you sound, show what you've gained from an experience.

Don't forget that the interviewer is also present at the interview (lol) and that they're usually alumni. Don't hesitate to ask them questions about the school, such as why they chose it, what opportunities it opened for them, etc. In fact, I recommend brainstorming a few questions that you WILL ask them throughout the interview or afterwards. Not only can you get questions answered from firsthand experiences, but also you show interest in the school.

4. Post-Interview - The interview is not the be-all end-all of the application process. I don't believe, however, that "it helps more than it hurts." A mediocre interview does not help at all and equates to a great opporunity missed. A great interview can be your ticket in to a school. Just be well prepared. Remember, you want to display your best characteristics and cite specific examples that convey them. It's a good idea to follow up the interview with a pleasant email or letter thanking the interviewer. If the interviewer has not produced the write-up yet, then your face will be fresh in his mind. After your first one or two interviews, you will become more comfortable in selling your abilities and displaying your prowess.


  1. how do you get over nervousness??

  2. Hey,

    Have confidence in yourself. Know that you've worked really hard for the past four years, you've done all these amazing accomplishments, and you're proud of what you've done. If you're confident, you won't second-guess yourself or be too self conscious.

    Also, if you're well prepared, you won't be nervous when asked questions. Have a general idea of the questions you'll be asked and the direction you'll go with your answers. If you're faced with a difficult question, then take a second to think. Breathe deeply, and don't panic. Avoid excessive use of filler words like "uhmm or well" and use that time to just think. Once you've collected your thoughts, answer articulately. It's better to organize your thoughts in your head instead of just stuttering and sputtering the first thing that comes to mind - the latter will hurt your confidence and make you nervous.

    Before the interview, just relax. Personally, before I go into the interview place, I usually close my eyes, clasp my hands, and breathe in a few times. I always bring a copy of my resume and re-read it before I go in. I just try to clear my mind and not think about the outcome of the interview. Don't ask yourself "what if" questions about anything either.

    So to sum up, remain confident, think before you speak, and prep your mind before going into the interview.

  3. okay thank you so much! i'll definitely do what you suggested, although inherent nervousness is difficult to overcome!

  4. Great tips about the interview! Jobseeker should also try to read and get help through the internet.
    Interview Advice