Monday, March 8, 2010

Preparing for the interview

An interview may sound deceptively easy: show up, talk about yourself. No preparation needed, right?

Wrong. An interview is an opportunity for you to tell your story, but in order to tell it well, you need to figure out exactly what that story is. You've gotten good grades since you were in the first grade, and you've been an overachiever, president of every single club on campus. Add to that a leading role in your drama club's production and a stint on the cheerleading team. But how does it all tie together? What is unique about you that makes this story interesting, and how will you contribute as a student to the life of the college?

These are not hard questions, but they are pithy ones, and it is worthwhile for you to figure this out before you waltz into the interview and begin to meander your way through answers you weren't prepared to give.

Here are some questions to guide you in your exploration of your specific story.
1. What makes you stand out from the other students at your high school?
2. What have you done differently in your life?
3. Is there some decision that you made that has guided your high school career?
4. What do you think you can bring to the college that none or few of the other students have experienced?
5. What ties all of your accomplishments together? Is it an underlying interest in science? Is it a desire to help others? Is it an insatiable academic curiosity?

You may not know what your story is right away. Or, as with many of us, you may have several stories. You can be the star athlete who quit football to focus on the debate team, or you can be the struggling math student who spent extra time on his studies and through perseverance won the Math Olympiad. It's possible that you are both of these people and many others. Perhaps you learned your perseverance at math on the football field. What you need to do is to flesh out all of the stories you can tell about yourself, and pick the ones that you like best, and then find ways to tie them together.

I often hear applicants tell me about wonderful things they've done, but in such a haphazard way that it is difficult for me to picture their personal story. When I leave the interview, I don't know if the student just got nervous and interviewed badly, or just is not an introspective person who can't tie personal experiences together. When you are with an interviewer, help her to see the big picture.

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