Monday, April 1, 2013

Acing the interview - how to sound interesting

A question from a reader:
How do I sound interesting in the interview?

Sounding academically interesting is a slightly different ball game than what you might say on a first date or at a cocktail party.  There are two main components.

First, there are the things you do.  Sports, debate, cheerleading, visiting CERN.  This is generally easy to get right, although may need to spend four years at it. 

Second, there is the way that you think about things.  This is the trickier part to get right - and the few students who do will wow their interviewers.  

Let's step back - a liberal arts education, first and foremost, is about the interdisciplinary approach.  What this means is that you are able to take a subject or a theme and easily integrate multiple ways of looking at the same subject.  This is not always easy, and when done correctly, it can be very impressive.

Here's an example: your interviewer asks you what your thoughts are on your school's recent transition to uniforms.  You happen to have led a very vocal student protest that has landed you on the cover of your local paper.  The obvious thing to talk about would be the emotions and reactions of the student body - the limits of self-expression, the burden on low-income parents to provide uniforms.  

But the broader and more thoughtful response would include a discussion of how uniforms impact the people who wear them.  Perhaps you can reference the work of psychology professor Ellen Langer, whose studies show that in clinical settings such as hospitals or nursing homes, uniforms are divisive and keep people from relating to one another on a personal level.  You can approach uniforms from a historical angle, noting that school uniforms in England date back to the infamous reign of Henry VIII, during which time children were dressed in blue (the cheapest dye) to show humility.  

The notion of interweaving multiple angles into an interdisciplinary approach is one that you can read more about on a new startup called HIPPO Reads - a literary curation startup focused on pulling together multi-disciplinary reads across a variety of subjects.  This is also my latest venture, and the reason that my blogging her has been sporadic at best.