Originally published in Hindustan Times Education
You got an interview call! An interview could be a normal part of the application for everyone, or it could indicate that you have made a first cut for selection. For undergraduate studies, usually only highly selective colleges conduct interviews (e.g. Ivy League), but they do so for all applicants. For MBA studies an interview call is a positive sign that you have not been rejected yet.
So what are the do’s and don’ts in the interview? Of course, there are all the obvious tips: Do be on time, be polite, dress appropriately, and be prepared. Don’t be late, answer your moblie phone, bring your parents along, or lie (to see more conventional wisdom see: http://studyabroad.htcampus.com/applications/interview-tips-college/). But beyond this how can you make an impression?
I know several people who conduct alumni interviews and I have collated their advice here. The number one tip for applicants is ‘be yourself and relax’. Try not to come across as overly prepared, nervous or extremely formal. The interview is a chance for the school to get to know you in another dimension. In some cases, MBA for example, the interview counts for a significant part of your chance for admission, while for undergraduates the interview is merely a sanity check, to verify that who you are on paper matches you in real life. Whatever the situation, you gain nothing by appearing stressed, formal or inflexible. Be prepared to answer basic questions about yourself, your goals, your reasons for applying, but also don’t get thrown by an off-the-wall question. If you don’t know, relax, and say “that’s a great question, let me think about it for a minute.”
The second most common piece of advice I hear is that students should really know the school. There is nothing more frustrating to a member of the alumni who has donated a Saturday afternoon to their Alma Matter to sit with applicants who have not done basic homework. If the college has a new program or curriculum for undergraduate studies, you should know about it and be able to speak intellegently. If the MBA program has a new head Dean, you should know his or her name and be able to speak about why that person’s upcoming tenure as the leader of the program inspires you.
Another problem I hear about often (especially for undergraduates) is that students are too honest – e.g. question: “Why are you applying to X University” answer: “Because my parents forced me to” or “because the essay questions were easy”. Another question: “Have you visited University X” answer: “No but I visited University Y, next door. I ran out of time to see X”. Make sure the truth flatters you or the college, otherwise keep your responses brief.
In general as one of my contacts put it: “The best interviews are the ones that move away from a question and answer session into a conversation.” So think about how to engage your interviewer and talk about yourself in a way that moves beyond yes/no answers, brings your essays and experiences to life and shows how you are different from the others that are being interviewed that day.
And finally, the best way to prepare is to set up mock interviews with your peers, teachers, parents, parent’s friends, or counselors so that you can try your answers in real-time and modify them as needed. Practice makes perfect and the best antidote for worry and stress is feeling in control. Good luck!