How Can I Succeed in My School Interviews?

Interviewing is a crucial skill for people to master for a variety of reasons. Most often we think about interviewing in the context of securing a new job, seeking a promotion, pursuing a career change, or even entering new networking opportunities. Certainly, the ability to excel in interviews can significantly impact your professional life. Are interviews reserved for seasoned professionals, though? No, not at all! Most people will be interviewed during high school or sooner - even dating or meeting new classmates are types of interviews!

Since the focus of my business services is on school application preparation, I will focus the rest of this blog on the interviews that happen during the school age years specifically to support a strong school application or scholarship application. When I coach my interviewing clients, I focus on four main areas: (1) identifying your best traits, (2) knowing what to say during an interview, (3) knowing what to do during an interview, and (4) practicing through purposeful mock interviews. Today we will cover interviews in general and then how to identify your best traits - these traits will form the foundation for your interview answers.

What makes a successful interview?

A successful interview is one where you effectively communicate your qualifications, personality, and the potential value you can bring to the school you hope to attend. It's about leaving a positive and memorable impression. Here are some key qualities and tips for a successful college admissions interview:

Preparation: Thoroughly research the college and its programs. Understand the institution's values, culture, and academic offerings. This preparation will help you tailor your responses and questions to show that you're genuinely interested in the school.

Self-Awareness: Know yourself well. Be prepared to discuss your strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, and goals. Reflect on your values, interests, and why you are interested in this specific college.

Clarity of Purpose: Clearly articulate your academic and career goals. Explain how the college's programs and resources align with your aspirations. Be specific about the majors or courses that interest you.

Passion and Enthusiasm: Express genuine enthusiasm for the college and its offerings. Discuss why you believe it's the right fit for you. Passionate candidates often stand out.

Evidence of Fit: Provide examples of how you align with the college's mission and values. Showcase your commitment to contributing to the campus community, whether through clubs, sports, or volunteer work.

Storytelling: Use stories and specific examples from your high school experiences to illustrate your character and accomplishments. Make your experiences come to life for the interviewer by giving vivid descriptions in your answers. Share what you were thinking and feeling during your answers to help paint the picture in the interviewer’s imagination.

Curiosity and Questions: Prepare thoughtful questions to ask the interviewer. This demonstrates your interest in the college and allows you to gain more insight into the institution.

Respect and Professionalism: Be respectful and professional throughout the interview. Treat it as a formal conversation, and avoid negative comments about your current school or peers.

Honesty and Authenticity: Be genuine and honest in your responses. Avoid exaggeration or fabricating information. Authenticity is highly valued by admissions officers.

Listening Skills: Actively listen to the interviewer's questions and respond thoughtfully. Show that you're engaged and attentive. Make sure to let the interviewer finish asking a question before you jump in to answer!

Communication Skills: Speak clearly and confidently. Avoid using filler words such as "um" and "like." Practice your speaking skills before the interview.

Flexibility: Be open to adjusting your responses or discussing unexpected topics. Admissions interviews can sometimes take unexpected turns. You can’t anticipate everything that an interviewer may ask you, but you can certainly anticipate most questions if you prepare enough ahead of time. 

Time Management: Be mindful of the time allotted for the interview. Keep your responses concise and on topic, allowing the interviewer to ask all necessary questions.

Follow-Up: Send a thank-you email or note after the interview to express your gratitude for the opportunity and to reiterate your interest in the college.

Continued Interest: Maintain your interest in the college even after the interview. Attend information sessions, virtual events, or campus tours if possible.

What do I need to know about discovering and using my best traits?

Every school decides who they want to admit based on how much VALUE they perceive that a student will bring to their institution. That is why they want you to write essays and interview in the first place. They want to learn about how you have demonstrated the following 6 traits in the past and how you hope to display them in the future while you are attending their school:

  • Talent
  • Diversity
  • Character
  • Service
  • Leadership
  • Innovation

What do I mean by talent, diversity, character, service, leadership, and innovation? Don’t worry, I’m about to give you more details and some examples of what I mean for each trait.

Talent comes in the forms of academic talent, athletic talent, or artistic talent. When a school asks you to “describe yourself in 3 words'' they are often wanting to learn about your talents. Academic talent includes your grades, your favorite subjects, and the extent to which you have taken advantage of subject offerings at your previous schools. 

Example: “My favorite subject is science and I took every course in BioMed that my school offered.” 

Athletic talent includes any sports that you play or you want to play, teams that you’ve been on, and any notable experiences competing against other teams or demonstrating effective teamwork with others. 

Example: “I was on the swim team in my town which taught me discipline, perseverance, and how to be a supportive teammate.”

Artistic talent includes any activities you have performed or hope to perform across a wide range of mediums. These often include playing musical instruments, dancing, singing, acting, painting, sculpting, drawing, writing, or doing photography.

Example: “I love to draw and paint so much that contributed to the design of the sets for the school plays last year.”

Diversity refers to anything unique about yourself that is inherently valuable to the school or that has given you the perspectives that you have which can be applied at the school. Typical application or interview questions that fall into the diversity category include “what contributions would you like to make at our school” or “can you give me an example of a life lesson you’ve learned that resulted from an experience you had?” Examples of diversity can include ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. They can also include things like where you have lived, whether you were the first one in your family to do something, or if you have interests that are not in the mainstream for a given context - like if you were the only tuba player in the band. In other words, schools are looking for people that bring a unique perspective or set of experiences that can add value to their community.

Example: “My parents were in the military and I moved around a lot because they were transferred from base to base. That meant that I attended schools in countries where English was not the native language and I needed to learn to adapt quickly to make new friends.” 

Character is how you would describe what is important to you, how you treat others, and how you react in difficult situations when they present themselves to you. This trait gives the school an indication of how well you will support the culture at the school. It also can signal how you might behave when life gets challenging for you - and life gets challenging for everybody at some point. In a school setting, those challenges could include attending someplace where you don’t know other people yet, living away from home for the first time, struggling with more difficult or new coursework, or sharing living space with a roommate. A school might ask something like, “can you tell me about a time when you overcame a failure or a setback?”

Example: “I enjoyed attending school in person for my entire life, but I struggled when the pandemic shut our school down. I didn’t know how to manage my time and I fell behind in my learning without being able to speak to my teacher as often. However, the experience taught me how to prioritize and now I am proud about overcoming that challenge.”

Service is “character in action.” It refers to ways that you have made a positive impact on your family or your community and how you hope to someday make the world a better place. These examples most often take the form of volunteering. Sometimes as a member of an organization like your church, or the YMCA, or the scouts. Other times, in less formal ways like caring for a younger sibling or a grandparent or a neighbor. Schools like to know about your experiences serving others because they want their students to add value to their communities by demonstrating acts of service, too. Therefore, an application or interview question might be, “how would you like to contribute to the community at our school?”

Example: “My family volunteered at a local homeless shelter for the last three Thanksgivings to feed the residents and their families with a warm meal. It felt great to help those in need and it brought my family closer together, too. I would love to get involved with one of the campus teams that serves in the community surrounding your school.”

Leadership is often pretty clear to understand. When did you lead something either formally or informally? Formal leadership examples can include holding an office, like serving as the class Secretary, or being the captain of a team. However, leadership can also be informal and still be descriptive enough to be an excellent example to share with a school. Like if you took an unpopular position in a debate or if you influenced another person to make a decision that led to a positive outcome. Schools need student leaders whether they ever hold a formal leadership position or not. They want to learn about your potential to be a positive influence on others. The school may ask simply, “can you tell me about a time when you led something and achieved a result?”

Example: “I was assigned to a team to perform a group project in History class and we were having a hard time getting organized enough to assign and complete the work on time. I decided to create an email distribution list and I scheduled a regular cadence of meetings so that we were able to divide the work according to each person’s strengths. We finished the project on time and received a high grade from the teacher. I felt proud about helping to lead us out of the confusing situation we were in.”

Innovation refers to your experience in, or your interest in, creating something new. Usually the new creation will improve life in some way for people in a broader audience by solving a problem. Schools have traditionally gathered information about this trait from applicants with questions related to things that you would change if you could. Increasingly, though, schools ask questions more directly tied to current global issues, like the environment or problems in the society. Also, some schools will ask for ideas more often associated with the word, innovation. For example, they might ask about what new technologies or apps a student would like to exist and for what reasons. With these types of questions, schools gather insights about applicants related to their creativity and their ability to draw connections between theoretical ideas and practical applications. A question that schools may ask related to innovation could be, “if you could develop an app or a new invention what would it be and what problem would it solve?”

Example: “I am concerned about the water supply in my community and would like to create an app that monitors the safety of the drinking water after each rainstorm.”

Now that I gave you all of that context, use what I shared as a guide and be encouraged! After you finish, you will have many relevant and specific examples of the ways that you can bring value to your next school. You will have taken the most important step in beginning to prepare your interview answers. 

In summary, interviewing well is a multifaceted skill that goes far beyond job interviews. It's about effective communication, self-presentation, building relationships, and personal development. Mastering this skill is a significant asset for personal and professional success in adulthood.

I hope that information was helpful for you and that you will check out our website for more free content. Please let us know how we can help you further. What else do you want to understand about the school application process? Next week, I will finish the topic of interviewing by discussing what to say and what to do during an interview. Don’t miss it!