What Should I Do During an Interview?

Welcome to the final part of this 3-part series to prepare you to give your best interview. Interviewing is a skill that everyone needs to learn because it has so many important applications in adult life. Whether trying to get a job offer, to justify a promotion, or even to make good conversation at a party, the skills needed to interview well are crucial. Since my company’s mission is to help people to achieve their goals through formal education, the target audience for my writing is students and their families that are trying to gain acceptance into the schools of their choice. So, I will address that specific use case but you should remember that the applications for interview skills are much broader.

If you missed the last two articles on interviewing, let me catch you up. In the first article, I wrote about what makes a successful interview and provided insights into how to discover your relevant traits. Those traits form the building blocks of your answers to interview questions. In the second article, I wrote about what you should say, which included the expectation that you will ask questions to the interviewer. I also provided some examples of good questions to ask. In this article, we will look into the other important parts of interviewing well - the physical and mental parts. 

Physical Aspects:

Punctuality: Arrive 15 minutes early for the interview, which demonstrates your respect for the interviewer's time and your commitment to the process. Not much is worse than being late. So, don’t take yourself out of the running for admission before the interview even starts! If you are late, then you need to apologize sincerely and express your great regret for not leaving enough time in your schedule to be punctual. Just know that giving an apology might not be enough to erase the poor impression that being late makes on an interviewer even if the rest of your application is stellar.

What to bring with you: Bring only a clean, new-looking notebook with a blank sheet of paper on top and a pen so that you can take notes on the answers that they will give to your questions. Also, tell the interviewer that you brought them for that purpose and ask if it is ok if you take down some notes. It is respectful to ask the interviewer, and it shows that you are invested in using the interview as a way for you to make your best decision, too. After all, you may have the luxury of choosing between more than one school that has accepted you for admission. Do not bring a cell phone, a laptop, a recording device, chewing gum, candy, your lunch, a water bottle, or anything else that could become a distraction during the interview. Leave those things with somebody else until you are finished.

Appearance: Dress appropriately for the school. Your clothes should be clean, well-fitted, and free of wrinkles. Also, make sure that you are well-groomed. This includes grooming your hair, nails, and practicing good oral hygiene. The bottom line is that you don’t want to distract your interviewer from the purpose of the interview, which is to make a decision about how likely it is that you will be successful at the school through your contributions and your alignment to the school’s values. When in doubt, it's better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed.

Body language: Maintain good posture - which means to sit slightly forward, have your hands on the table, and your shoulders back in a natural way. In other words, don’t slouch in your seat. Also, make natural eye contact, have a pleasant smile, and offer a firm handshake if the interviewer extends their hand to you. A weak or overly aggressive handshake can leave a negative impression. I often advise my clients to pretend that they are in class or are attending an event where they are hoping to catch the eye of the performer while being seated and respectful.

Actions to take after the interview is over: Thank the interviewer face to face for giving you the opportunity to meet. Then, send a thank-you note or email after the interview to express your gratitude and to reiterate your interest in the school.

Mental Aspects:

Preparation: Research the school, its culture, and the organizations that you may want to join as a student. Be prepared to discuss how your skills, experiences, and interests align with the school. This is very important because it is precisely what the interviewer is trying to determine about you, too.

Manage your nerves: It is likely that you will feel some anxiety before and during your interview. So, if you feel nervous don’t be alarmed - it just means that you are feeling normal human feelings related to a “fight or flight” situation where you care about the outcome but can’t be sure about what the experience will be like beforehand. Because this aspect is so common and can be scary for many of us, I am expanding my discussion of it with more tips that I hope you will find helpful.

  • Deep breathing exercises can help calm your nerves. Practice slow, deep breaths to relax your body and mind. 
  • Imagine yourself succeeding in the interview. Visualization can boost your confidence and reduce anxiety.
  • Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Remind yourself of your qualifications and capabilities. Avoid catastrophic thinking, and instead focus on your strengths.
  • Think about the other person and not about yourself. You’ve probably heard the advice given to public speakers to imagine their audience being naked. You might not need to go to that extreme, but the idea is to think about someone else instead of your own feelings of vulnerability or fear.
  • Consider the interview as a two-way conversation where you're also assessing the school and not a life or death test. This shift in perspective can reduce the power dynamic and anxiety. 
  • Start the interview with light, friendly conversation. Small talk can help ease tension and establish rapport with the interviewer.
  • Remember that nobody is perfect, and it's okay to make small mistakes or be nervous during an interview. Accept that it's a normal part of the process.

Confidence and enthusiasm: Display self-confidence but avoid arrogance. Show enthusiasm for the school. Explain why you're excited about the opportunity to join the student body. Believing in your abilities and expressing enthusiasm for the school can help you come across as a strong candidate.

Communication: Be a good listener, and answer questions directly and thoughtfully. I tell all of my interview students that rule #1 is to “answer the question that was asked.” This may seem too obvious to mention, but listening carefully and completely to an interview question before answering is a skill that takes practice to master. Remember that you are juggling your nerves, your excitement, your hopes, and your memory at the same time. So, listen carefully, take a pause to think, and then clearly and concisely answer the question. 

I also advise my students to include the “why” part of a question with their answers. In other words, if you are asked to describe yourself, don't say only, “I am creative and resilient.” Expand your answers to include why you describe yourself that way. “I am creative because I love to make my own clothes and I am resilient because I have been able to make new friendships quickly after moving to a new school.”

Positivity: Maintain a positive attitude throughout the interview. Avoid negative comments about your past experiences. Also show empathy and an understanding of the perspectives of others, including the interviewer. All schools value open-minded and inclusiveness in their students, so demonstrate yours when given the chance.

I hope that these articles on interviewing will help you to be accepted into the schools of your choice. If you want some 1:1 coaching including mock interview feedback, then contact me and we can schedule time to meet. I offer a free consultation to get the conversation started, so you have nothing to lose! 

Good luck!