What Should I Say During an Interview?

In last week’s article, I wrote about what makes a successful interview and on what you should say and how you should say it. With these tips and some practice, you won’t need to fumble for what to say and you can make a great impression with your words.

Answer the question being asked. I know that this probably seems too obvious to mention, but believe me - it is easy to lose focus on what you were asked when you are in the middle of your interview and your adrenaline is pumping through your body. It is common to be prepared to answer certain questions, listen to the beginning of an interview question, decide that you have the answer ready to go, and then stop listening to the end of the question while you begin to talk. Please, make sure that you listen carefully to the entire question before deciding that you already know how you’ll respond.

What kinds of questions will I be asked?

There are typically two types of questions that interviewers will ask. First are informational questions. For informational questions you will be expected to simply relay factual information to the interviewer. An informational question could require a short answer like when answering “What are your 3 greatest strengths?” They can also require long answers like when replying to “Tell me about the math courses that you have taken so far.” Think of these questions as warm-ups that serve as a way to break the ice at the beginning of an interview. The second type of interview questions are called behavioral questions. In other words, they seek to find out how you behaved during certain scenarios in the past or how you would expect to behave during likely future scenarios. Typical examples of behavioral questions are “Tell me about a time when you overcame a challenge” or “What would you do if you found yourself assigned to a team project and you thought that one of your teammates was not pulling his own weight?” In a school interview, expect roughly 25% of questions to be informational and 75% to be behavioral. This imbalance is because answers to informational questions may be found in your application in another form, while an answer to a behavioral question needs to be drawn out of a candidate during the conversational interview. To receive a longer list of commonly asked interview questions, contact us at [email protected].

Emphasize your best traits. You want to communicate your biggest strengths, deepest passions, and future plans to your interviewer and connect them to the school that you are interviewing for. This is not very different from interviewing for a job. The interviewer wants to determine whether you are a good fit for the school and predict whether you will add value to the school’s reputation, be able to handle its academic rigor, and be a role model for other students. You need to do that by explaining how your best traits will enable you to meet those expectations. The six traits you need to expand upon are below. Click here to download a free exercise that will help you to discover your traits and capture examples of each one. 

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

Acknowledge the interviewer’s questions. What does that mean? Acknowledging the interviewer’s questions means that you should respond by saying something like “That is a great question” or “I’m so glad that you asked me that” or even “Do you mind repeating the last part of your question? I want to make sure to give you exactly the information that you asked for.” Why is acknowledging the interviewer so important? Because it signals several positive messages back to the interviewer. It tells them that you are being a careful listener. It also tells them that you respect them enough to give them exactly what they want to know. Simply put, it makes the interviewer feel respected by you and that will help them to like you more. Don’t believe me? Well, pretend you asked someone a question and then they answered you by giving information that you didn’t ask for. What would you think about them? Maybe that they weren't paying attention? Perhaps that they didn’t really care very much about making a good impression? Let me end this point by saying that you don’t need to verbally acknowledge every single question. Instead, I recommend using some non-verbal acknowledgements here and there so that you don’t seem too scripted. Some effective non-verbal acknowledgements include looking the interviewer in the eye and nodding with a natural smile before you begin to give your answer.

Ask questions back to the interviewer. Another way to show respect to the interviewer is to ask them questions during the interview when given a chance to do so. If you aren't sure when your questions will be welcome, then ask the interviewer what they prefer - during the interview or after you have answered all of their questions. It is very important that you ask some questions during the interview! Again, put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes. Imagine that it was your job to evaluate a number of different candidates who were all competing to be admitted into a limited number of open spots. Wouldn’t you assume that someone who asked you no questions at all either wasn’t prepared for the interview or wasn’t sincerely excited about the opportunity to attend that school? I know that would make that assumption. Either way, don’t leave it to chance - ask questions! How many questions is a good amount to ask? I advise that you prepare 5 questions ahead of time and expect to ask your best 3. I say that because some of the questions you prepared might be given during the course of the interview without you asking. By preparing more questions than you might need, you will reduce the risk of having nothing to ask.

A good rule of thumb is to only ask questions whose answers cannot be found by reading their webpage. Again, you have to prepare ahead of time and that takes effort from you. Another hot tip is to get your interviewer to give you their opinions or advice or to talk about their experiences. People generally love to talk about themselves - especially when asked for their advice. I am recommending this tip not only as an effective interviewing strategy, of course. You should want advice from someone who is qualified to give it, and the fact that it will also likely help your interviewer to feel better about you is another benefit. Here are some good questions to ask to get you started.

  1. What advice would you give to a new student in the first month of enrollment?
  2. Based on your experience, how would you describe what a successful student looks like at this school?
  3. What do you enjoy most about working here?
  4. I'm very interested in getting involved with (a specific club). How would you recommend that I learn more?

I hope that the information I shared with you today will prove to be very helpful in your next interview. Next time, I will continue the topic of preparing to succeed in your interviews by talking about what you should do during your interviews. This will include tips for how to dress, how to compose yourself physically, and how to overcome nervousness. As a reminder, check out our website for more free content and let us know how we can help you further.