As a junior at St John High School, I vividly remember spring vacation back east with my father to tour a handful of liberal arts colleges that piqued my interest in the New York and Boston area. I walked each campus with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a toddler eager to soak up the local flavor, get an up-close and personal look at the student body, peruse the dorms, sample the college cooking, and envision myself in each setting.
My memories, however, of the actual interviews are a little less clear. I can picture the Dean of Admissions offices, the dark walnut walls with book-lined shelves, the conversations that must’ve taken place, the questions that were asked and hopefully answered, but I haven’t the vaguest idea of the particulars. No clue as to what I wore, if I spoke eloquently or even wrote a thank you note! One thing’s for certain those twenty something years ago – times were much simpler then.
Today the competition to get into college is fierce. Students are vying for spots they want badly and that require much savvy and skill to get. As they apply to desirable schools they are discovering that high GPAs and polished resumés are no longer enough to guarantee entry; school officers are now looking for more. Part of this “more” is soft skills, often referred to as the intangibles. Soft skills really come into play with college interviews.
At Beverly Hills Manners, we have developed a three part program called “Stand Out Interviews,” that provides students with a quick and easy blueprint for acing the all-important, in-person interview.
PART I: PREPARING FOR THE INTERVIEW
A few things to check off your list before you meet your interviewer:
- Do your homework. Learn about the institution, its history, philosophy, and student body.
- Prepare a list of intelligent questions based on your research.
- Give specific examples and detailed answers when addressing what you like about the institution and how you plan to contribute to the campus community.
- Dress for interview success. Select an outfit that is simple, classic and suits the sensibility of the institution you are interviewing. All clothing should be clean and pressed, shoes polished. Pay attention to proper hygiene and good grooming.
- Arrive on time. Ask for directions beforehand to reach your destination at least ten minutes early. This will allow for a few minutes of mental preparation and any necessary physical preparation before entering the room.
- Carry a portfolio. This may consist of transcript copies, letters of recommendation, and samples of previous work, whatever achievement you think may be relevant to the conversation.
- Turn off cell-phones and other electronic devices before entering the premises. You have only a brief window of opportunity with your interviewer and want to ensure there are no interruptions to break their concentration.
PART II: ACING THE INTERVIEW – YOU ONLY GET ONE CHANCE
Make your first impression count. Here’s how:
- Exude natural poise by entering the room with good posture. Stand straight and walk with a confident gait.
- Maintain good eye contact and address your interviewer by their formal name and title.
- Greet your interviewer with a firm handshake. Extend your right hand and shake web-to-web with only two pumps and then release.
- Ask permission to be seated. Appear awake and alert by sitting up straight with arms, legs and feet relaxed and uncrossed.
- Beware of excessive fidgeting, shifting in your seat or other nervous body motions that may detract from your overall appearance.
- Perfect your conversation skills. Be a good listener and refrain from interrupting.
- Abstain from one-word answers. This is an opportunity to learn more about you, your personality, background, and interests.
- Take your time and elaborate citing specific examples.
- Practice graceful goodbyes. Once the interview has concluded, exit as gracefully and gratefully as you entered. Shake hands with your interviewer before departing and thank them for their time.
- Don’t forget to obtain the interviewer’s business card. A formal thank you note is a must, and it’s crucial to have the correct contact information, spelling and title of your interviewer.
PART III: WRITE THANK YOU NOTES
Five great reasons for writing a thank you note:
- It is an opportunity to add a comment or insight you may have missed during the interview.
- It provides you with another occasion to restate your interest in the school.
- If possible, writing a thoughtful, handwritten note demonstrates professionalism, and you’ll stand out because most students don’t take the time to send a written thank you.
- However if the interviewer has previously stated he or she prefers to be contacted by email, send your thank-you note electronically.
Send your note within 24 hours of the interview. Review it carefully to ensure it is grammatically correct and free of spelling mistakes.
Remember, your interview may be the final step to the finish line, so make sure to put forth your best effort and make your best impression. After all, this is an investment into the next four years of your life. An awareness of proper etiquette and good manners during the college admissions process is not only fundamental, but the benefits will live on forever.