Let's face it: Interviews are stressful. It can be intimidating and nerve-wracking to sit across the table from the person standing between you and something you want — like a job, a scholarship or admission to your first-choice school.
But interviews aren't all bad. It's a chance to highlight the best parts of yourself, make new connections and brush up on skills that will serve you well in the corporate world.
"Lots of colleges, day schools, boarding schools and scholarships require an interview or at least a conversation with the applicant," says Katie Garrett, founder and president of Garrett Educational Consulting. "For school admissions interviews, it's a mutually beneficial relationship — how will they benefit from you being on campus, and how they can help you grow and thrive."
Whether you're meeting with a prospective boss, a scholarship panel, an admissions board or anything else, follow these tips from Katie and you'll be well on your way to nailing your next interview:
You can start getting ready for your interview long before the day of the meeting. Here are a few things to do in advance:
Record yourself answering questions, and then play it back. "I know it might be awkward and embarrassing, but it's a great way to figure out what you might need to change for the actual interview," Katie says. "Watch for fidgeting, stuttering and using words or phrases that don't make sense. These are all things you can improve with practice."
Practice. Recruit your parents, friends, teachers, counselor — anyone who might be willing to run a few mock interviews with you before the big day. "The more you practice, the more comfortable you'll be," Katie says.
Be prepared to talk about yourself. "When you're talking about yourself to an interviewer, it's better to go deeper in three areas than to popcorn around," Katie says. Katie's advice: think of yourself in three buckets: academic, extracurricular and "about me." Ask yourself these questions to help paint a complete picture of yourself for the interviewer(s): Academic: What are your favorite classes? What subject area are you most interested in and why? What are you learning about that has intrigued you the most? What kind of teachers do you like best? Extracurricular: What do you like to do outside the classroom? ("You'll need to pick just a couple of things you really love and talk about them in-depth, while weaving in any leadership experience you might have had," Katie says). Have you ever struggled but ultimately overcome a challenge? "About me": How will you contribute to the school's community? Did you do anything cool over the summer? Do you volunteer? Have you ever done an internship? Do you have any unique family dynamics or something impactful in your life that you want them to know?
During the interview
How you present yourself during an interview is just as important as what you're saying. Avoid distractions, look professional and keep their focus on the content of the conversation with these tips:
Stay off your phone. "In fact, put your phone in a different room," Katie says.
For a virtual interview, turn off all notifications on your computer and close all other tabs.
If your interview is virtual, clear your desk/table area and make sure your lighting is good. "You want no distractions, no clutter, appropriate backgrounds and all your animals out of the room," Katie says.
Dress appropriately. For boys, this means a collared shirt and long pants, and for girls it means clothing that isn't too revealing. "Err on the side of being more conservative and remember: it's better to be over-dressed than under-dressed," Katie says. "And make sure to brush your hair."
Give yourself enough time to wake up. This will avoid brain fog, bed-head and all other post-sleep issues.
Watch your body language. This means no fidgeting and sit up straight. "Even if you're in a virtual interview that doesn't mean they can't pick up on some of the signals that you aren't paying attention," Katie says.
Make eye contact.
If they offer to shake hands, be sure to give them a firm handshake.
Don't answer questions with a simple "yes" or "no" — elaborate! "The more time you spend talking about the things you're comfortable with, the less time they have to ask you questions you're ill-prepared to answer," Katie says.
At the end when your interviewer asks if you have any questions, be prepared with a question. Some good options include: What sets your school apart from other peer institutions? What's your favorite tradition? What was your favorite class when you went here (if your interviewer is an alumni)?
Katie's last piece of advice? Prep, don't stress.
"Often interviews are intended to be conversational," Katie says. "Remember, they’re trying to get a picture of who you are as a person and how you’ll integrate into their school community. Relax and show them how you can benefit them, and they can benefit you."