College Interviews: How To Ace Them
The young man wore a casual t-shirt, had ruffled hair, and was Skyping me for his college interview from a cell phone in his car. He answered most questions with a single word, “yeah”. His high school grades were mediocre, to say the least, and he admitted that he had been lazy up until now. Yet he somehow assumed he could pass an interview to get into my university’s prestigious international business program.
What was this kid thinking?
On the report, I wrote, “This boy is a dud. No professor will want him in their class.” End of story.
I interview many hopeful university candidates every day. Here are the things that earn points (at least with me), or, alternatively, lead to the dreaded “reject” comment.
- Dress the part. My university, S P Jain School of Global Management, is a business program. So when candidates appear for an interview in a white shirt, and possibly jacket and tie, they look like a business student. Great idea! For girls, tie your hair back and wear something with a collar, sleeves and a conservative neckline. You might not want to dress this way if you were applying to an art or music school, though.
- Be respectful. This follows from the point above. Comb your hair. Have good posture. If appropriate, address the interviewer as “sir” or “ma’am”. The interviewer is almost always someone with a lot of experience in the academic world, and is accustomed to being treated deferentially. Don’t suck up – but don’t be too informal, either.
- Do your homework. Read the college’s website. Do a Google search, and find out what alumni and current students say about your program. If possible, do research on your interviewer. Find out what type of student the college is looking for. S P Jain, for instance, states that its mission is to “create global business leaders”. So when candidates say that their dream is to head an international business company, they score immediate points.
- Prepare a few questions. The interviewer will almost always ask what you want to know about their program. So think of some insightful queries that show your understanding of their mission. Ask about specializations, for instance, and opportunities for internships or mentoring with professors. Avoid questions like “how close is the hostel to the nightclub area?” Also, prepare for questions that the interviewer will probably ask. S P Jain is a business college, so we want to know if you have ever worked in a business. Have you spent time in the office with one of your parents? Have you had a part-time job, invested in stocks, or done anything else to indicate that you like business? Business people also need to be leaders, so we want to hear if you have held a leadership role in high school or community activities.
- Be on time. Interviewers are very busy people. Of course, we understand when there are technical difficulties, such as when I’m trying to do a Skype interview with a girl in rural Kenya and her town has poor Internet. But usually, when I write “late” or “no-show” on a report, it’s the kiss of death.
- See both sides. You probably think of an interview as being a test, to determine whether you’re “good enough” to enter the college. But it’s also an opportunity for you to decide if you’ll fit in and be happy there. The college wants candidates who are a good match, not just those who excelled in high school. In fact, often the interviewer feels like an advisor, and actually cares about your future well-being. Take advantage of their experience, and approached them as a trusted counselor, not as an interrogator.
- Relax and be human. The interviewer knows that you are probably a little nervous, and that you are a teenager. They don’t expect you to have the poise of a celebrity. On the other hand, they want to get to know the real you. So be prepared to share your honest aspirations and passions. Talk about things that make you genuinely excited. This enthusiasm will transform you into somebody special, and will help you to stand out from the pack.
- Be sober. Never, ever appear for an interview drunk or stoned. You think I’m kidding? You’d be surprised at what people do …
- Sound intelligent. Say “yes” instead of “yeah”. Avoid teenager or web slang. Never type “u” instead of “you” in a note or message. If you call the interviewer “dude”, it’s game over.
- Smile. Write a reminder to yourself, and stick it on your computer screen. Smile often, looking directly into the webcam. When you’re happy, the interviewer is happy too, and can’t help but like you more. Everything, including college admissions, is about interpersonal relationships. And when two people smile at one another, the whole world is becomes a brighter place.
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About the Author: Alesa Lightbourne, PhD, is the former Dean of BBA and currently Director of International Relations at S P Jain School of Global Management. S P Jain (www.spjainn.org.) is ranked #19 in global business programs by Forbes Magazine, and conducts the world’s only bachelors program where all students reside in three countries (Singapore, Dubai and Australia).