Fearless Interviewing for College Admission, Scholarships and Employment

August 5, 2022

Many teens are terrified and completely unprepared for interviews.  Text messaging is the top means of teen communication.  The Pew Institute’s research shows that teens text on average 60 times a day (girls average 100 texts per day.) Approximately 63 percent of teens send messages everyday while only 39% make phone calls daily and only 35% of teens say they communicate face to face daily.  Thus, interviewing requires skills that most don’t practice regularly.  So, for MANY teens, the mere thought of interviewing is fear inducing.  This fact has been accentuated by two years of reduced interactions and masks due to COVID. 

Although many colleges no longer require interviews for admission, many highly selective colleges do.  If military academies are on your list, you will have multiple interviews in your future.  For highly selective colleges, those with less than a 20% admissions rate, an interview is a way to differentiate yourself from other applicants and be memorable.  You may be number one in your class and have a perfect SAT/ACT score, but if you can’t communicate your passions, then the colleges may admit someone with a more defined voice.    

high school juniors
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Be aware that many merit based scholarships do require interviews.  You have to be able to communicate face to face your leadership abilities, your enthusiasm, your talents and energies.  You need to be able to express your character.  The organizations granting scholarships want to make sure that you imbue the same conscience as the philosophies of their organization.  

Interviews can be required to get a job.  Teens will be faced with job interviews, promotion interviews, research opportunities interviews, graduate school interviews and loan/business interviews.  Some elite high schools even require interviews for admissions while students are still in middle school.  Many parochial high schools and specialty high schools (e.g., STEM or Classics based) will require an interview to make certain that the student is a fit for the rigor and focus of the program.    

Learning just a few basic tricks to the interviewing process will help reduce fear and help unleash a dazzling interview.   Following are things that a teen can do to help prepare for their interviews and what you can do as a parent to help them.

  1. Know yourself – What are those four or five areas of your life that you want your interviewer to know about before your interview is complete.  School accomplishments? leadership profile? community service? family? research/internships/work? sports?  unusual circumstance that is integral to who you are?  future goals?  And don’t think that just because you put the information on an application or in an essay that they will already know everything about you.  One highly selective college on the West Coast purposely does not provide their alumnae interviewers with any information about who they are interviewing, so that the interviewee must be able to articulately explain to them who they are.  I always recommend you bring your resume with you, but just know that the person you are talking to may not know a lot about you. Practice answering the question: “Tell me about yourself. “   

Don’t memorize the answer but certainly have in your mind the four or five main topics you want to cover in answering the question.  Practice answering out loud in the mirror at home.  Let a parent ask you the question at the dinner table or in the car.  Talk out loud.  Get really comfortable with this answer. 

Also be able to answer the question: “What special skill or talent will you be bringing to our campus community?” 

Know who you are, what your superpower is, and why you are unique and special.  

“What are your academic strengths and weaknesses?”

Team Break, College Scoops, College Trips Made Easy
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Do you have strong critical thinking skills, vocabulary, writing abilities, analytic skills, good puzzle solving skills, can you see the big picture quickly, can organize anything? The weaknesses part of this question can be a little more difficult to answer, but don’t throw yourself under the bus.  Being a perfectionist could be a weakness…..(but of course that may also be why you have that 4.0 unweighted GPA) or preferring hands on environments could be a hinderance (but that may be why you want to go into research in a laboratory setting or engineering.)  But avoid the “I’m not very good at math” or “hate writing” response.   

Finally, be ready and have thought through the question: “What do you believe in?” 

  • Research, Research, Research:   Make sure you have you visited the website of the college or scholarship or company or high school that you are interviewing with and make sure you know all about their principles and philosophies.  Be able to explain why that college, job, scholarship, etc. is a perfect fit for you.  Know and be able to articulate why they should admit you.

 Be able to answer the question: “Why do you want to go to our UNIVERSITY?”

Dig deep.  For the major you have chosen, what class would you get to take that is of particular interest to you?  You should be able to map what classes you would be required to take on the college’s website for a particular major.  What research opportunities are you interested in working on and with what professor?  Again, research projects can often be found on the college’s website.  Are there international campus opportunities that you would be interested in?  Make sure you know what the focus of the foreign campus study opportunities are as it relates to your major.  Are there associations or clubs on campus that you are interested in belonging to?  Are there internships that you might be able to interview for and participate in?   (e.g., medical center, business in the community.) 

The answer of…..the weather is nice or the campus is pretty or great sports teams, is not enough.  This is also true when answering this question in a supplemental essay answer.  Take notes when you go to the website and be able to differentiate what each campus has to offer.

Also, research your interviewer.   Generally, you will be able to find their LinkedIn profile.  The more you can find out about them, the more comfortable the interview can be for you.  Get their name in advance.  If they are published, read something they have written. 

  • Have a Plan:  Have a direction or some idea of where you might be headed with your schooling.  No, you do not have to have definitively picked out what your major is, but hopefully you have done enough RESEARCH to have some idea or what the possibilities might be for you.  This will help when you get asked the question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?  Ten years?

And when you answer you should most definitely be talking about your dream job or dream company and if applicable research work or additional degrees.  Think BOLD.  Will you be published?  Started your own company?  Be considered for or won an award?  Think BIG! 

  • Be Involved and Engaged:  Know what is going on in the world around you…..especially in areas of stated interest.  If you are interested in cancer research, know what the leading studies going on in the world are.  Interested in public policy?  What are some of the most interesting things going on globally and/or domestically?  Interested in astronomy or astrophysics?  What is going on in space?  Be prepared to answer the question: “What is the most important thing going on in the world today?” “Why?” 
Interview Tips
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This is one that I ask teenagers that were interviewing for a job at my business.   Directors of Admissions want students who are aware of what is going on in the world…. beyond their high school.

  • Be able to back up your talk with demonstrated actions:    Examine what you have demonstrated by your actions while you were in high school.  Are you just talking the talk or have you walked the walk?  Be prepared to answer: “Tell me about a time that you have demonstrated leadership……or character…..or resilience…..or maturity……or grit…..or acceptance…..or guts or…. etc.  “   

Think about things you have done while in high school when you have demonstrated some of these skills that are highly prized by universities, employers, organizations, etc. 

Finally, have about three questions prepared to ask your interviewer.  Be interested in them.  An interview should be more like a conversation than an inquisition or interrogation.   Where do they feel the institution may be headed in the next four or five years?  What was the best part of their four years in college?  What would you have done differently while in college?  What was their college journey like?  And finally, the question that a truly fearless interviewee can ask:   “Do you have any concerns about my ability to be successful at (College, Company, Internship, High School, etc)?  Bold question….not an easy one for every teen to ask, but it gives you a chance to get any concerns or objections out on the table before you leave the interview and address them, if need be.

So, ……ask your teen the simple questions listed above.  You may be surprised or….. shocked by their answers.  Make them talk to you.  Just like one prepares for public speaking or SAT/ACT testing, help them prepare for their interview.  The preparation will help them become fearless interviewers.   

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Kim Duckworth, Author

Kim Duckworth is a graduate of Stanford University, where she received her B.A. in Communications-Journalism. She was the first woman in her family to attend college. She worked in Sales and Marketing for IBM in Silicon Valley and White Plains, NY for over 10 years. She has called Arizona her home for the last 25 years. Currently, Kim is an independent college admissions coach and member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. She personally consulted with over 7,500 high school families as the co-owner of Scottsdale Education Center (a college preparatory center) for over 12 years. She’s been married 36 years, has three daughters and three grandchildren. She enjoys hiking, Labrador retrievers, travel, and Telluride, Colorado.

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