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Insider’s Guide to the Alumni Interview #2: Interview Dos and Don’ts

While a good or bad college interview alone may not seal your fate with respect to admissions, it can be the thing that tips the scale one way or the other, if the admissions office is unsure of your candidacy. The more competitive schools receive thousands of applications from qualified applicants each year, and they only have a limited number of spots to fill in their freshman class.  What this means is that they are looking for reasons to deny applicants.  So, you want to put your best foot forward in every aspect of your application, and that includes the alumni interview.

After years of alumni interviewing, talking to kids from various parts of New Jersey, I’ve seen it all.  And, let me tell you, sometimes it ain’t pretty!  Some students have left me incredibly impressed, while others have left me wondering why they were even bothering to apply to my alma mater.

Interviewing is an art, but it’s an art that can be learned with some common sense and practice.  Here’s a list of some basic principles of interviewing that should help you to prepare for your alumni or on-campus interviews:

  • Don’t blow off the interview.  Even though you may think that the alumni interview isn’t an important piece of the application, if an alumni interviewer reaches out to you to arrange an interview, go for it.  And, once arrangements have been made, be sure that you show up!  I once had confirmed an interview with a student, and then the student never appeared.  He didn’t call or email me to explain.  He was a complete no-show!  Needless to say, the student wasn’t admitted.  He finally did contact me after admissions decisions came out and asked me why he hadn’t been admitted.  I didn’t have an answer for him because, truly, I didn’t know.  Alumni interviewers aren’t privy to the rest of the student’s application.  But, I do know that blowing off the interview with me didn’t help his cause!
  • Be on time.  I can’t tell you the number of times that a student has shown up tardy to one of my interviews.  This is not only rude, but it gives the interviewer a negative impression of you from the start.  Alumni are volunteering their services to interview you, so you should be respectful of them and their time.  You probably have a grace period of about ten minutes after the start of your interview time to show up.  If you are going to be much later than this, CALL the interviewer to let them know that you are running late and give them an approximate time of when you will arrive.
  • Dress appropriately.  When going to your alumni interview, you don’t need to wear a suit and tie if you’re a male or fancy outfit if you’re a female (though you may want to dress in this fashion for an on-campus interview), but you should dress neatly and conservatively.  This means no flip-flops, no t-shirts, no jeans, and no tank tops.  Think business casual.  While not all interviewers will have an issue with a more “relaxed” outfit, some certainly will, and you just don’t know whom you’ll be talking to.  By dressing appropriately, you’ll show your interviewer that you are taking the discussion seriously.
  • Don’t chew gum.  This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised that some students actually do show up to their interview chomping on gum.  All I can say is: don’t be one of them.
  • Make eye contact with the interviewer.  More than likely, you will be somewhat nervous when you go in for your interview, but this shouldn’t mean that you spend your time talking to the floor, or the window, or the table!  By making eye contact, you will show the interviewer that you are engaged in the discussion and that you have the poise and maturity necessary to attend their school.
  • Be energetic and positive.  Attitude and mood are infectious.  If you are upbeat and have lots of energy, your interviewer will feed off of this, and you will have a better interview.  Remember that nobody likes a whiner.  Even if you have nothing good to say about a subject that you are discussing with your interviewer, find a nice way of discussing it.  For example, don’t say how much you hate the kids in your high school because they’re all a bunch of idiots, and you can’t wait to get the heck out of the school.  Instead, talk about how much you’re looking forward to going to college and meeting up with new people who have common interests to yours.
  • Think about what you want the school to know about you.  Don’t go into your interview cold.  Give some thought to what points you want to make during your interview, and then figure out a way to introduce those things during the course of your discussion.  Prepare by making a simple list ahead of time, and by looking at possible interview questions (see my earlier post here) and coming up with some possible answers.  Thinking through your story ahead of time will help you to be more at ease during the discussion.
  • Research the school ahead of time:  Before you head into the interview, know what the school offers and why you want to go there.  I’m not talking about general stuff, like where it’s located or how big it is.  I’m talking about programs of study and what makes that school unique.  By being able to show the interviewer that you’ve done your homework and that you have a real reason why you want to go there besides the school being a “brand name,” you’ll be three steps ahead of most interviewees.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve asked a student why they think that my alma mater is the right place for them, and they respond, “Because Hanover is beautiful, and I really like the outdoors!”  Shallow responses lead me to believe that the interest in my school is pretty shallow, too.
  • Have questions:  Hand in hand with researching the school, be sure to come into the interview with some meaningful questions for the interviewer.  A caveat about alumni interviews:  most alumni to whom you will be speaking will not have attended the school for many years.  That means that they may not know much in the way of current information about the school.  Asking them questions about that new, cool double major that’s just been introduced will probably not get much of a response.  Instead, you can always ask alums about their experience at the school.  What was their favorite aspect of their time there?
  • Don’t be arrogant.  Even if the school for which you are interviewing is not your top choice, don’t ever let the interviewer know it.  Alumni interviewers volunteer their time because they are loyal to and love their alma maters.  They don’t want to hear that their school is your “safety”.  On the other hand, you don’t need to tell them that it’s your top choice, either (though you can, if it is).  You simply need to be enthusiastic about the prospect of going to their school if you get accepted.  After all, if you’re not enthusiastic, then why are you applying there in the first place?
  • Write a thank you note:  In the age of email, it’s easy to write an immediate thank you to your interviewer before the alum even gets a chance to write up their recommendation about you.  Yet, most students neglect to take this simple step.  A thank you note is not only a common courtesy that will be welcomed by your interviewer, but it’s another opportunity to “sell” yourself and reinforce to the interviewer why you want to go to their alma mater and why you are a good fit.   In your note, you should reference part of your conversation to help to further personalize the message.

No doubt, interviewing can be scary and intimidating.  But with some preparation, you will find that it can actually be an enjoyable experience!

Andrea Aronson

College Admissions Counselor

Westfield, NJ

 

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