A Tale Of Two Virtual Interviews

I interviewed two candidates for my alma mater, Brandeis University, on the same day.  I met the first interviewee at the Barnes and Noble.  I waited expectantly, eying each 17-year old who entered trying to guess if it was my prospective student.  He arrived and we found a table at the café.  I could tell he was nervous, so I tried to ease him into the conversation.  We spoke about his high school experience, his activities and what type of college experience he was seeking.  Then I got the question I ask all my prospective interviewees:  Why Brandeis?  He had a pat answer, he liked that it was a liberal arts college in Boston.  So I probed a little, “Why do you think you would be a good fit for the school?”  He stared back at me with a blank expression, uncertain of the answer. 

Later that afternoon, I interviewed another prospective student. This time we met at Starbucks.  We met in the parking lot as we both arrived for the interview.  She was dressed professionally and greeted me with confidence.  As we chatted on our way inside and found a table, she immediately engaged with me about how much she liked Brandeis when she visited.  She then handed me a resume listing her activities in case I wanted to reference it.  (I always appreciate when students hand me a resume because it makes it much easier when I got back an write up the report.)  As we chatted about her experience in high school, her activities, and her college search, I came to the same question: “Why Brandeis?”  This student was able to tell me in a very specific way why she was a good fit for the school.  She talked about its strength in neuroscience, its excellent pre-med program and most importantly she said she felt very comfortable with the openness and friendliness of the student body.  She spoke about her experience with great excitement and as she described all the things she liked about Brandeis, I could see her fitting in and making her mark.

So as you prepare for you interviews here are some tips:

1. Dress professionally (at least on top), but with your own sense of style.  One of my students designed and made jewelry as one of her hobbies.  I suggested that she wear a piece during the interview to serve as a talking point.  She later told me excitedly that they spent a lot of time talking about her jewelry and it was great to have a piece on hand to demonstrated her true passion for creation and design. Since she was a math/science student, she was able to show a different, more creative side of her personality.

2. Research the school. While not all students can visit a campus before applying (although I recommend it if you can), you can still research the school online, speak with current students, attend an information session at his/her high school or locally.  If a student tells me she wants to major in Engineering, I know she has not done her research because Brandeis does not offer engineering.  However, if she tells me she wants to do a 3+2 dual degree with Brandeis and Olin School of engineering, then I know she understands the school.

3. Understand why you are good match for the school. The first student lost me when he couldn’t make the match, where as the second student impressed me through her obvious passion for the school.

4. Ask if the interviewer would like you to send a resume. An alumni interviewer’s job is to report back to the college why a particular student is a good fit and what he or she will bring to the community. Some interviewers may not want one, but it’s good to ask at the end of the interview if it would be helpful to send one. 

5. Be yourself. Interviews can be intimidating, but remember this is a conversation.  If I find a student can engage me in an interesting way and show his/her personality to me, I am impressed.  I want to understand what makes a student unique.  I met one student who was extremely down-to-earth, a bit nerdy, and proud of it.  She was unapologetically interested in learning; I could tell that her intellect was keen and would contribute in a considerable way to the academic life.

6. Be prepared to ask questions.  At the end of an interview, I always ask the candidate if he or she has any questions for me.  When a student shows curiosity and demonstrates an interest in the school beyond what you can find on the website, I know that he or she is truly interested in the school.  If it is a relativley recent graduate you can ask about his or her experience at the school.  If it is an admisisons person, you can ask about specific programs or what types of students they think succeed at a given school.

7. Practice on Zoom.  By this point you are all well versed in Zoom but it’s easy to get lax since you will be interviewing from home and perhaps your bedroom.  Make sure your video, lighting, sound, etc. are all working well.  Assess your background for appropriateness and professionalism.  Make eye contact during your interview.  If you tend to fidget, have something in your hand to help manage your nervousness so that you keep fidgeting to a minumum.  We can practice during our mock interviews. 

8. Follow up with a brief thank you note. This can be done via e-mail or a hand-written note is a nice personal touch.  Make sure to reference something specific about your conversation.

Good luck on your interviews.

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