Preparing for Interviews
Your applications are signed and mailed, and the waiting begins. Although you will not know for several weeks whether you have been selected to interview, you should prepare now.
Why practice for interviews now? First, the skills you hone aren't wasted; they will serve you well for graduate and professional school interviews, and for job interviews in the future. Second, the more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel with answering questions "on the fly"-and ease in the interview setting is an important ingredient for success.
Know what to expect:
- Read what Willamette students have to say about interviews past, and thumb through years of interview reports on file in the Office of Student Academic Grants and Awards in order to get a sense of the range and kinds of questions.
- Talk to people who have been through similar interviews to find out what helped them and what they wish they'd done, or not done.
- Use your mock interviews to listen to yourself, to practice framing answers that include the information you want to convey, and to help you with your sense of timing. Twenty minute interviews go by fast. The committee will give you feedback on your 'performance'; take advantage of their suggestions to reflect on (and plan for) possible trouble spots in the next mock interview or the real thing.
- What points do you want to be sure to make? What character traits do you want to project? Write them down, and review your list before each interview. Have a brief statement ready of what you most want committee members to know about you, in case you are asked for a 'closing statement' at the end of the interview.
- Go over your application carefully. Interview questions will mostly derive from your application materials: the personal statement, study or policy proposal, activities, transcript, and letters of recommendation. Mentally review past course material, consider what activities matter most to you and why, and be prepared to discuss anything and everything.
- Brainstorm a list of possible questions, and practice speaking the answers. Although actual interview questions will most likely be very different, the practice you'll gain from thinking on your feet could transform a hesitant and cautious response into an articulate, confident and effective statement.
- Brainstorm a list of potential questions in your major field of study. Ask your advisor to help you. Focus on issues that would interest an educated generalist (and since you've been reading the New York Times, The Economist, or the Wall Street Journal, you know what these are). Formulate your answers verbally.
- You may be asked questions on current events. Know what is happening in the world, and have opinions to articulate. Be able to defend knowledgeably your positions on cloning and stem-cell research, campaign finance reform, the federal budget, missile defense, etc. You don't have to know something about everything, but you do need to be reasonably well informed, and aware of any breaking news in the days leading up to your interview.
- Don't be surprised by questions that touch on your extracurricular interests, the kind of books you read, and what you like to do in your free time.
Managing the Interview:
- The committee members are intelligent, accomplished, successful and occasionally famous people. Don't, however, let yourself be intimidated. Engage confidently in the exchange of ideas; respectful differences of opinion are expected and even welcomed. Know the difference between a debate and an argument, and avoid engaging in the latter. Remember how short your time is, and how many other things you have to say.
- Take a moment to think before you answer. Ask for clarification if you need to. Don't be afraid to admit you don't know the answer to a question; do be afraid to fake it.
- Remember how short your time is, and how many other things you have to say. Keep your answers fairly brief-take as long as you need to respond to the question, but don't editorialize, don't embroider, and above all don't keep talking to fill the silences.
- Know when to stop. If you feel you could talk forever on a particular topic, give a brief answer and ask the committee if they would like you to go into more detail.
- No matter how well you prepare, you will be asked questions you can't anticipate. Don't worry about it--how you think is often as important to the committee as what you think, so invite them into the process as you work through an answer to something you didn't expect. Even if you feel you've just made a fool of yourself, don't look back! Remember that you have answered other questions well, and move on.
- Be honest; be confident; be yourself.
- Remember to thank the committee! Regardless of whether you are successful in gaining a scholarship or grant, each of the committee has invested time and energy in you, and whether you can appreciate it at the moment or not, you have just had a valuable learning experience.