I was known as one of the nicer interviewers you could have had on-campus in the Yale or Harvard Admissions Offices (in fact, was informally voted ‘nicest interviewer’ at Yale) – I didn’t expect you to agree with my politics, I never asked Jeopardy!-style questions, and if you said you spoke Spanish, I didn’t then proceed to turn our conversation into an entrevista (all three did happen!). So, when I say I had five pet peeves in interviews, understand that I didn’t look for them, that I didn’t come in with an ax to grind. Here are five things that can annoy even the nicest interviewer, in the order they might happen:
Peeve #1: If you are thirsty or have dry-mouth before the interview, and you bring in a bottle of water, it is common courtesy to bring in a bottle for the interviewer as well. In 400+ interviews, no one ever brought in two bottles of water.
Solution to Peeve #1: Don’t bring a bottle of water into an interview, nor any other type of food or drink. I know you have been cooling your jets in the admissions office waiting room for a while before we come get you. During any of this time, take care of your hydration issues. If for whatever reason, you MUST have water, bring in two bottles – I’ve been talking all day!
Side note: I remember that a student in one of my seminars once asked “isn’t bringing in a bottle of water for an interviewer considered a bribe?” I laughed, replying “a dollar spent on a bottle of Poland Spring is not going to get you into Harvard.”
Peeve #2: When I meet you, and your parents say something to me, do not shoot them a ‘shut-the-heck-up-this-is-my-thing-and-you-are-messing-it-up-for-me look.’
Solution to Peeve #2: Your parents are helping your cause – my job is to get to know you, and they can help. Smile and be patient. They are not hurting your cause at all.
Peeve #3: If I am asking you a question, such as “what do you want to study,” don’t answer in one sentence (“I want to study philosophy”). I also assume you can answer a question – I am actually interested in why you are answering that way.
Solution to Peeve #3: When I ask you “what,” always hear “what and why.” “What do you want to study and why?” “What do you want to take advantage of in our community and why?” The more questions you get asked in an interview, the worse it has gone. Assume you are there to tell me who you are.
Peeve #4: Very much related to Peeve #3: When I ask you “what are you questions,” I am NOT trying to find out if you can ask a question – I assume you can! I am asking you what you want to know.
Solution to Peeve #4: Have the questions written down on a pad before you come in, and actually write down the answer. Care about the answers. Students who ask sophisticated questions, with the only goal being to ask a sophisticated question, can get a “student had no real interest in learning more about the school” in my report.
Peeve #5: Nostalgia. If your answer begins with “when I was a kid,” I am going to start to tune out. Yes, maybe you have figure skated since you were young and your folks made you – I want to know why you do it now.
Solution to Peeve #5: You are way too young to be nostalgic, and you were a lot different when you were fourteen than you are now, let alone when you were eight. Tell me about who you are now, and why you make the choices you make now that you are actually making choices!
Keith Berman is a Certified Educational Planner and President of Options for College, Inc. He teaches the online CTY College Prep at Johns Hopkins, has been quoted in US News & World Report: America’s Best Colleges 2009, 10, and 11, and designed and wrote the content for the college interview iPhone app “Entoview: College Edition,” available on the iTunes store or at entoview.com.