Jerry Bradshaw: Interview can make or break college admission
January 12, 2012 2:28PM
Updated: February 14, 2012 8:10AM
Dear Mr. Bradshaw — I have applied to several colleges; now, I am preparing for my interviews. Some schools are willing to conduct interviews over Skype; others say I still have the option to be interviewed on campus or by an alumnus.
A Skype interview is the most convenient, but I am concerned it might not be as effective as a live interview, and I am not sure how I would do on camera. If I go with Skype, should I prepare differently than for a live interview? — StudentDear Student
— The college interview typically is the last step in the application process. Most top colleges use the interview to help fill in the blanks, to “humanize the process” and to glean information not reflected in other parts of the application.
The undergraduate interview is not designed to trip you up or make you defensive. Interviewers are instructed to advocate for the student and not to act as antagonists.
It is important to do your best and develop a strategy on how to approach the interview. It will be given a numerical rating and scored just like other parts of your application, and it often is used as a tie-breaker. In a tight race, the interview can make or break a candidate’s chances for admission.
The keys to success are similar for Skype and live interviews, but with Skype, there is the additional need to look presentable and speak clearly on camera. There is a bit of Hollywood here; you want to engage the interviewer.
Let’s start with the setting. Most likely, the Skype interview will be conducted in your bedroom or another room in the house where you use your computer. Everyone in your home must take the interview seriously and stay out of sight — including pets.
Good lighting is essential. Turn on all the lights in the room and make sure that you don’t appear as a dark silhouette in front of the camera. Bring in extra lighting if necessary. You need a light on your face as well as behind you.
Check your speakers and ask the interviewer if he or she can hear you clearly. Lower the volume of your speakers to avoid audio feedback. Headphones and earplugs are permitted.
Be sure the room you are Skyping from is free of clutter — no posters of the Grateful Dead (my favorite) on the wall. This is business.
The more it looks like a den or office the better, so stay away from the kitchen with notes stuck on the refrigerator. Remove anything that will be on camera that will keep the interviewer from focusing on you.
The key to preparing is to understand that the interview will be about shared experiences and values. In an age of increasing diversity, this can be a sensitive issue. Keep in mind you want to become part of the interviewers’ experience — you need them more than they need you.
These rules are based on several years of interviewing on Skype and doing live interviews for Harvard.
Dress: Business attire; do not break this rule. For young men and women alike, the time-honored colors are black, gray or navy blue.
Men: The No. 1 rule for hair is clean. The “dirty hair” look may be fashionable, but not for an interview. Get a regular haircut and avoid the spiked peak. Facial hair is discouraged, but if you insist, keep it short and neat. This may seem obvious, but leave your chains and earrings at home.
Women: Hair must be off your face and out of your eyes. Above all, do not fidget with your hair and do not show up looking as if you just stepped out of a shower. The goal of makeup is to look natural and professional. Avoid bright colors and too much eye makeup. Choose accessories that complement your outfit. Simple jewelry will do nicely.
One final check: You do not want to be remembered for how you dressed, but for what you said.