Second summer in a row when most colleges are option out to conduct video interviews with their applicants instead of meeting in person. Gone are the days when applicants get dropped off at Starbucks for a chat with an alum. It is all cam and zoom glam these days. For better or for worst you might be one of those students. Not all schools conduct interviews but many still do and this has significantly changed the way the interviews are conducted. For many having to impress behind a cam can be pretty difficult. Of course, you don’t have to worry about sweaty palms and dried mouth you are still at home in your room. That has to count for something. But with that comfort comes the sad truth—impressing someone over a screen is a lot harder. It is much more difficult to have to “project” your personality and exude confidence just by counting on some lighting and a high-resolution cam.
After all, a big part of a conversation is the ambiance and the human connection, the chemistry!
Anyway, since we are in a “new normal” your college admissions interviews will most likely be held over Zoom, Webex, Google Meet, or any other similar videoconferencing software and it will require a different bit of prep and practice.
Here are 5 basic tips for what you shouldn’t overlook when planning:
1. Prepare a quiet room that is well lit and well connected.
Make sure you’re in a quiet place with strong internet. If you’re at home, this isn’t always easy when you live with your family. There might be small children running around, dinner being made in the kitchen, a basketball game playing on TV, an anxious dog. I was in an interview recently when the neighbor’s car alarm went off because of the screen cleaning truck. Double whammy! Take the matter into your hands and make sure to give the people in your home advance notice about the time and date of the interview. When it gets closer, remind them that you have an important college interview and kindly ask that they keep the volume down. Now, plan for anywhere between 30-45 min. At best. If you have access to an office and if you can use that office space for the duration of the interview it will be best.
Having a quiet space with a strong connection will ensure that your interview goes smoothly with no distractions from loud noise or frozen screens. You do not want to be in a situation when you are having to repeat yourself multiple times during the interview which will in the end take away from a potentially deeper conversation.
Your interviewer might not want to make you feel uncomfortable by mentioning the background noise but may opt to cut the chat early in silent frustration. Most of all, you’ll lose the time and energy to sharing the best parts of yourself with someone who can affect your admissions decision. Knowing that the technical and logistical challenges are taken care of will allow you to focus on presenting yourself as a great candidate.
The next important planning element is your microphone.
If you don’t have a laptop and share a desktop computer with your family, get a microphone. It doesn’t have to be a fancy one — even simple headphones with an auxiliary microphone will do. Being able to hear your voice is probably the most crucial aspect of the interview! Your interviewer won’t ask you to prep a microphone, but they do want you to be audible from their side. The best way to do it? Chat with them through a microphone.
2. Put your cellphone to rest on airplane mode at best!
There is nothing more disappointing than a repeated ding disturbing the meeting.
Notifications can be very distracting. The conditioned human eyes naturally drift toward looking to see what just came in and who might be texting us causing a distraction by smartphone notifications. Even over Zoom or Google Meet, your interviewer will be able to see if your eyes dart away following a brief vibration on your desk. It’ll show a lack of interest that can be noted in their report to the admissions office. Best to keep it out of sight and on silent to show your full interest.
Don’t forget to also close down your other browser tabs and windows! Silence your computer! When your friends FaceTime you in the middle of an interview or if a YouTube video you were watching accidentally replays itself, you’ll wish you’d saved yourself the embarrassment of sharing a little too much about your personal life. Derailing the conversation with these easily preventable distractions won’t leave the interviewer with a good impression of someone who came prepared with intention.
3. Body Language 101: eye contact, body language, and firm handshakes? No handshakes here, but you get the point.
Body language still matters even in the virtual world.
Depending on the kind of computer you are using, you might appear as looking up and not at your interviewer. Since the camera is not something you can change on a device, you can instead liven up your facial expressions and move back a bit from the screen so you can be seen better and not just neck up (or what is most often the case nose up).
4. Review possible questions but do not over-rehearse.
Here is a list of possible questions to give you an idea of what you might expect from your interview. Some students are invited to a second and even third interview depending on the program they are applying to. Some schools conduct interviews for scholarships too. Although each situation might be unique, many of the questions will revolve around your extracurricular activities, passions, and choice of major. So plan on getting comfortable discussing your life choices thus far and talking about yourself.
Major caution territory: Do not blame a teacher, parent, or a friend no matter where the conversation takes you. Showing ownership of your life even when many of the circumstances were not in your hands shows maturity.
5. Have a question or two prepared to ask your interviewer at the end.
There is nothing more self-centered than not taking interest in your interviewer.
It is simply polite to ask a few questions at the end, but keep them general and easy so you show genuine interest but not put anyone on the spot.
Last but not least, follow up with a thank-you email. This one is a common courtesy, and it is a must at the end of any official interaction, not just the college interview.
So, here you have it now. Good luck!