12 ways to Stand Out in School or Job Interviews

This week’s blog is a guest post contributed by Elaine Rosenblum, Founder of ProForm U™ and co-founder of Access Test Prep & Tutoring. 

Interviewing is a life skill that is never too early to learn.  Whether it’s for private school, college or a job, interviewing provokes anxiety in almost everyone.  The good news is that you can use this nervous energy to fuel your preparation.

The default “winging it” strategy is not going to build the poise and storytelling that yield admissions and job offers. Standing out requires intentional answer content, positioning and specific word choice. 

Employment application

At ProForm U™ (http://proformu.com), my mentoring firm, I teach students and professionals how to interview, articulate, and negotiate.  I also interview potential tutors every month for my other company, Access Test Prep & Tutoring (http://www.accesstestprep.com).  I can always tell the difference between those who prepare and those who do not by the relaxed, conversational manner of the experienced applicants. 

Here are 12 guidelines that any student or professional can use to stand out and make a positive impression in their next interview:

  1. Know your audience – Interviewing is about storytelling: the story of you. Schools want to know who you are, whereas job interviewers want to know what you can do, your skills. Framing your story to meet the interviewer’s needs is the key to the kingdom. 
  1. Be respectful – Starting from the very first email or text you send to schedule an interview, write in full sentences and never begin with “Hey” or “Morning.”  Address the interviewer by name.   Begin with “Dear Ms. Jones” or, if appropriate, “Susan.”  It is always better to err on the side of formality. In fact, society has become so casual that adding a bit of formality to your interview style may even set you apart in a positive way.  
  1. Dress appropriately – Dressing appropriately says that you care and respect the interview process. Self-presentation should be neat, clean, and brushed. For private school and college interviews, slacks and blouse or kakis and button down are fine. Sneakers are not. More formal professional school (e.g., medical school) and job interviews call for suits for all candidates. An exception is a creative work environment where “creative casual” is sometimes appropriate.  When in doubt, err on the side of dressing more formally.
  1. Clean up your Social Media – Check your accounts, engage your privacy settings, and scrub any inappropriate post or pictures. Posting anything that relates to drinking, drugs, cursing, or skimpy clothing is not in your best interest.  Assume that anything on the internet will be seen by prospective schools or employers.
  1. Shake hands & make eye contact – Do not take handshaking lightly. I mean that literally. Children and young adults need to know what it feels like to offer and receive a professional handshake. The shake should be firm and conducted while looking the other person in the eye. 
  1. Be Honest – Truthfulness is about integrity. Given social media norms, young people struggle with honesty. It is never a good idea to lie or tell a half-truth in an interview. It will inevitably haunt you. Also, it is important how you frame an answer. For example, when answering the question, “Why do you want to attend our school,” it might be honest to say, “Because you have a good football team,” but that response is off strategy. This is where preparation and framing become paramount. Visit the school’s or organization’s website, find out what makes that place unique, and relate that uniqueness back to personal experience. “Academics and sports are important to me. This school (call the school by name) offers me the opportunity to take various AP courses and play baseball.”  This answer tells an interviewer that you are well-rounded and will contribute to the school community in multiple ways.
  1. Do Your Homework – For school and job interviews, it is important to research the school or organization. Determine what distinguishes the culture, and then talk about how it relates to you and how you will contribute to the school or to the organization’s mission.  “I love to discuss complex issues, take a position, and support it. This school has a long history of a debate champions and, if admitted, I intend to join the debate team. The opportunity to debate with like-minded students, who share my passion, is very inviting to me.”
  1. Know Yourself – “Tell me about yourself” is a dreaded question for everyone.  So, make sure you know the answer and practice your response. Your answer should be about two minutes long. Start with two past achievements and build a story that brings the interviewer to the present, highlighting relevant achievements or work history that will add value to the student body or organizational goals. Make sure your story has a defining thread running through it. 
  1. Find Your People – A good fit leads to happiness with a school or job. Try to understand the personality of the school or organization. Determine whether you relate to the people and culture. Emotional satisfaction makes for higher grades and job productivity. If you are a good fit for the school or organization, you will also feel more at ease in your interview and find it easier to relate to your interviewers.
  1. Practice – Even seasoned interviewees use repeated role-playing as a standard preparation technique. For any interview, at the very least, make sure that you can adequately answer each of these questions in two minutes: Can you walk me through your resume? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Why do you want this job/school?  Knowing what you want to say and how you want to articulate it is the lynchpin to calming your nerves, and it enables you to articulate why you should be the “stand out” candidate on interview day.
  1. Prepare Questions – Asking relevant questions in an interview is a must.  Aim to prepare at least three questions. Something like, “I read on your website that your school offers courses in modern art or this organization pays for graduate school.  Can you tell me more about that?” is a great opening question.   “What does it take to be successful here?” is generic and fits almost any interview.  Preparing relevant questions demonstrates your preparation and is an easy way to set yourself apart simply because so many people fail to do so. 
  1. Arrive early – Arrive fifteen minutes early for your interview. Being early demonstrates tenacity and always makes a good impression. If delayed, call, text and/or e-mail at least five minutes prior to the interview start time; doing so stops the clock and shows respect. Better yet, however, don’t be late.

Just like sports, interviewing involves repeated practice to build focused confidence for game day. Technology has eroded vocabularies and articulation skills, and made practiced, comprehensive interview prep even more essential for today’s students and young adults.  Your self-presentation and ability to articulate your story with specificity sets you apart, big time. 

The good news is that interviewing is a skill that can be improved with practice.  The students who work with me and put in the time to prepare effectively are frequently admitted to their top schools and receive job offers from top companies, and the same can be true for you.  


Elaine Rosenblum, Master Mentor

Elaine_R-88a1Founder of ProForm U™ and co-founder of Access Test Prep & Tutoring, Elaine Rosenblum is an entrepreneur and visionary at heart. Foreseeing the impact of technology on communication skills, in 2001 she founded Courageous Conversation. As part of a second entrepreneurial adventure, five years later, she co-founded Access Test Prep & Tutoring.  Elaine now teaches collaborative communication, negotiation and articulation skills not only to professionals at all levels but also to budding professionals, including students preparing for college and job interviews. Across careers as an entrepreneur, attorney, teacher and marketer, Elaine acquired deep experience working at and consulting for corporate organizations from start-ups to Wall Street.

At the intersection of advancing technology and diminishing human contact, Elaine combines her corporate, legal and educational expertise to realize her vision that collaborative communication techniques are among the most valuable professional skills in that expectations for student leadership and organizational productivity and profit margins demand them. For more information, contact me at (417) 763-6768 or ProFormU.com Read Elaine’s full bio and more information about ProForm U™ at: http://proformu.com/bio

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By |December 15th, 2015|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Maggie Wray is an Atlanta-based academic coach who helps high school & college students achieve their academic potential by improving their organization, time management, study skills, and mindset about school. To set up a time to speak with Maggie about how to help YOUR teen develop the skills he or she needs to thrive academically, visit http://creatingpositivefutures.com/contact or email support@creatingpositivefutures.com

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