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  • Writer's pictureEileen Smith

How to Ace Your College Interview Questions — on Zoom!

Forget about the firm handshake. This year colleges are conducting interviews primarily over Zoom. Even though you have been taking online classes since March, developing a connection and keeping your interviewer engaged through a screen requires additional preparation.

A video conference is a unique opportunity to show your interviewer your awards, mementos, and artistic creations. Curate your interview background to include items that illustrate your passions and successes. Work these items into your conversation.

Even though you can’t connect in person, you can project confidence through your posture, hand gestures, voice, and facial expressions. Your smile shows that you are looking forward to the conversation and you know you have a story to tell. Make sure your smile is genuine. It should crinkle your eyes and linger on your face. A fake smile risks losing credibility. My favorite yoga coach is Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts on Peloton. Her ready, joyous smile is an inspiration.

To make the most of how you come across on Zoom, arrange your camera angle at or just above eye level, look directly into the lens to make eye contact (you can paste sticky notes by the camera to remind yourself of what you want to say), and use lighting to highlight your face. Avoid noise pollution by using earbuds instead of the microphone on your computer.

Wear clothes in solid colors that contrast with your background so you don’t blend in. A little flare to show your personality is good. This is not the time to show up in sweats. Choose something you would wear for an interview in person, that is appropriate for the college. Don’t be the one in the Holderness video who has given up on appearances.

Now that you have the Zoom part all set, here are PRO Tips© to prepare your content for the interview questions:

PROmote: Visit the school or learn about it online. Think about why you want to go to that school and what about you makes you a great candidate. Your interviewer wants to know what you will contribute to the student body and how you stand out from other applicants. You already wrote an essay about this for your application. Use it to identify stories from your experience that illustrate why you will be an asset to the school. Research the person who will interview you to find ice breakers and areas of common interest.

Show what a great student you are and how passionate you are about your area of interest. Don’t assume your interviewer has read or remembers your application materials. If you want them to know something, say it — and repeat it. Brainstorm three topics of stories to develop, such as your great moments, awful moments, accomplishments, aspirations, and challenges you have overcome. These are promotional stories you are going to squeeze into answers to their questions, no matter what they ask.

PROtect: Anticipate difficult questions your interviewer might ask about any negative or questionable parts of your background (bad grades, avoided the more challenging classes in school, few activities to support your interest in this program) and identify stories and explanations you can give if necessary.

No one was able to do all the activities they wanted during the pandemic. It has been frustrating to see sports, performances, debate, volunteering, Model UN, and STEM competitions cancelled. Be prepared to talk about how you used your time to further your interests.

PROceed: Develop answers to several of the common interview questions from The College Board. Identify three main points you want to make. Then practice, practice, practice for your mirror, your phone, your friends, or family. Say your stories out loud, hone them, trim unnecessary details. Each story should make a point and get there directly

Since you can’t prepare for every possibility, practice pivoting to use the answers you developed to respond to a variety of related questions. For example, “I’m glad you asked me that. Here is an important aspect of my project, here is an example of my leadership, that’s a great question and it reminds me of a similar time when…” Use your words here, not mine.

Make the most of your Zoom interview with the right tools. Intentional background, camera angle, lighting, sound, and clothes will show you are serious about the opportunity. Using the PRO Tips© will prepare you to project confidence and give your interviewer the content they need to write you a shining recommendation for admission. Then you can get back to nailing those AP classes like Mitchell Crawford on Tiktok.

Eileen Smith is a public speaking coach and former diplomat. She helps business executives, policy experts, and university students deliver their message. Click here to subscribe.

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