• Mark Efinger

Developing Your Personal Story

Updated: Feb 20, 2019

Developing Your Personal Story For the Admissions Process

By Mark Efinger

Why do most interviews begin poorly?

Because the candidate is not prepared for the first question

     That is - the first real question. Most interviewers will greet candidates with small talk and ice- breakers, but the real interview commences when you are asked an open-ended question. The most common version is, “Tell me a little about yourself.” You are in trouble, if you have not thought about this in advance and developed a compelling personal story that is relevant to the position sought. This is the critical moment for the all-important first impression. Many candidates at this point tend to panic. “I was born in . . .” and then a lot of wasted words flow out while the flustered student tries to figure out what the interviewer wants to hear? The well- prepared and rehearsed candidate, however, thinks for a second, and then begins a compelling 2 – 3 minute story of personal successes that lead directly to this school. It is not likely that a cogent version of this story will, miraculously, just come to mind in that tension filled moment. Even if you have a plan, there is a remarkable difference between what we actually say, and what we have planned to say, unless it has been rehearsed in a similar setting, and you’ve grown comfortable presenting it.

    Interviews bring out the jitters in most of us. Confidence cannot be faked. Role-plays, critiques and more rehearsals are the best way to overcome the stage fright that generally attacks just as the most critical moment of the interview rears its head. If, however, you know three or four relevant successes that you can concisely deliver; and you know these successes demonstrate a theme that differentiates you from the competition; and you know this story explains why you are here today applying for this specific school, then you will exude excitement, confidence, and poise. The first impression will take care of itself.

Crafting your personal success story

    Crafting your story is not difficult unless, like most students, you are trying to “wing it” through improvisation mode. Your first step to differentiate yourself from the crowd is to prepare beforehand. By reading this article you are already a step ahead. Next, begin by inventorying the achievements from your life that are most pertinent. Remember that the interviewer, here, is getting to know you. Soft skills such as determination, motivation for learning, or creativity are relevant to most programs. You do not want to tell a rehashing of your resume, or a chronological travelogue tracing your family’s moves through childhood. What you do want is a series of successes demonstrating a memorable theme.

END OF PART 1. Part 2 continues next week.

    Visit and meet Mark Efinger, the Founder and President of The Interview Skill Coaching Academy (ISCA). You can also email him at: Subscribe to receive this articles weekly. Mark has twenty-five years of experience training students to put their best foot forward when it counts for the admissions interviews at selective schools. His clients have received admissions to Harvard, Stamford, Williams College, Mt Holyoke, Lawrenceville, Andover, Exeter, and many other institutions.