The Invisible Interview
Just because you don’t see it- doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Authenticity is derived from face-to-face conversations, from personal contact. Due to the number of students applying, and the pressure of time and money, many colleges have officially stopped interviewing students; or, rather, they have optional interviews. Many students see this as an opportunity to avoid that gut wrenching, soul searching, cue for anxiety. These students are missing out on a chance to personally demonstrate who they really are. If the school offers any interview - take it. They have computers keeping track of who does an who does not have enough interest to do so. If it is with an Alumni Interviewer, you should still do it. You should also seek opportunities to speak to admissions office personnel over the phone and with perseverance have even a short chat with admissions officers whenever possible. Any conversation provides an opportunity to either make an impact or to be anonymous. At a school that does not offer an official interview, any contact you have that is even remotely memorable to an admissions officer, provides a leg up on the masses who merely submit the application.
The invisible interview happens when a student has a conversation with someone in the admissions process and they are impressed enough to make a mental note, or better yet a written note that ends up in your file. As Hamlet says, “The readiness is all.” One must be prepared in order to capitalize on an opportunity. The best way to be prepared for these chances to have an impact is to train just as if you had a formal interview. Nearly every student will at least have an option to interview with an Alumni Interviewer. Colleges all keep track of those who defer and those who have enough interest in the school to take the interview. But even more to the point, you should carefully prepare for this interview just as if it were actually with the Director of Admissions.
If you have a clear story that explains who you are, what makes you tick, and how that tick fits on this college’s clock, then you will be far more ready than most. You should also have several quick stories from your past accomplishments that demonstrate the key criteria colleges use to evaluate students. (See the articles on this blog entitled “Targets and Arrows”, and “Developing your Personal Story”.) Finally, you should have a list of four or five questions that you have searched for on the school’s website but could not find an easy answer. Armed with this preparation, you will “Wow” the alumni who will write a comment and send it in for your file. More to the point, however, you will be ready, should the chance to talk casually with anyone in admissions arise. Doing this specific interview preparation for one school makes it that much easier to research all of your schools and be equally prepared. Your stories are the same, it is only how they connect specifically to the college that should be appropriately tweaked for each.
Will you be touring these colleges? If you are prepared, just think how many invisible interview opportunities you might create. What if you encounter a coach? Are there professors you might be able to engage in any conversations? Invisible interviews can happen whenever you reach out and to anyone who might be able to add a personal touch to your otherwise impersonal application.
Here is the good news: Since fewer colleges are offering a formal interview to every student, and since most students to not prepare for an invisible interview opportunity, you can score big by just standing out in even the most casual conversations. There is no data point, or even an essay that is more authentic than a face-to-face conversation. It is up to you to find your chance for an invisible interview and thus “re-personalize” what has become a remarkably impersonal process.