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College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

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Top Interview Tips for Teens

Do you have a college, job, or internship interview coming up?

Would you like to feel more comfortable and confident?

When you don’t have much, or any, interview experience, there are a few tips and techniques that are especially good to know.

In this post you’ll find my top ten list of interview skills for teens. They’re easy to learn and they work. Use them and you’ll discover how to make a strong and successful impression in your interview.

Top Interview Tips for Teens

1. Arrive Early

Early means early. Being late makes a bad impression. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before your interview. Leave time for traffic jams, red lights, and a lack of parking spaces.

There’s a big bonus to arriving early. You’ll have time to sit down, relax, and get acquainted with your surroundings. You can double-check your notes. You can even take a trip to the bathroom.

If you’re not sure where you’re going, schedule a practice run. Or do it virtually. I tend to get lost, so before I go someplace new I use Google Maps street view and take a virtual trip where I’m headed. That way I can see the building I’m going to and it looks familiar when I get there.

2. Dress Appropriately

Collared shirts, khakis, dress slacks, skirts, button down blouses…this is the stuff people wear to interviews. Leave anything sheer, high cut, or low cut in your closet. Bottom line: This is one time you want to get wardrobe advice from a grownup.

3. Relax. It’s Normal to Be Nervous.

It’s okay to be nervous—in fact, a few nerves can keep us on our toes. But when you’ve got too many butterflies, here’s what to do:

Before your interview:

-Prepare. This may sound obvious, but it’s the thing that works. Know your positive qualities, have four or five examples you can talk about that illustrate your fit and experiences, and practice answering common interview questions. When you get to the interview you’ll feel more confident and in control.

The day of your interview:

-Arrive early so you can settle in.
-Take a brisk walk to shake off any jitters.
-Breathe! We forget to do this all the time.
-Bring a bottle of water. Nerves can give you a dry mouth. (But sip, don’t swig.)

During your interview:

-Remember the interviewer’s not the enemy—he or she wants you to do your best and succeed.
-If you stammer or forget something, don’t worry. It happens to everybody. Just smile and move on. If you’re really stuck, you can always say, “Can I think about it and come back to that question?”
-If you need an extra moment, take a sip of water.
-Smile. It helps you relax inside.

For more help on how to de-stress, read my post on combating interview nerves.

4.  Know How to Start and End An Interview

Starting Your Interview: Look the interviewer in the eye and greet him or her with a firm handshake. Address your interviewer by name. Be cheerful and complimentary. (“Hello, Mr. Gavin, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”) Smile.

Ending Your interview. Do the same thing: Look the interviewer in the eye, shake hands, and smile. Thank the interviewer for his or her time, and make sure to say that you enjoyed the experience. (“Thanks for taking the time to meet with me, Mr. Gavin. I really enjoyed talking with you.”) Saying you enjoyed the experience is important. It helps leave the interviewer with a positive impression.

Ace your college interview - handshakesTip: A note on shaking hands. Some teens feel uncomfortable about being the first to offer a handshake. Don’t be—it’s a sign of confidence and maturity. The interviewer’s looking at you for adult qualities like maturity, responsibility, and leadership. Your handshake should be firm, but not bone crushing. And certainly not like a limp fish (!). For more information, read my post on the best ways to begin and interviews.

5. Be Able to Answer Common Interview Questions.

There are lots of possible interview questions, but some pop up repeatedly. Here’s a list of common interview questions you should know how to answer:

Tell me about yourself.
Why do you want to work here/Why do you want to go to school here?
How would you be a good fit here?
Tell me about a couple of your strengths.
What’s your biggest weakness?
What are your favorite subjects in school? Why?
What’s been your most challenging subject?
What’s gotten you curious enough to explore on your own outside of class?
How would your friends or teachers describe you?
What book(s) have you read recently outside of class?
Tell me about a time you had to overcome an obstacle or challenge.
Do you get along with your teachers?
Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?

Practicing is one of the best things you can do to get ready for an interview. Enlist a friend or family member to practice with you, and take turns being the interviewer and interviewee so you get a feel for both sides.

6. Never Give One Word Answers. Add Relevant Examples Instead.

Good interviews are conversations; they’re a give and take of information. That’s why you should never respond to questions with a one-word answer—it‘s like turning a two-way street into a dead end. Check out this “before” example:

Interviewer: “It’s nice to meet you. I see on your resume that you interned for the electric company.”
You: “Yes.”

Crickets. You just slammed the brakes on the conversation and now the interviewer has no place to go. But if you add an example, especially one that shows off your positive qualities, you create flow. Here’s what that answer might sound like:

Interviewer: “It’s nice to meet you. I see on your resume that you interned for the electric company.”
You: “Yes. I started out answering phones, but when I told them I was interested in marketing they let me switch departments and gave me a mentor. Now I’ve discovered how much I like marketing.”
Interviewer: That’s terrific. Tell me more about your mentor and how you work together.

When you include examples, you continue the conversation. The interviewer learns a lot more about you, and gets a much better sense of why you’d be a good fit.

Tip: Come up with 4 or 5 examples you can talk about in your interview. Your examples should help illustrate your positive qualities. Start by finding an example of leadership, an example of your ability to work as a team member, a time you overcame an obstacle, and both a class and an activity that have been particularly meaningful and why. Then, depending on the question you’re asked, choose the example that helps answer the question. (You can probably think of other ones, too.) If you need help figuring out your positive qualities, click here.

7. Research the School or Business.

Pretend you’re an interviewer and you ask two students why they want to go to your school. The first one says, “Because you’ve got lots of fun courses.” The second one says, “I really appreciate the school’s philosophy that to fully succeed you should know more than your single field of study.” Which student is going to stand out to you? The student with the specific answer.

To stand out, you’ve got to have specific, thoughtful answers. For that, you need to research the school or business. (Yes, this is homework, but I promise it pays off.)

Here are the steps you can use to help you ace your homework research:

How to Research a Business: Go to the company’s website. Find out what the company does, such as the products it manufactures or the services it provides. As you look through the website, pay attention to the main ideas the company highlights (Sustainability? Innovation? Connection with employees?). Next, look for news about the company on the website or search for it on Google. This will help you understand what’s new, and where the company is headed. As you go along, jot down the key points, especially the ones that make you feel like you’d be a good fit or excited to work there. You want to be able to answer questions like, “What do you know about our company?”…”Why do you want to work here?”…”Why would we be a good fit for you?”

How to Research a School: Go to the school’s website. You’re looking for two things: Information about the school and information about the students. Start by looking at the home page. What images and words appear on this page? The home page is like the school’s main ad—it’s where they’re going to hit you with a strong message about who they are and what makes them attractive. After the home page, find and read about the school’s mission and academic philosophy. Then follow the links that interest you to learn about academics, student life, activities, etc. As you go along, take notes about what interests you. Jot down the key words used to describe the school and its students (Involved? Globally aware? Research oriented?). Then come up with examples of how you fit those words and interests, so you can talk about it in the interview.

8. Use Good Body Language.

Body language is how we communicate without words. Believe it or not, before you say hello an interviewer is judging you based on your body language. That’s why good body language makes a good impression.

Here are good body language techniques:

– Sit up straight
– Look the interviewer in the eye
– Don’t fidget
– Don’t twirl your hair
Have good energy
– Keep your hands in your lap most of the time
– Smile when it’s appropriate

For more body language techniques, read my post, Six Confidence-Building Body Language Tips.

9. Ask Questions.

You should have two or three questions ready for the interviewer. Your interviewer will expect it. Write your questions down on a notepad and bring them with you. You can refer to the notepad when you ask your questions. (But don’t refer to your notes when you’re answering interview questions.) Make sure your questions are thoughtful. Don’t ask questions easily answered by the website.

Tip: You don’t have to wait until the end of the interview to ask questions. Ask questions when it feels appropriate.

how to write collehow to write college interview thank you note10. Send a Thank You Note.

This is crucial. Send a thank you email right away. If you’d like to, you can also follow up with a handwritten note. When you’re writing, don’t be too casual. Instead of “Hey” or “Hi,” say, “Dear _____.” In the body of the note refer to something the two of you talked about, because that will make it more personal. One final, very important item: Make sure you know the correct spelling of your interviewer’s name, title, and contact information. If you don’t have it, ask for it at the desk when you arrive or ask your interviewer for a business card. If you still don’t have it after the interview, call and ask. Don’t hesitate to do this; you want everything to be just right. Details matter. Mistakes matter, too.

Bonus Tip: Show Your Personality! You want to remain professional—this isn’t the time to try out a comedy routine—but don’t hide who you are. Express your personality and let the interviewer get to know you. You can do that by:

-Greeting your interviewer warmly and with a smile.
-Engaging in conversation.
Having examples and experiences ready to talk about.

Finding connections: If you discover a connection with your interviewer (a book you’ve both read, the same city you grew up in, a shared interest or hobby), discuss it! It will help the conversation flow.

Sharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.