There’s something comical about reading articles that coach you on how to be yourself. If you Google “authentic interview tips,” you’ll find articles titled “How to Sound Authentic” and “How to Be Yourself,” which evoke truisms like Oscar Wilde’s “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken” and Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true.” But what does “being yourself” even mean? And how can you “be yourself” under the duress of an interview?
“Being yourself” doesn’t mean being spontaneous or unrehearsed. Rather, authenticity in an interview requires preparation. Let’s break down “authenticity” so you can be prepared, confident, and grounded in any interview setting, without sacrificing your integrity. Here are my top 5 tips for authentic interviewing:
1. Make a game plan for tricky questions.
Think through what “traps” you might encounter in an interview, and make a game plan to navigate them. Consider common, yet tricky, questions like: “tell me about your greatest weakness.” Without adequately reflecting on this question in advance, you might be compelled to deflect this question with humor (“I’m not a morning person”) or to pass off a potential strength as a weakness (“I’m a perfectionist”). Interview prep is a great opportunity for self-reflection, and it gives you a solid foundation to build on during the actual interview.
2. Ground yourself in stories.
If you fear getting lost in your own sales pitch, remember that you’re a real person who has already done real things of meaningful impact! Don’t be afraid to reference specific stories and anecdotes in the interview – these stories will ground you and help paint a more specific picture of you for your interviewer. If you’re looking for where to begin, ask yourself questions like: what have been your most meaningful experiences working or studying in the field for which you’re interviewing? What are the times that you’ve learned something new, risen to a challenge, achieved, led, or failed? What are some personal qualities you want to highlight in the interview, and which stories illustrate those qualities?
3. Be specific.
In my experience, nothing feels less authentic than platitudes and jargon. Conversely, nothing feels more authentic than specificity. In the context of the interview, ask yourself why you are applying in the first place. What specifically appeals to you about the school or position? What exactly do you think you will bring to the institution or company? Show your interviewer how much you see yourself at this school or company by doing your research in advance – this will help you confidently answer any question without falling back on clichés.
4. Understand the power of a pause.
If you feel rushed and panicky, you might be more inclined to churn out an answer in the hopes of moving onto the next question. Ironically, we’re often at the greatest risk of rambling when we have the least to say. Don’t be afraid to pause and take a breath before you answer a question. If moments of silence are uncomfortable for you, try narrating a pause instead. For example, you could say: “That’s a really [interesting/challenging/thought-provoking/complex] question; I’d like to take a moment to think about my answer before I respond.”
5. Remember why you’re there.
Surround yourself with the words, images, and ideas that ignite your sense of purpose. For me, this looks like revisiting passages in my favorite books or reading over the writing I’m most proud of before my interview. I usually even bring my favorite books with me in my backpack for good luck!
These tips have been lifesavers for me in interview settings, from jobs to graduate scholarships. I’ve learned how to navigate interviews so that they bring out the best in me, rather than the worst. Give these strategies a try, perhaps in a mock interview with a tutor or a friend. Good luck!
Cambridge Coaching admissions coaches, like Fatima B., take a holistic, comprehensive approach to the college process. Well before you’ve even contemplated your college essay, they're thinking about the steps you can take so that you have the most fulfilling high school career possible. Our ideal time to link students with coaches is in the freshman or sophomore year of high school, though we are happy to help you whenever you are in the process. Whether this means pairing a student who is struggling with physics with an MIT Ph.D. who loves physics more than anything, or sitting down with families to discuss summer plans, we mentor our students through every stage of the process. Our coaches know what it takes to get into the best colleges in America because they’ve all done it. More importantly, they know what it takes to make high school interesting and rewarding, so that your essays, when you get there, will reflect the integrity of your efforts - and the breadth of your dreams.
Applying to college this year? Take a look at some of our previous blog posts below!