I was recently interviewed by WCBS in New York City (by Cindy Hsu for her "Family First" series) about the college admissions process, and they posted some of my interviewing tips on their website. Because the tips apply to graduate school admissions interviews and professional job interviews as well, I'll repost the tips here (with some slight modifications so that they're not tailored just to the college applicant crowd).
Later this week, I'm off to Notre Dame Law School to conduct mock interviews with their 1Ls and give them feedback on their interviewing skills. South Bend, here I come!
1. Show up on time.
This is not a casual chat, so treat your admissions and job interviews with the seriousness they deserve. Leave yourself plenty of time to get lost, ask for directions, find parking, etc. If something totally unforeseen happens (horrible accident on the freeway, exits closed with no detour signs, etc.), make sure you know how to get in touch with the interviewer so he or she doesn't feel stood up. As an admissions officer and also as an employer, I've been stood up on a number of occasions, and in all but one case I did hold it against the candidate.
2. Dress appropriately.
Even though students around you will be dressed very casually when you go to an on-campus admissions interview, you'll need to dress more formally. The same is true if you're meeting with a local alum for an interview at Starbucks. That means no flip-flops, jeans, shorts, camisoles, chunky jewelry, gum, or sunglasses perched on your head. You don't need to wear a suit, a tie, or double-stranded pearls, but you don't want to look like you're headed to the mall either. Khakis or a nice skirt, a polo shirt, button down shirts, or sweaters are always safe. For professional job interviews, however, business casual is not appropriate; a suit is a must.
3. Don't bring mom.
Mom and dad are welcome to drop you off, but they should not come into the interview with you, or ask to join in. I saw this again and again as an admissions officer, and I hear about this phenomenon from HR directors as well. Bringing your parents makes a terrible impression.
4. Why School X or Company Y?
The most important question to nail is why you're interested in that school or that company. Do your homework, and sound passionate about what the school/company has to offer. Do your research and understand how it's different from its peers.
5. Be Yourself. (Unless You're a Total Weirdo, in Which Case Listen to Your Friends.)
That's easier said than done, I know, but let your personality shine through. There's nothing worse for the interviewer than someone who sits there like a bump on a log and gives robotic responses. Also make sure to be able to talk in some detail if asked about any experience, achievement, activity, or hobby you list on your resume (or, for college applicants, your "brag sheet") -- you should never sound caught off guard about something you yourself offered up for discussion. And finally, never answer with a mere "yes" or "no" -- expand on any answer you give.
Of course, as the infamous Aleksey Vayner video resume demonstrates, there is such a thing as showing too much personality. It has to be the case that someone, somewhere, along the way told him his clip was a bad idea, but I'm guessing he dismissed them as "losers." Given the hoo-hah and laughter that erupted as that clip spread around the country, it looks as if most people intuitively grasp that his personal touch was way over the top, so blessedly I don't need to beat that horse here.