President of consultancy
Over the course of BE Top Schools this coming weekend, hundreds of students will be interviewed by some of the most reputable schools in the UK. I would like to wish all those students participating in the event, the very best of luck and thought it important to impart some advice to students who are nervously awaiting their interviews this weekend, likely with a mixture of great excitement and serious anxiety about the ‘unknown’
Interviews are far more difficult to prepare for than tests which tend to have a pre-defined area of content or curriculum to cover. Interviews are therefore, for many students, particularly in a foreign language quite nerve-wracking.
2018 BE Top Schools
Firstly, it is important to remember that an interview is NOT a test. Teachers are not asking questions for the sake of hearing a ‘perfect’ answer and attributing points thereto. Instead they are genuinely trying to get to know each and every student.
This is incredibly important at boarding schools because not only is the student studying at the school, they are also living within the school’s community! It is therefore imperative that schools are comfortable in the knowledge that students who enter are amongst other things: tolerant, capable of a certain level of independence, happy to be leaving home and boarding, keen to make use of all the extracurricular activities and facilities on offer, ambitious, eager to learn and grow within the school and above all else, that students will be happy in the school environment. Indeed, trying to get answers to confirm the child’s suitability to the school is the motivation behind almost all their questions!
So what can students do to prepare for interviews and calm their nerves?
Do NOT over prepare
Last year I interviewed almost 30 students on behalf of a particular school and I was shocked by how many students had memorized their answers. One student even brought in a script which he read to me, an approach I found to be utterly bizarre. To be honest, I found the best students to be those who were simply honest in their answers, had a clear passion for certain interests, and who made their personalities shine in the interview. So if students are not supposed to overly rehearse or memorize answers, what should they be doing?
I recommend brainstorming with someone who knows them well asking questions about the students character, interests, strengths, special qualities, life, school etc…. and writing out keypoints. This helps students consider their strengths and consider who they are in greater depth something that is not necessarily naturally easy to do. For students who speak English as a second language, learning the relevant vocabulary is very important as well. There is nothing more frustrating for a student than having something super exciting and interesting to say, only to find he/she can not verbalize their thought.
Do your research
Students who are being interviewed by a particular school should learn about the school itself. They should visit the school website, review videos and pages on extracurricular activities, boarding life and academics. They should be able to answer the question ‘Why do you want to come to our school?’. Indeed, this question is one of the most poorly answered questions I ever come across.
The most common answers:
a. ‘to get a good/better education’…
b. ‘because of its long history or reputation’…
c. ‘because I want to study in England’…
All three of the above answers are poor, largely because they can be attributed to ANY school. Indeed, to answer the question properly, it is imperative that students do their research and genuinely endeavor to answer the question through information they find on the website.
There is no better way of connecting with an interviewer than telling stories that demonstrate certain skills or characteristics a student possesses. For example, simply saying ‘I love dance’ and listing off the various qualifications achieved, is not particularly interesting, nor does it demonstrate any particular level of passion. Instead tell real stories that help provide evidence to support the statement being made.
For example, one of my previous students would talk about how her great love for dance drove her to campaign to start a ‘dance club’ at school for which she then recruited students and ran herself. On hearing her story about dance, I had little question in my mind that to this student, dance was a genuine passion. Another mentioned that he’d describe himself as inventive and creative, he then supported this with the story of how he’d researched, designed and patented an anti-snoring suit. Not only did this provide undeniable proof of his inventiveness and creativity, it was also a great talking point with interviewers.
Don’t answer questions in the way you think a teacher wants you to
The most boring students are those who simply real off generic answers which they believe will satisfy the interviewer. The most interesting students have their own minds and are not afraid to speak them. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with having an opinion which is in contrast to that of the interviewer – provided the student is not belligerent or rude, the interviewer will likely enjoy a refreshing challenge.
If a student claims to like art, music or even history. There will almost inevitably be a follow-on question about which artist, composer, period of history etc… the child finds most interesting. These follow-on questions can easily distinguish a genuine claim to having interest in these areas with a fraudulent one.
Answer the ‘WHYs’ behind questions.
Example: question - ‘Do you like maths?’
Answer: ‘Yes I do because….’
This follows through onto a second point, by answering the ‘why’ a student is able to share more about him/herself with the interviewer and in a controlled manner. If questions are short, incomplete sentences (ex…Yes/No) the interviewer is going to quickly run through his/her questions and will either stop the interview short OR start asking more difficult/less common questions having already reached the end of their standard set of questions. Neither outcome weighs in the student’s favor.
Lead the interview in a direction that sells the student best
Lead the interview in a direction that sells the student best. If a child is asked the question above, and unfortunately isn’t that keen on maths, it is a missed opportunity to simply answer ‘No, I don’t like maths’. Instead, a student can lead the conversation elsewhere, by saying: ‘No, I don’t really enjoy maths BUT I LOVE science because….' This can be done on any question where a negative response is the honest one.
Smile, laugh, try to enjoy the experience
Smile, laugh, try to enjoy the experience – smiling is the easiest way to get make a good first impression, break the ice, and get through rough spots during an interview. A relaxed and happy student tends to come across far better than a uber serious one, shaking with nerves!
Remember the interview is a dialogue, there is nothing wrong with asking the interviewer questions about his/her school or questions about his/her opinion on things discussed during the interview. Having a question about the school which is not answered on the website, is also a great way of demonstrating interest in a school.