It was a chilly February day in 2016. Showered with far too much hairspray and a LOT of deodorant, I strode cautiously towards Hunt Library in my ill-fitting, ruffle-covered, borrowed suit.
I arrived with a fragile confidence that would take a nose-dive once I started mingling with other finalists. It was nothing they said, but rather a complete manifestation of my own self-doubt that kept me from making the most of my Finalist Interview Day.
For everything I did wrong leading up to my interview, I got a few important things right: I knew my story, I knew what I was passionate about, and I knew why I was worthy of the Program’s investment in my education. The importance of those three things far outweighed the immense awkwardness that exuded from my very being that day.
Now, I have the privilege of passing on a few tips as you prepare for your Finalist Interview Day! I may not be able to give you perfect fashion advice for the day (abundant ruffles weren’t a great choice for me) or guarantee you’ll never feel nervous, but I aim to give you a toolkit for identifying and sharing meaningful personal experiences. This process begins long before you arrive at Hunt Library, so let’s talk about preparing for Finalist Interview Day.
Before you can present your unique and wonderful experiences to someone else, you need to organize them in your own head. Here are a few steps I use to prepare for any big interview:
- Engage in reflection. Ask yourself questions like:
- “What have I dedicated a lot of time to?”
- “What activities am I always eager to do?”
- “What experiences helped shape my career aspirations?” (These don’t have to be experiences in your intended major. You could talk about experiences that exposed what you don’t want to do which brought you to your current ambitions!)
- “What makes me unique?” (I promise there is something!)
- “Why do I even want to be part of this scholarship program?”
- Talk with important people in your life. Reflection doesn’t have to involve staring at your bedroom ceiling. Set up a time to talk with people who know you well and wish the best for you. This could be family, teachers, coaches, employers, and longtime friends. They’ll be able to help you reflect on your experiences and the character traits that make you successful!
- Identify the experiences you absolutely want your interviewers to hear. While your interview should feel very conversational, it’s alright to have a game plan of two or three things you hope to talk about. This will not only help you talk about a breadth of experiences, but also give you topics and stories to fall back on if you’re asked a question you don’t immediately know how to respond to.
- Make your practice as awkward as possible. This is where many people fall short in the preparation process. Even if you’re a reflection guru, you have to be able to communicate calmly and clearly with your interviewers. If your interview practice is awkward, you’re less likely to feel nervous or awkward during the real thing. Practice telling your favorite stories in your bathroom mirror or talk about your formative experiences with your salt and pepper shakers. However you do it, make sure it’s out loud! This should help you stay cool, calm, and collected to put all of that reflecting to good work without losing your personality to nerves.
Even with a repertoire of well-told personal experiences and hours of awkward bathroom practice sessions, you may still have a couple pitfalls to avoid as your Finalist Interview Day grows near. The biggest of these is impostor syndrome.
You may not have heard of it before, but you’ve probably felt it. According to the Harvard Business Review, impostor syndrome is “…a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” If you read that and thought, “I don’t really have any evident success to show,” you may want to read this next part carefully. By the very fact that you’re a contender for selection by the Goodnight Scholars Program means you’ve worked hard to get where you are, and that hard work has paid off. I can tell you with complete certainty that you did not “slip in” to the finalist pool by accident; the people who selected you saw your immense potential. You are uniquely qualified to tell your story and talk about your passions.
The last thing you need is a healthy dose of confidence and you’re on your way. Okay, well this is tricky for some people too.
Confidence is this fickle thing that, when in abundance, makes you feel like you could lift a car, but in scarcity, can derail your ability to form coherent sentences. Since everyone seems to draw their confidence from different places, I can’t really tell you how to “be more confident” (and neither can those Buzzfeed articles, so maybe skip those). However, I’d assert that your inner-narrative is probably the factor most under your control on Finalist Interview Day. You can allow negative thoughts to set up shop in your mind or you can be disciplined in hearing those thoughts and trading them for true, positive reassurances.
I encourage you to write down a few strong statements, similar to the ones refuting impostor syndrome above, but tailored to the doubts you’re feeling. Repeat them in your head, carry them with you on a napkin, figure out what rebuilds your confidence… and do lots of that!
Despite my lack of confidence, raging impostor syndrome, and surplus of ruffles, I was still selected to be a Goodnight Scholar. My sincerity was the most important thing I got right that day. No interviewer is looking for a perfect candidate; they’re looking for an honest one with passion and ambition.
Tell your story with your head held high.
Photography credit: Jason Perry/Goodnight Scholars Program