So, when I landed an interview for a teaching job that paid more than my 5 jobs combined for about a quarter of the amount of hours, I promised myself that there was no way I was leaving the interview without that job.
But, how exactly did I plan to do this?
I had no idea.
All the advice I read online about interviews basically said the same thing: prepare. They also said the best way to prepare was to answer practice questions until I became comfortable, to know the interviewer’s name and position, and to research the school and how I’d fit in there.
I saw a big flaw in this logic: what would I do if they asked me a question I didn’t know how to answer? What would I do if I got flustered? What if I forgot the brilliant answer I had prepared? What if I forgot the interviewer’s name? What if...the list my brain came up with was endless with worst-case scenarios. Thanks brain.
That got me thinking.
If the problem was letting my nerves get the best of me, then the solution was feeling more confident. How could I feel more confident on my interview in face of the potential issues that could arise?
Then, I had an epiphany.
I was going to beat my anxiety at its own game.
And, I did.
I walked into the interview with the odds stacked against me: I had the least experience of all the candidates, I’d be teaching students just 5 years younger than me, and the position was at a religious school for a religion I didn’t belong to nor knew much about its customs.
Three people interviewed me that day, and I left with the job.
I was called back for a follow up meeting because the principal wanted to discuss what I had done differently on my interview that left him so impressed.
I’m going to share what I did for the interview and how you can do it for your college interview.
It’s so simple, it may seem ridiculous.
So, what’s my #1 interview trick?
Are you ready?
I brought a binder.
Yeah, that’s really all I did.
More specifically, I brought a binder filled with everything that could possibly make me feel more confident on my interview.
For the teaching job, I included copies of my resume, letters of recommendation, my transcripts, and I printed out my teaching philosophy, favorite lesson plans, and student data. I included the research I had done on the school and wrote down the names of those who would be interviewing me. Then, I neatly organized the binder.
I owed the next 4 years of my career to this binder.
Let me explain why this worked.
First, I answered the question, “what will make me feel more confident during the interview?” I decided that having evidence to back up anything I said (lesson plans/student data) would do, so I spent some time looking through my documents. This ended up having the effect that I was familiar with my teaching documents; I knew what my student data showed, and I remembered what my lesson plans were because I had revisited them a week before the interview. They were fresh in my mind.
When the interviewer asked me how I’d teach a particular lesson, I went to my binder and said, “here’s what worked for me before,” and I’d make a comparison between what he had asked and what evidence I had to show him. When he asked me how I’d handle a specific behavioral issue, I remember what I had included in my teaching philosophy about applying mutual respect to situations. Having it in binder proved to my interviewer that I had already given this question some thought before: I was prepared.
Second, I knew I’d feel more confident having my resume with me as a reference, and I’d have extra copies so the interviewer could ask me questions on that too. I had my research of the school in the binder; I could reference it right before the interview and have it fresh in my mind. I also included a list of questions I had about the school and the position because to date, I have never been on an interview where I wasn’t asked, “do you have any questions?”
Third, and here’s what really helped me: the binder allowed me to stall gracefully. There were a few questions the interviewer asked that I didn’t have an immediate response to, so I said, “I think I have an example of that in here,” which would give me a moment to think as I flipped through. The interviewer watched as I flipped through this neat binder that revealed just how much I had prepared for this interview. I saw him nod his head in approval as I “searched.” I was able to collect my thoughts and leave a good impression. Once I had the answer in my head, I could easily say, “Perhaps I’m thinking of a different document, so to answer your question…”
For a college interview, you can use this strategy too.
Create a binder with all your research: articles about the school, statistics, reviews, brochures, notes you took at a college fair, questions you have about the school, and lists of your favorite course names.
Set aside a reasonable amount of time to organize your binder and gather information about the school and the interviewer. Put a few copies of your activity list/resume in there. Put in letters of recommendation that people outside of your school have written for you (if you have any). If you’re creative, make a collage of cutouts from the brochures. Consider including an “About Me” section where you outline who you are, what you value, what you want to do with your life (or the type of person you want to be), and why education is important to you. It’s likely that a “tell us about yourself” question will come up, and if you’ve already written this out, you’re ahead of the game.
Creating a binder before an interview is like making a cheat sheet for a test. The act of creating the cheat sheet is your review; you’re more likely to recall the information that you wrote down just as you’re more likely to remember the reasons why you’re interested in the school or the questions you want to ask.
You don’t even need to bring the binder into the interview with you: the act of creating it will naturally make you feel more confident. If you do bring the binder with you, think of it as an added support for you to lean on only if you need to instead of using it as a crutch and burying yourself in it for the entire interview.
The simple act of having created a binder separates you from the competition. It reveals a lot of positive character traits that will be beneficial for a college student: you’re organized, prepared, you research, you ask questions, and you put in the work.
Lastly, the biggest confidence boost should be this: the interviewer wants you to do well. They’re rooting for you! We all are!
Have you had success with this strategy on an interview? If so, we’d love to hear about it! E-mail Jackie at firstname.lastname@example.org or the LAC team at email@example.com.
Written by Jaclyn Corley, founder of The College Essay Captain, a private tutoring company that develops online courses and runs workshops for the writing components of college admissions. The company is a tremendous resource for students, and Jaclyn has made it her mission to inspire people to tell empowering stories. The College Essay Captain now offers a free online mini-course that teaches students how to write their admission and scholarship essays by focusing on the science of success and the art of writing. The College Essay Course is available at thecollegeessaycourse.com/overview.