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Top Tips for Virtual College Interviews

Ian Brook Fisher

Written by Ian Brook Fisheron March 11th, 2020

I began my career in admissions by walking backwards as a student intern, giving guided tours, interviewing students, and reading applications for my alma mater, Reed College. After graduating, I began full-time work in admissions, reading thousands of applications primarily from the Western United States, especially Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. (I got to eat the best food on my travel!) In my last three years at Reed, I directed admissions for the entire continent of Asia and served as the director of marketing and communications for the admission office, honing our official voice for web, print, and social media. This helped me to develop a sharp eye for what works (and what doesn’t) in college essays. While Reed is not known (at all!) for sports, I was able to find my competitive outlet with the ultimate Frisbee team as a player and, when I graduated, a coach. After nine wonderful years at Reed, I left Portland to pursue a M.A. at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. When I graduated and joined College Coach, I was living in Palo Alto, California, an experience that helped me learn so much about the UC and CSU system and high school programs all around the Bay Area. In the end, I missed the rain too much, and moved back to Portland in the summer of 2016.
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Part of our job here at Bright Horizons College Coach is to keep an eye on all the news in college admissions and college finance so you don’t have to. We recently came across a terrific piece by our good friends over at Fortuna Admissions centered on the growing concern about the coronavirus and the opportunity to connect with business schools through remote interviews: With growing fears about the spread of the coronavirus, business schools are anxiously assessing their global travel plans to meet applicants. Against a backdrop of quarantines, the cancellation of Asian recruitment activities, and the closure of GMAT test centers in China for at least two months, many international events and info sessions are likely to be disrupted. Of course, our focus at College Coach is on undergraduate admissions, and interviews for a space in the freshman class at your favorite college or university are still likely a few months away. But virtual interviews are a meaningful part of this process. At Reed College, we offered virtual interviews for many students who couldn’t make it to campus—international or domestic—and we think some of the tips below are great reminders for anyone who is looking to make a good impression via video-conference. So please enjoy these tips from our friends at Fortuna Admissions: 7 VIDEO INTERVIEW ESSENTIALS
  1. Make sure the space behind your camera is clear and uncluttered. Film yourself against a plain wall if possible, with any larger shot of your room in the background clean and organized. (There should be no passing people, animals, or distracting piles of laundry in view.) Video is just as much about what you see as about what you hear.
  2. Make sure your face is well-lit. Set up a test beforehand to ensure your lighting is strong – not too bright or too dark. You may want to try moving your screen to different venues in your home to secure the best light.
  3. Ensure excellent sound quality. Seek a quiet space and use headphones if needed (this can cut unexpected background noise). Make sure your microphone is working properly and computer settings are updated for audio. Speak at your normal volume and pitch – your voice should be clear and easy to hear. Your voice should be the only one that’s heard in the interview.
  4. Test your Internet connection beforehand. And by all means, make sure the link works before you attempt to open it at the time of call!
  5. Don’t be tempted to read from hidden notes. It’s fine to jot down thoughts to share, but do not read full sentences off a pre-prepared script. The interviewer can tell if you are reciting, which will undermine your authenticity.
  6. Maintain eye contact. Eye contact is very important – while it is tempting to look at yourself on your screen, be mindful to engage the interviewer by looking at the camera instead. Have good posture. Smile – but not too much. Imagine that the face of a friend is on the other end of the camera.
  7. Seek opportunities to fuel the conversation. If you are participating in an interview and cannot read the body language of the interviewer, use the name of the interview and other affirmative language, e.g. “Great point Joanne!” This can really help to make a connection with the person on the other side of the screen.
It may seem that interviewing on video is a disadvantage, but it has its upsides (beyond saving time and money on travel). Remember, you are Skyping in from your own space, allowing you to create the conditions to feel more relaxed. (No one will be the wiser if you’re enveloped in soothing essential oils or the aroma of fresh baked cookies.) Know that, this year in particular, many students are experiencing the same thing – so by no means will the schools penalize your application for participating in the interview remotely. That said, do conduct the standard pre-interview rituals: identify any key topics of conversation so you can deliver clear and concise answers; practice responding on camera to be as natural and confident as possible; and stay grounded to let your personality shine through. And do wear something that feels business casual – at least from the waist up. These tips from Judith Silverman Hodara originally appeared in the post by Matt Symonds, Travel Ban & the MBA Interview: 7 Strategies to Shine on Skype, on the Fortuna Admissions blog. College-App-Prep-101-CTA_small


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