9 Interview Tips for the Introvert
Interviews are a common way for colleges, summer programs, and jobs or internships to get to know applicants a bit better. Some people shine most in interviews, while others might struggle to feel comfortable and respond to all the questions. If you’re an introvert, you may struggle more than most in having a conversation with a stranger about the deeply personal college application process, but with a few solid tips in your back pocket, the interview will help you put your best foot forward, whether you’re applying for a job, a summer program, or the college of your dreams.
Before the Interview
Organize Your Thoughts
There’s no uniform way to prepare for every interview; each organization likes to ask different questions, and just like any normal conversation, the interviewer may decide to take different tangents that aren’t part of their script. What’s more, you’re expected to be able to adapt to these spontaneous changes without breaking a sweat.
Before the interview, get out a piece of paper and start brainstorming – if you’re interviewing for a summer program that trains future journalists, for instance, write down all the things that you’ve done that involve writing. Write down all the thoughts and feelings you have about writing, about all the things you like about writing, your grammatical pet peeves, and so on.
The point of this exercise is to get your thoughts organized in case you do go off on a tangent and have to improvise an answer. This way, not only will you have brainstormed possible answers already, you’ll have some good options to turn to if your interviewer has any follow-up questions, or asks you to elaborate.
Write It Out
To many introverts, writing comes easier than speech, and you should use that to your advantage. Writing has the potential to be much more eloquent than off-the-cuff speech, and if you can rehearse the interview at least once in writing, it’ll really help elevate the responses you give in real-time.
You don’t have to write out the exact words you’ll say in the interview, nor do you have to generate an exhaustive list of responses for every question you could possibly be asked. Writing is great for brainstorming what you love about a school or organization, what the most salient facts from your resume are, and why you think you might be a great match. You may want to write out some fully formed sentences, or just jot things down in list form to use as a springboard for more ideas.
Rehearse Out Loud
While writing out answers may feel more comfortable, practicing them out loud is even more crucial, especially if you do find yourself getting nervous at the prospect of speaking to someone. Practice alone in your room, or with other people, to make sure your planned responses come quickly and easily and your phrasing sounds natural and fluid. With another person helping you rehearse, you can also get some experience with the quick back-and-forth nature of an interview.
Just like with writing things out, you do not need to memorize a speech, or practice every possible response. Instead, focus on getting comfortable with the anecdotes and facts about yourself that you’re mostly likely to share. Some people are uncomfortable talking about their own positive qualities. While humility is a great virtue, it’s very important to be ready to talk about why you’re a good fit for this program or orientation, so take extra care in making sure you’re reading to present yourself in the best possible light.
Practice Deep Breathing
If you’re someone that gets nervous before speaking to others, particularly people you don’t know very well, some practice with deep, calming breaths can be a lifesaver. Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, deeply and slowly, can help reset the nervous response that kicks into gear when you’re confronted with a scary situation.
The best part is, you don’t have to wait until you get stressed to practice this. In the days or weeks leading up to your interview, practice taking a few deep breaths throughout the day, and pay attention to how your body relaxes. Getting into this habit will help you utilize it on interview day, so that even if your heart does start racing, you can bring yourself back to a place of calm readiness.
During the Interview
Navigating Small Talk
Small talk refers to the casual conversation you and your interviewer may have before the official interview begins. This usually includes how you are, how your day has been, and maybe what the process of getting to the interview was like. If small talk is stressful for you, preparing casual answers for these common questions is a great way to set yourself up for success. Keep your answers quick and positive – the point of small talk is to establish a rapport, not get into anything too deeply.
Your interviewer also may ask what you’ve been up to since you turned in your application. Coming up with a few key points – think two to four examples – will help you answer this more relevant question in a way that is both fast and informative.
In an uncomfortable situation, it can be tempting to let yourself lock up and get tense. This is a completely normal response to stress, but if you can resist the urge, you’ll find that just acting as though you aren’t stressed tricks your brain into believing it. This is where your breathing practice from before the interview may come in handy.
When you feel yourself start to tense up, remember to keep breathing deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth. It may take some effort, and you may have to do it a few times, but think about relaxing the muscles of your shoulders, arms, and legs. Pay attention to where tension is in your body, and as you begin your interview, focus on releasing that tension as much as you can.
Once your muscles are loose and you’re seated comfortably, your brain will start to notice that your body is relaxed, and you wouldn’t be relaxed if you were in danger. This will calm some of the stressed signals from your brain. You’ll come across that much more confident and at ease, and you’ll be able to think more clearly and speak more thoughtfully. All it takes is some deep breathing, and a lack of tension in your muscles.
Asking Insightful Questions
Most introverts are described by acquaintances as “good listeners,” and are most comfortable when they’re listening to others talk. This is a valuable skill in an interview! Many interviewers will reserve some time during the interview for you to ask questions of them, and the questions you ask here aren’t just purely for the benefit of your curiosity. A particularly insightful question can help the interviewer form a more favorable impression of you as well.
Of course, you should ask any logistical questions about the position or scholarship you’re interviewing for if you need to, but what a lot of people don’t ask in this section are open-ended questions that are intended to get the other person talking. Coming up with a thoughtful question may require a bit of prior research, and definitely requires paying attention in your interview. Asking a question that’s already been answered will make you sound like you don’t really care. Feel free to expand on something mentioned earlier, or ask an entirely new question that emphasizes your connection to the organization you’re interviewing for, your knowledge of current events, or your interest in the interviewer’s knowledge and experience.
After the Interview
Send a Thank You Email
This is another place where you can let your verbal skills shine. It doesn’t have to be, and in fact shouldn’t be, long or elaborate, but a quick thank you email will help lock in your interviewer’s positive impression of you.
Following up quickly is important, so make sure you send your email within 24 to 48 hours of your interview. If you’re worried about not having it written in time, you can write out a rough draft before your interview happens, and add in personal details afterward before you send it out.
Be Proud of Yourself
Interviewing is hard for some and easier for others. Regardless of your feelings about it, you have checked something off your application list, and that’s worth celebrating! Treating yourself to a small reward, like a meal or even just a drink you enjoy, is a great way to relax and let yourself feel the satisfaction of being a little closer to your goals.
The Importance of Interviews
Even if your interview goes poorly, or just not as well as you’d hoped, this doesn’t spell the end of your college or program dreams. Interviews are never the only part of an application that matters, and in many cases, like college applications, they actually play a relatively minor role in admissions. Acing an interview might help stack the odds in your favor, but unless you did something truly egregious, like insulting your interviewer, it’s very unlikely that your interview will have the power to damage your chances.
Be aware that particularly if interviews are not your strong suit, you may be being too hard on yourself. Focus on what went well in your interview, and celebrate checking another item off your to do list before moving on to the next thing in your application process.
How to Calculate Your Odds of Acceptance
Because the interview is highly unlikely to be the determining factor for your application, you may be wondering how the other, more crucial aspects of your application stack up at your dream schools. To answer that question, check out CollegeVine’s free chancing engine. It takes into account just about every element of your application (other than your interview, letters of recommendation, and essays, which aren’t quantifiable), including your grades, course rigor, test scores (if you have them), and extracurriculars, to give you personalized odds of acceptance at all of your top choice schools.