9 scenarios to have prepared for a College Interview [from someone who does interviews]

This quick advice for preparing for a college interview is also useful for any interview: identify three key strengths and activities then prepare short insightful stories that show your strengths in each activity.  Stories are the strongest way to convey information.

I’ve been doing engineering college interviews since 2013 for my Alma mater, Duke University.  I love meeting the upcoming generation of engineers and seeing how their educational experiences will shape their future careers.  Sadly, I also find that few students are really prepared to showcase themselves well in these interviews.  Since it makes my job simpler if you are prepared, I’m going to post my recommendation for future interviews!

It does not take much to prepare for a college interview: you mainly need to be able to tell some short, detailed stories from your experiences that highlight your strengths.

In my experience, the best interviewees are good at telling short and specific stories that highlight their experiences and strengths.  It’s not that they have better experiences, they are just better prepared at showcasing them.  Being prepared makes you more confident and comfortable which then helps you control of how the interview goes and ensures that you leave the right impression.

1/9/15 Note: Control the interview?  Yes!  You should be planning to lead the interviewer to your strengths.  Don’t passively expect them to dig that information out of you.  It’s a two-way conversation, not an interrogation.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Identify three activities that you are passionate about.  They do not have to represent the majority of you effort.  Select ones that define who you are, or caused you to grow in some way.  They could be general items like “reading” or very specific like “summer camp 2016.”  You need to get excited when you talk about these items.  Put these on the rows/y-axis of a 3×3 grid (see below).
  2. Identify three attributes that describe you (you may want help from friends or parents here).  These words should be enough to give a fast snapshot of who you are.  In the example below, the person would be something like “an adventure seeking leader who values standing out as an individual.”  Put these attributes on the columns/x-axis of your grid as I’ve shown below.
  3. Come up with the nine short stories (3-6 sentences!) for the intersections on the grid where you demonstrated the key attribute during the activity.  They cannot just be statements – you must have stories because they provide easy to remember examples for your interview.  If you don’t have a story for an intersection, then talk about how you plan to work this in the future.

Note: This might feel repetitive when you construct your grid but this technique works exceptionally well during an hour-long interview.  You should repeat yourself because you need reinforce your strengths and leave the interviewer with a sure sense of who you are.

Interview Grid

Sample Grid – Click to Enlarge


Remember: An admissions, alumni or faculty interview is all about making a strong impression about who you are and, more importantly, what you will bring to the university.

Having a concrete set of experiences and attributes makes sure that you reinforce your strengths.  By showing them in stories, you will create a much richer picture about who you are than if you simply assert statements about yourself.  Remember the old adage of “show, don’t tell.”

Don’t use this grid as the only basis for your interview!  It should be a foundation that you can come back to during your conversations with college representatives.  These are your key discussion points – let them help you round out the dialog.

Good luck!

PS: Google your interviewer!  I expect the candidates to know me before they meet me.  It is perfectly normal and you’d be crazy to not take advantage of that.

Helping redefine “what is a car” on Chevy tours at SXSWi

I’m at SWSW as a guest of Chevy and enjoying the benefits of behind the scenes tours and access.  On Friday, the Volt team toured me and a collection of bloggers and journalists through the Pecan Street project and GM’s customer interaction center.

At one point, Colin Rowan compared the relatively long cell phone adoption (they first appeared  in 1973) to the likely ramp of electric cars and green homes.  Doug Moran from GearDiary pointed out the weakness of this comparison.  Cell phones are inexpensive with short life-cycles while cars are expensive durables.

However, Cell phones stopped being phones around 2007 when iPhone adoption exploded.  Smart phones are not phones – they are mobile platforms.  In fact, they are lousy phones when compared to cell phones.

Comparing electric cars to gas cars is more like comparing smart phones to dumb phones!

While both electric and gas cars can be used for transportation, electric cars have the potential to become energy transportation platforms.

You cannot use the energy stored in your car’s gas tank for anything but moving the car around.  Further, you can only get more gas from a very small set of vendors.

Electric cars are fundamentally different – the energy stored in the car’s batteries can be apply to nearly any application you want from transportation to lighting to computing to heating and refrigeration.  Further, you can get more energy for your car from nearly any source (local solar and wind or grid power).  For a hybrid like the Volt, the options are even broader because it includes gas to electricity generation.

From this perspective, electric cars are an energy mobility platform.

We need to accept that we are living in a world with unreliable power distribution due to weather, peak demand and/or carbon tax.   In this type of situation, cars with batteries are as fundamentally different from gas cars as smart phones are to rotary POTS phone.

PS: For more extra credit reading, check out the Vehicle to Grid concept