Oberlin Blogs

Interview Bingo!

September 11, 2015

Tanya Aydelott

Interview season is upon us!

At Oberlin, we recommend that students interview with us, but we do not require it of our applicants. This is for a few different reasons, among them the following:

  1. Not all students can make it to an interview.
  2. We have a limited staff and cannot accommodate every interview request.
  3. Our alumni interviewers can only volunteer so much time for interviews.

We offer a range of interview options. You can interview on campus, with an admissions officer or a student interviewer. You may be able to interview with an admissions officer when we’re in your town. We also offer alumni interviews, Skype interviews, and phone interviews. Basically, we’ve tried to make it as easy as possible to interview, if that is an option you choose to pursue.

Regardless of who interviews you, it has the same weight in the admissions process. Alum, admissions counselor, student interviewer: each will write up their evaluation of the interview, and that is what goes into your file.

Whomever you’re assigned to interview with, a whole new range of opportunities opens up. Interviewing with an admissions counselor? Ask us your questions about the application process, certain departments or traditions, and/or why we chose to work and stay at Oberlin. Interviewing with a current student? Ask them about their experiences as a student on campus. Interviewing with an alum? Ask them about one experience that defined Oberlin for them. Remember that they graduated a few years ago; whatever their college experience, it will not be the same as yours. Colleges change. Academics shift. New buildings are constructed. But alums’ memories of their experiences of Oberlin are timeless.

Aries ’09 has a great post about the Do’s and Don’t’s of interviewing at Oberlin. Her advice ties into this next point:

The interview itself is not meant to be stressful. We don’t have a checklist of things that have to happen in any given interview. It’s not like we have a bingo board and are comparing scores at the end of the day. There is no perfect interview, and there is no single interview template.

Interview Bingo!

Went on a looooooong tangent Had an awesome answer Heard a great Oberlin story from student interviewer Skype interview with a shaky internet connection Gave one-word answers
Had food all over your clothes Didn’t sleep well the night before Got a “Back in my day” story from alumni interviewer Interviewer asked thought-provoking questions Got a great podcast/​movie/​book recom­mendation
Learned something new you LOVE about the college Forgot the name of the organization you founded Take a deep breath! Free space Lost your interviewer‘s contact info Asked your interviewer a really solid question
Lost your thoughts Ran out of time during interview Was really nervous Lights went out Made a new best friend in the waiting area
Interviewer wrote your favorite book Interviewer didn’t know your favorite movie Smiled/​laughed with the interviewer Talked about one thing not on resume Flew in that morning for the interview
Any of these familiar? (If you’ve interviewed with me, you’ve heard my spiel about the motion sensors and have probably had the lights turn off on us anyway. On the upside: the motion sensors work!)

The way an interview flows for one student is completely different from how it will flow for another student. Some of you are raring to talk about your favorite AP classes. Another student can’t wait to talk about their newest film project, or the community service project that changed their perspective, or the teacher that introduced them to the works of Herman Hesse.

The interview is different for each interviewee, and each interviewer will handle interviews differently. It’s of no use to you to compare your interview to your BFF’s interview, or your twin’s interview. The conversations will (hopefully) reflect the dynamic between the interviewer and the interviewee, and the bulk of that work should actually be done by the interviewer.

That’s the secret. You come in to tell us about you, but we’re the ones who work to set you at ease and to ask the questions that will draw you out. You should walk out of the interview feeling like you got to share your interests with us. If you felt like the interview went poorly, it probably means that we didn’t ask the right questions.

A few things to keep in mind:

Breathe. In an interview workshop I recently gave in Saigon, I confessed that I am terrified of interviewing students who are terrified of me. I’m human; everyone in our office who interviews people is human! (Except Josh; he’s a cyborg.) We know that you may be nervous; we know this can be a scary thing to do. But take a deep breath and be assured that we are not actively trying to terrify you. In fact, we’re trying to find the questions that will encourage you to give detailed, enthusiastic answers.

comical drawing of a cyborg
Cyborg Josh: an artistic rendering by Liz Hui

Listen. The interview is an opportunity for you to add to your application. But it won’t help you if you ignore the questions we ask, speak over your interviewer, or show during the interview that you haven’t done any research on Oberlin. It’s fine not to know everything about Oberlin. But if your interviewer asks you to name one thing you’re excited to try out at Oberlin, and you say "Your kinesiology department is the best in the nation!" ... Well, we’re going to (mentally) give you the stink-eye.

Be real with us. We are interviewing you to get to know you and we want you to be at ease so that you can share your real you with us. If you need a moment to think over an answer, take that moment. We don’t expect you to have an immediate response; it’s totally okay to ask us to repeat questions, reword awkward questions (they happen), and pause while you’re mulling over the question. Again: take the time to present your best and realest self.

Interview us. The interview is a two-way exchange. Not only are we trying to get a sense of you and your potential fit to Oberlin, but it’s also your chance to ask us about the college. Just as we try to gauge your fit to Oberlin during our application review process, use the interview as a chance to do some of that work for yourself. We will give you the chance to ask us questions as part of the interview itself — use that opportunity to learn more about the Oberlin community.

(For a first-hand account of an Oberlin interview, refer to the story of Aries’ alumni interview.)

All this to say: if you requested but did NOT get scheduled for an interview, don’t fret. Not having an interview does not disadvantage your application in the process. Again, interviews are recommended. If you do not interview, all that means is that you didn’t interview. The interview adds to your file, certainly, by fleshing out some of the things that are raised in the Common App and adding things that the Common App doesn’t cover.

As we conduct our holistic review of your application, the interview serves as one piece of the whole. The interview does not make or break your application. The worst it can do is make us take a closer look at your Common Application; the best it can do is give us more information about you.

If you do choose to interview and get to talk with someone about Oberlin, remember: Breathe. Listen. Be Real. And interview us right back.

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