A Perfectionist's Interview Guide
Cambridge undergraduate admissions interviews are taking place as I am writing this post. During the interview season, I tend to get a lot of messages through my blog and on social media about the interview - what it is like, what you should or should not say, what will get you admitted, how to prepare...
Chances are that most of the people asking me these questions are perfectionists - because if you managed to get the grades to get an interview here, you worked very hard for that. And most people with these grades are perfectionists. And I do not say 'perfectionist' in a negative and judgemental way - I am one myself. But the irony of a selection process which selects students from a largely perfectionist pool through interviews like the Cambridge interviews is that your perfectionism is not going to matter that much in the interview itself.
It has helped you open the door to an interview - but the interview itself cannot be treated the way you treat your tests in school. Because there is no preparation. There is no layout of questions everybody is asked. Instead, all interviews are a little different and it is much less about getting things right and a lot more about finding ways to an answer and being able to justify going down these ways. Whether you end up with the right answer may even be immaterial.
So what is my best advice for people asking about the interviews? It is do whatever preparation you need to feel calm when walking into that interview room. If that means asking all your friends to mock-interview you, fine. If it means reading ten books on your course, fine. If it means doing nothing and just showing up, fine. The only thing you can really do to prepare for your interview is to put yourself in a place where you can be calm when you start your interview. Everybody is a little nervous and that is ok, but we all have our techniques for keeping our nerves at bay. Use the techniques you have developed over years while taking all those tests in school to keep yourself calm.
I made a video about what I did to prepare and those are by no means things you have to do - this was simply my way of keeping myself calm when having my interview:
I sometimes get a reply to this advice that goes something like 'but how do I get in? There must be more to it...' This seems to imply that there is some secret formula you can apply to an interview to get in. But that is not the case - interviews are judged a lot more individualistic than most people think. They are not really as much about what you say than about what you think. All you have to do is tell them how you think - map out your thought process. Show what options you are considering when coming to conclusions. It is about being able to find solutions to academic problems. In a way, it is a little bit like a test. But instead of finding the right answer, you are asked to find ways to find the answer. Because chances are, you will not know the answer for certain. Many of the questions they will ask have many answers and academics are in dispute over which ones are correct. So it is not about getting it right, but rather about finding potential ways to solve it.
So my best advice to all you perfectionists out there wondering what to do when preparing for these interviews, is to do what makes you calm. Because when you are less nervous, it is easier to think on your feet. And then all you have to do is tell them what you think. For the twenty minutes of your interview, take your perfectionist inner self that tells you that you need to find the right answer to every question to a closet and lock it. There usually is no point in trying to figure out whether you gave the right answer, so do not bother yourself by asking that question to yourself later on.
Good luck to everyone having interviews!
Lots of Love,
P.S.: If you would like to contact me, you can send me a message here!