Tip 4: Do empathize with your college interviewer

This article is part of a series, 10 Tips for Acing Your College Interviews.

Washington, D.C. Self-help client being interviewed by self-help exchange secretary and Junior League voluntary worker (1942)

What makes the best conversations enjoyable for both parties?

It’s in the give and take. That give and take is based on the ability of each participant to show empathy for the other’s point of view.

Think about the interviewer for a minute. She’s probably either an alumnus of the college, a student trained to do admission work, or an admission officer.

If she’s an alumnus, needless to say, she’s volunteered to interview a handful of prospective students, in all likelihood, out of her love for her alma mater. She wants to feel like she’s still involved in the workings of the college. And she probably wants to take the opportunity to share with you what’s so great about her college. She also wants to see if you’ll fit in to her idea of what the place is, an idea that may very well have been formed, if she’s older, several decades ago.

If she’s a student, you may be tempted to treat her like a peer. Because of this misperception, you may make the mistake of being overly familiar (see the Don’t on this). Nonetheless, although well-trained, it may be harder for her to do what all good interviewers do, which is to direct the conversation in such a way that the interviewee (that’s you) feels comfortable, but not too comfortable.

If she’s an officer, she does hundreds of these interviews every year. She’s seen it all. She’s heard it all. She may have a hard time not coming off as perfunctory, especially if she’s still working on her morning coffee or it’s the last interview of the day, or her car’s transmission blew up on the way to work.

If you’re able to make a few basic inferences about your audience—the interviewer—then you can adjust your performance accordingly. Ask yourself:

  • Who is this person?
  • How are they feeling?
  • What can I do to make her job a little easier?
Dr. Sean

Dr. Sean

Co-Founder at Readerly
Dr. Sean has over a decade of teaching experience at universities in the US and Asia. He earned a BA with honors from Columbia University and a PhD from the University of London. You can read more about his teaching and research here.
Dr. Sean