So, Tell Me a Little About Yourself.

If you've ever sat for an interview and heard these words, you know well the kind of fear they inspire.  Rightly so.  Where in the world should you start?  Talk about your professional goals, to show how driven you are?  Make a joke about your favorite TV show, to make yourself seem approachable and human?  Mention your family and friends, to display your loyalty?

This is exactly the reason I force all of my high school juniors to undergo an interview.  They are horribly nervous.  Professional attitudes are so rare today that few of them know how to properly execute a handshake, dress nicely but modestly, and speak about themselves with confidence and positivity.  We work on all of those things, but by far the toughest area is the dreaded Open Question.  "What do you admire most about yourself?"  "How do you approach problems?"  "What do you think is most important?"  Without the chance to brainstorm, outline, write and revise (as they would in the case of an essay question), they panic.

So, the first activity we do in preparation for the interview is a questionnaire meant to evaluate their personal strengths.  They love to write about themselves. (I wouldn't be surprised if a watered-down version of this handout were floating around on Facebook somewhere.)  The difficult part is to get them to see their answers from an interviewer's perspective.  You like to go on vacation?  Could you rephrase that as "I like to travel," or better yet, "I like to explore?"  Can you see why one answer would be preferable to the other, while all three remain true?

Before I hand out the list of questions, we do a few samples together.  I tell them to make a list of all the things they're good at, everything from studying for tests to organizing the refrigerator.  Then I have them pick their top five.  They pair up with another student and talk about what these things say about them, and from there they select their top three.  Then they share one of those top three with the whole class, including a brief explanation of what they think it says about them.  In this way, they can compare notes and gather ideas from their classmates in a non-threatening way.  After modeling that process several times, I give them the full list of questions, ignore the groans and tell them to take their time and give me thoughtful, complete answers.

You want to see the whole list, don't you?  Oh, fine.  Here it is, adapted from The Truth About Getting In (Chapter 6: "Selling Yourself") by Dr. Katherine Cohen:

1.    Of all the things you do, both in and out of school, which three do you feel you do the best?  What makes you feel you are good at these things?

2.    Of all the things you do, both in and out of school, which three do you enjoy the most?  (Your answers should differ at least slightly from the first question.)

3.    Which three experiences have had the greatest impact on your life?  What made them significant?

4.    Which three strengths have helped you to succeed in school?

5.    Describe one weakness that has hindered your success in school.

6.    Which three strengths have helped you to get along with other people and develop good relationships?

7.    Describe one weakness that has made social relationships difficult.

8.    Which three strengths have helped you succeed in extracurricular activities (sports, theater, student government, etc.)?

9.    Describe one weakness that has hindered your success in extracurricular activities.

10.    Which three adjectives would you use to describe the strengths and weaknesses in your character?

11.    Which three adjectives would others in your life (best friend, boyfriend, siblings, parents, etc.) use to describe the strengths and weaknesses in your character?

12.    Describe a typical weekday.  (Don’t just list events; talk about what types of things you give the highest priority.)

13.    Describe a typical weekend.  (Again, use this as an opportunity to talk about you.)

14.    Describe a major challenge, problem, obstacle or failure.  How did you overcome or solve the situation?

15.    In your opinion, what are the most important things in life?  What makes you think this?

16.    What makes you unique among your peers, or what do you feel these questions have not given you the opportunity to express?