The Art of Interviewing

October 31, 2012 Anne Behnke
The Art of Interviewing

As I write my very first blog, I am keeping an eye on what has been named “Frankenstorm!” Every family I have interviewed has wanted to know about “the storm.” As I have listened to the parents ask “what are your plans?” and “what will the school do?” I am reminded of the importance of making our families feel comfortable and safe and that our behavior and our reactions can often dictate theirs. I have been interviewing students and parents since I first began in admission some 28 years ago and I still have good days and I have bad days; and so will you. Interviewing is so fun and so interesting but it can also be intimidating for the first time interviewer. We never know what we will get when a student or their parent or parents sits in one of our offices. Our students and parents who visit comprise the public, private, charter and home-schooled families. Many are fully aware of our schools and many are hungry to be educated. Sometimes our alums can’t get past what our schools were like when they were there and sometimes our parents want the chance to “start over with the next sibling.”

I wanted to offer some tips that have learned over the years as I have interviewed hundreds of families.

For the student interview:

*The interview starts the minute a family walks in the door
*Help students relax and provide an environment in which they feel safe
*Let students know if you will require a writing sample
*Ask students if they are comfortable with you taking notes
*Be a good listener
*Never get trapped into speaking negatively about another school
*Allow the student to tell you about themselves
*If possible, interview the student and parents separately as you need to get both perspectives
*Know your school and know your facts
*Never give a family the name of a student at your school without their permission
*Don’t ask “no” and “yes” questions
*Help them imagine themselves at your school
*If possible, try to connect them with faculty or coaches while they are there
*Do NOT assume you will connect with every student and do NOT assume every interview will be perfect

For the parents:

*Know your facts
*Ask questions about their child’s learning style
*Know and communicate what makes a student successful at your school
*You need to set the tone for the interview
*Don’t fall into the parent trap of “Did you hear what happened at school X?”
*When in doubt, ask! Do NOT make up an answer
*Be clear about what you offer and don’t make your school fit the child
*Do NOT assume you will connect with every parent and do NOT assume every interview will be perfect


*Don’t sit behind your desk
*Don’t sit with your arms crossed across your chest
*Do turn your phone off
*Do invite the gentlemen to remove their jackets if they look uncomfortable

What you will find over time is that much of this will become second nature as you find your rhythm and approach. But be open to change, as adaptation and innovation can serve both you and the admission profession well.


For Better or Worse: Executing Sibling Admission Policies - a presentation from the 2011 SSATB Annual Meeting

Admission Interviews: Still An Art And A Science - article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 16, 2010

Never Interview on a Cloudy Tuesday; It's Bad Luck - article in The New York Times, Nov. 6, 2010

Marc Pachter - The Art of the Interview - TED talk, 2008

Loosening Lips - The Art of the Interview - Eric Nalder, from The Seattle Times

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