Content of Your Answers – The Three “Golden Questions” of Every Interview
Now that we have discussed the basics of body language, let’s talk about content of your answers.
All interviews are more or less an act of improvisation. You can’t possibly know the detail of every single question proposed ahead of time (unless you cheat).
However, you can prepare for the following three questions that, in one form or another, I guarantee will be in every interview you ever take for the rest of your life, whether it is for music school, for a job, or for anything else.
Here are the three questions.
- Why are you interested in us (in this case, the music school in question).
This is a fundamental question that will be asked of you no matter where you ever go to interview.
Every person you will ever interview with will be curious about why you have chosen to apply for their school, job, committee, etc.
There are good ways and less good ways to answer this question.
With my own student clients, I do simulated college admissions interviews. When I pose this question to them while pretending to be a music school, they will often say the following answers which would be potential automatic grounds for rejection in a college interview:
- I have heard you have a great music school!
- Your music school has a good reputation!
- You are based in (some popular city) and I really like that!
- My teacher told me to!
- My friend heard about you and told me about it!
As you can see, these answers may feel genuine for some students, but they do not tell us anything of substantive detail about why you are applying for a specific school.
Rather, a school would like to hear actually good reasons.
The following are things to think about:
- You took a trial lesson with a teacher at the school, and it was one of the best experiences of your academic life.
- You went on a tour/attended a summer program of the school and had an incredible experience.
You have listened to work/recordings by the faculty and would love the opportunity to study with specific people at the school.
- You have read books by the faculty, or played music the faculty arranged/wrote.
- You like how the school is a conservatory, and that everyone around you in your daily classes is an artist pursuing music or a related discipline.
- You like how the school is based in a university, and that everyone around you on campus is pursuing a diversity of interests that influence your own music-making.
You value something incredibly unique that only that school offers.
See the difference between these and the aforementioned answers? These things tell us actual detail about a music school. The first answers were generic, boring, and sounded like anyone could say them.
These sample answers, however, show you actually care and did your homework. In short, you want to be as specific as possible when talking about why you are applying for a music school.
- What Is Unique About You?
At the core of any interview, a school is most interested in what is different about you that you could bring to a school.
This is always the hardest question to answer in an interview, as you don’t want to brag, boast, or even list your accomplishments. Your resume’ already has taken care of that for you.
Rather, you want to tell the school more about you that is interesting to the school.
Here are some answers you want to stay away from:
- I’m passionate about music!
- I am an incredibly hard worker!
- I will do whatever it takes to get into this school!
These answers, once again, may feel genuine to some students, but they are generic and without a unique thought.
Anyone applying to music school should be passionate about music.
Anyone getting into this industry should be a hard worker.
And yes, most schools know that getting into college is your first and foremost priority.
So what can you say to this answer?
I tend to suggest one of two answers when approaching this question.
ONE – Say something that really is unbelievably unique about you or your interests.
I have had students in the past who have been very passionate about things that are very unique.
Example – I had a student who talked about his background as a musician growing up in a foreign country, and how he would like to integrate the music of his native country into his own music-making in college.
This is an interesting answer that is quite unique and would be most favorable to the majority of music schools, whose political outlooks are usually liberal and dependency on foreign applications is higher than you think.
Other things you can draw a good answer from includes professional experience, bringing music out of the classroom and into your community, being a leader in your ensemble and what you have taken from that experience you could bring to a music school, etc.
Certainly, there are many things you could draw from in an interview for music school, these are just some of the essentials.
TWO – Tell a story that positions your background in a unique way
I had a student who was once tempted to say the generic answer of “I work hard and am interested in lots of different things.”
However, when I encouraged him to think differently, he approached it anecdotally.
His story went something like this:
When I first started in music, I just wanted to take voice lessons. Over time, as I became experienced in training my voice, I put together an ensemble/band of other students interested in performing with me.
Rehearsals were very unorganized at first; it took a lot of hours of practice, but I finally learned how to conduct & lead my ensemble/band efficiently and effectively.
Then, I realized I needed to get our music out of the practice room and into the real world, so I learned how to record ensemble/band.
With the recording in hand, I took it upon myself to read about music marketing and entrepreneurship, and started sending demos of our vocals to independent labels.
In short, I feel what is unique about me is that although I am only 17, I have had a great deal of pre-professional experience wearing many hats as a musician, including studying, performing, conducting, recording, and promoting. I’d like to do these things with other student musicians at your school at the collegiate level.
Of course, this is just a sample answer – you can think of a sample story for yourself that tells them why you are unique when they specifically ask what is unique about you.
- Do You Have Any Questions for Us?
The single most important question in an interview may be your own.
Nearly every interview will conclude with “do you have any questions for us?”
Always, always, and always again, be sure you have questions prepared to ask at the end of an interview.
When going for a job interview that has many rounds and many people, you’ll need to have at least a dozen questions ready.
BUT, for a music school interview, you really should only need no more than two questions prepared.
Make sure the questions you prepare are relevant to the curriculum of the school you are applying for.
Asking about the following: curriculum, performance opportunities, study-abroad opportunities (if the school has them), collaboration opportunities with students in other departments of the same school, getting your music/performing recorded, etc.
These kinds of questions would be very appropriate when talking to admissions in a music school.
Now You Know the Fundamentals, but Is There More?
Every interview is unique – every major is unique – and every school is unique.
Not one single answer can work for every question posed for every school.
Additionally, some schools may require you to have greater technical knowledge of your major.
The best way to get better at interviews is by simply doing them, over and over again, with someone who understands the interviewing process.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be with me, but going through the interview process completely on your own without any preparation whatsoever maybe detrimental to your efforts in applying and auditioning for your top choice school.
Just like with your instrument or musical craft, practice does make perfect.
Have you done a college interview? Share your take on the process in the comments below.