This Harvard admissions interviewer’s favorite question to ask applicants

Last week, SocratesPost learned the ins and outs of interviewing with Harvard alumni interviewer, Jerilyn Teo, now a Senior Program Manager at Amazon. An interviewer in the Seattle area, she has met with countless Harvard hopefuls and submitted evaluations of them to the admissions committee. Jerilyn discussed the best interviews she encountered and what makes students truly stand out. To catch up from last issue, click here.

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SocratesPost: “What was the worst interview you remember? Or is every applicant pushed to the interview round amazing?”

Jerilyn at Harvard: “That’s a great question. I actually interview for my day job. Right now, I work at Amazon and I definitely have bad interviews from my day job but in college admissions interviewing, I would say that most, not all, candidates pushed to the interview round are impressive. If I had to think of the least impressive candidate that I’ve interviewed before it would be one that was over rehearsed or was trying to just impress me as a person as opposed to demonstrating to me why they feel they would be a good fit for Harvard, for the community or culture there or a program that they’re interested in. I think there’s a balance between confidence and being overconfident and I think being overconfident does not show that the candidates have self-awareness. There are some candidates who are very accomplished and in practice, on paper, but then when it comes to an interest in conversations, you can tell that they’re not as… let me put it this way: when we are interviewing candidates, ultimately one question I ask myself is “Is this someone I would like to hang out with if I was back in college? Is this is someone I would like to spend time getting to know?” I’ve definitely had interviews with candidates who truly the answer was unfortunately a no, because a lot of the responses that I was getting during the interview, you could tell that it was very self-serving. I’m a people development professional by day and I’m very much drawn to people who are interested in learning and development and all of that but if you meet someone who is very much focused on just themselves as opposed to the community around them, speaking about how their strength can help other people around them grow and how they can contribute to society and community, I think it’s clear to the interviewer when someone is taking all these courses and leadership positions because they want to get into Harvard as opposed to doing it because this is going to impact and help X community.

SocratesPost: “What’s a question you like to ask candidates?”

Jerilyn at Harvard: “Absolutely. As interviewers, we don’t have visibility into their applications and we don’t have their resumes, but these days more people have LinkedIn profiles. So the question I like to ask is “what is one thing that you haven’t told the admissions committee on the application or through the interview or through other platforms that you would like us to know about?” Most times when I do ask the question, I do get pause. When people intentionally pause and think about a meaningful answer, I feel like they reflect maturity and, depending on what your answer is, it can be very telling about the kind of person that applicant is.

SocratesPost: “That’s a really interesting question. What answers have you gotten previously that surprised you or really gave you clear insight into the person you were talking to?”

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