Interviews are so nerve-racking. Whether they’re over the phone, Skype/Zoom, or in-person, interviews are stressful. That’s unavoidable. You’re surrounded by strangers who have their notepads out and are taking note on everything you say. It can feel like they are making assumptions about you based solely on how you answer each of their difficult, yet creative questions. Each question feels like it’s intended to make you think on your feet and recall details of stories that might feel out of reach. But that’s what child life is all about – the ability to improvise as you go. So how do you remain yourself throughout the interview? How do you make sure that you’re not just a shell of a person answering all of the questions “correctly”?
Find your pet pig named Moana
Several years ago, we were interviewing for two spots for our summer practicum. The first student set the stage for the remainder of the students. An all “A” student, with the most volunteer experience and actively pursuing her master’s degree in Child Life, she knocked it out of the park. Each question we gave her, she creatively answered, making sure not to lose herself in the question. She answered the questions fully without rambling while also adding personal touches about her experiences with children, families, and school. By the end of the interview, several of us wrote on our own individual question sheet, “can we hire her?” We knew she was a “win”.
The next several students stumbled over their words, rambled on about unimportant facts regarding their volunteer experience – “It was a Tuesday that I was volunteering on the Pediatric Unit… oh wait. No. It wasn’t Peds. It was actually the ER. OH! and It wasn’t a Tuesday. Sorry. I had a doctor’s appointment that Tuesday so it was a Wednesday that I came in to make up my shift,” or simply didn’t answer the questions fully.
Then we met Madelynn*. Madelynn had her bachelor’s and while her resume was good, she was competing against a lot of students who were pursuing their master’s or coming into this interview with a practicum already under their belt.
Our first question we ask our students is simply, “Tell me a little bit about yourself – what sort of hobbies do you have, anything about school, family, friends – anything you’d like for us to know about you.” It’s a way for us to learn more about our applicants while also making sure they can eloquently talk about who they are.
She did what most students do which is tell us all the “right” things. She highlighted lots of things already on her resume and told us about her school location and where she grew up. She then left us with this fun fact –
“Oh, and I also have a pet pig named Moana.”
“Yeah, I got a pet pig before I moved and she lives with me in my apartment. I take her for walks around the apartment complex and everyone knows and loves her. She’s quite the celebrity.”
Madelynn sold us. She told us a personal anecdote that stuck with us. She made us laugh and showed us parts of her personality while remaining professional and not telling us a lengthy story.
She proceeded to knock the remainder of the interview out of the park. Madelynn was up-to-par with those students pursuing their master’s and even exceeded those same students with her knowledge about theories and theorists and her ability to integrate those details into her answers when appropriate.
When looking through our notes at the end of all the interviews we found ourselves asking each other “What about the girl with the pet pig named Moana?” That was the magnet that naturally drew us to her.
Let me clarify that the quirky fun fact that she gave us was not what made us choose her for the practicum. But it did elevate her amongst the other candidates because we were able to get a glimpse at her personality.
It’s so easy to become robotic with your answers; to have everything memorized down to each precise fact that it can make you appear empty and stiff.
Each hospital site is looking for someone that they want to place under their wings for the next two to four months. When someone comes in smiling, laughing (when appropriate) and using proper inflection throughout their stories it only makes them a stronger candidate. All of these things can intrigue your interview panel and leave them wanting more from you. The interview flows more naturally and we’re left feeling like we just had a really good conversation. This is the feeling you want to have when leaving each site – a “relatable” feeling that shows them that you’re more than your resume.
“What about that girl with the pet pig named Moana?”
Don’t be afraid to be yourself because you are so worth knowing and pursuing. But you first have to believe that about yourself before anyone else will believe it too.
*name changed for anonymity