What Do You Do Best?

Learn How to Talk about Your Talent During a College Interview

College interview
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This question overlaps a bit with another common interview question, What will you contribute to our campus community? Here, however, the question is more pointed and perhaps more awkward. After all, you can make a wide range of contributions to a campus community. To be asked to identify just one thing that you do "best" is far more limiting and intimidating.

As we think about a winning response, keep in mind the purpose of the question. Your college interviewer is trying to identify something that you are passionate about, something that you have devoted time and energy to mastering. The college is looking for something that sets you apart from other applicants, some skill or talent that makes you the unique person you are.

Is an Academic or Non-Academic Answer Best?

If asked this question, you may be tempted to use it as an opportunity to prove that you are a strong student. "I'm really good at math." "I'm fluent in Spanish." Answers such as these are fine, but they may not be your best choice. If, for example, you truly are good at math, your academic transcript, SAT scores, and AP scores already demonstrate this point. So if you answer this question by highlighting your math skills, you are telling your interviewer something that he or she already knows.

The reason you have an interview to begin with is because the college has holistic admissions. The admissions folks want to evaluate you as a whole person, not as an empirical set of grades and test scores. Thus, if you answer this question with something that your transcript already presents, you've lost an opportunity to highlight a dimension of your interests and personality that cannot be gleaned from the rest of your application.

Put yourself in the shoes of your interviewer. Which applicant are you most likely to remember at the end of the day?: The one who says she is good at chemistry or the one who has amazing skills making claymation movies? Will you remember the good speller or the one who restored a 1929 Model A Ford?

This is not to say that you should steer clear of academics, for the college certainly does want to enroll students who are good at math, French, and biology. But when given the opportunity, try to use your interview to highlight personal strengths that might not come across so clearly in the other parts of your application.

I Don't Do Anything Really Well. What Now?

First off, you're wrong. I've been teaching for 25 years and I have yet to meet a student who isn't good at something. Sure, some students have no aptitude for math, and others can't throw a football more than two feet. You may be inept in the kitchen, and you might have a third-grade spelling ability, but you are good at something. If you don't recognize your talents, ask your friends, teachers, and parents.

And if you still can't come up with something you consider yourself good at, think about these possible approaches to the question:

  • "I'm an expert at failing." Read any article on the characteristics of successful people, and you'll learn that they are good at failing. They take risks. They try new things. They make mistakes and hit dead ends. And here's the important part--they learn from those failures and keep trying. Successful people fail a lot.
  • "I'm a good listener." This interview question might make you feel uncomfortable because it is asking you to boast about yourself. If you feel uncomfortable tooting your own horn, is that because you prefer listening to speaking? If so, great. The world needs more people who listen. Embrace your listening skills.
  • "I'm good at smelling the roses." Sadly, I've met many applicants to highly selective colleges who are so driven to succeed both academically and in their extracurriculars, that they've lived high school wearing blinders. Are you the type of person who loves to pause and appreciate the world around you? A strong student who can also treasure a beautiful sunset or a quiet snowfall is someone who has found a healthy balance in life. Embrace this quality.

    Avoid the Predictable Responses

    Some answers to this question are perfectly safe, but they are also remarkably predictable and tired. Answers such as these are likely to make your interviewer nod in a gesture of bored approval:

    • "I'm very responsible." Great, but your interviewer doesn't know you any better after that response. Your grades already show that you are responsible, and you haven't given your interviewer a new and interesting dimension to your application.
    • "I'm a hard worker." See above. Your transcript tells your interviewer this. Focus on something that isn't obvious from the rest of your application.
    • "I'm good at writing (or biology, math, history, etc)." As discussed earlier, a response like this is perfectly fine, but it's a lost opportunity. You're likely to get asked what you want to major in, so use that moment to talk about your favorite academic subject. And again, realize that your transcript shows what subject you have mastered.

    A Final Word

    If you're like me, a question like this is rather awkward. It can be uncomfortable tooting your own horn. Approached correctly, however, the question gives you a great opportunity to present a dimension of your personality that isn't obvious from your application. Try to find a response that identifies something that makes you uniquely you. Surprise your interviewer, or present a facet of your personality and interests that will differentiate you from other applicants.

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