So you’ve survived three-plus years at high school taking grueling classes. You’ve jumped the hurdle of standardized testing. You’ve sent in your application to your college or university. So far, so good. You’ve arrived at the interview part of the application process for your elite school. Now they want to talk to you in person.

It might not feel like it, but getting an interview is a great problem to have. It means the college likes you. But the idea of meeting and speaking with (gasp!) a stranger is pretty terrifying for most students, if not most people. If you’ve never had an interview, or even if you have and you want to perfect the craft of interviewing, here are some tips.


1. Water only

When you walk into just about any interview, someone is going to offer you something to drink. It’s totally fine, and pretty much expected, for you to ask for water. You’re going to be talking, maybe for an extended amount of time. Ask for water. Enjoy. But if you are smart, ask for NOTHING ELSE.

If you ask, for instance, for a coffee, now someone has to go make it. Believe me, I once worked in Hollywood as an intern, so a lot of the time, I was that someone. If an interviewee comes in and asks for that coffee, should it be strong or weak? Cream and sugar? Now that I own a small business, I conduct interviews all the time. I had a job candidate order a meal once. He got the meal. He did not get the job.

Other than inconveniencing your host, the real reason that you should restrict yourself to water is that you might spill. I enjoy a good cup of coffee as much as anyone, but I once made the mistake of spilling a huge cup of coffee all over a client during a meeting. If you ruin someone’s clothes or carpet, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll be memorable, but not in a good way. Even if you spill the water, no harm, no foul.


2. Shake hands firmly

It might sound strange, but many interviewers will interpret a firm handshake to mean that you have confidence in yourself and you believe you are a good candidate for the job. If a handshake feels like a floppy dead fish, it can be very off-putting. When you meet someone new, give her a firm handshake with at least two pumps. I know it sounds weird, but trust me it’s important. However…


3. Only shake hands if the other person initiates

Your interviewer doesn’t want your cold. In fact, a lot of people that have to meet strangers all the time and are forced to shake hands are secret germaphobes. Some celebrities are even vocal about their desire to not be touched by fans. I don’t blame them. When people feel like they have a right to touch you, even if it’s only hands, it can feel overwhelming and intrusive. Only go in for a handshake if the person extends his hand to do so. He might be trying to save you from his cold too.


4. Be fifteen minutes early

Once upon a time, Jason Kidd was the most experienced player for Team USA in the Olympics, and the coaches used him as role model for the team. The very first time he addressed his peers on the team, which included LeBron and a lineup of superstars, he asked them to be on time. That kind of blew me away when I heard it, but it really shouldn’t have.

This should go without saying, but show up early to your interview. Fifteen minutes leaves you time to park or find the building or use the bathroom or whatever. If you arrive early with nothing to do, great. You can relax and enjoy some quality time with your phone.

But lateness… lateness almost always shows that a candidate doesn’t take the job (or themselves) very seriously. An interview is supposed to be an important first impression, so it’s easy to extrapolate that if you’re late to this important interview, you’re going to be late for everything. If I were meeting Tom Cruise, I’d be on time – early, in fact, with my Top Gun poster and a Sharpie, ready for an autograph opportunity. So why can’t you show up on time for a meeting you claim to want? If lateness is a problem for you, start dealing with it right now at this moment. Be on time.


5. Send a “thank you,” but don’t overdo it

Thank you notes used to be handwritten, but these days a simple email does the trick. It doesn’t need to be much, but a quick follow-up that says, “It was nice to meet you,” can go a long way. It shows that you’re thoughtful and you cared about the meeting. If someone gets in touch with you with a question, or you just had an interview, don’t wait more than a day to send a short email. And then leave it at that. Any more and you risk possibly irritating the person you want to impress. Unless you have a burning question you absolutely need answered and you can’t find the info anywhere else (check the internet first), a simple note works great to express that you’re interested, but it doesn’t sound needy or desperate.


Good Luck!