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  • Writer's pictureKam Taj

3 Keys To CRUSHING Uni Interviews - Pt. 1

Updated: Jan 22, 2019

Feeling anxious about that university interview coming up? Don’t know what the interviewer is looking for? This 3-part blog series will give you exactly what you need to know to give you the best chance of receiving your university offer!

There are three key attributes that university interviewers look for when assessing candidates: ENTHUSIASM, APPROACH & TEACHABILITY (EAT).

Each attribute within the EAT Model (now I'm hungry...) will have a blog post dedicated to it, in which we’ll discuss why that attribute is important and what you can do to show your interviewer that you’ve got what they’re looking for!


Let’s begin with the 1st attribute, ENTHUSIASM.

Interviewers want to see that you’re passionate about the subject you’ve applied for – and the subject that they’ve dedicated a significant portion of their life to!

They want to observe your enthusiasm as you discuss different concepts and ideas around your subject, in particular the topics mentioned in your personal statement. They want to notice your curiosity being aroused as they introduce you to new ways of approaching problems.

Even if you don’t know the answer, they want to see that you are eager and willing to try anyway. They understand that interviews can be stressful – so if you’re smiling and genuinely showing your enthusiasm for the subject, you’ll definitely leave a positive impression on them.

So how can we convey our enthusiasm in an interview without going over the top?

Before The Interview

The more relaxed we feel, the more we can allow our natural enthusiasm to shine through during an interview. One of the simplest ways to do this is to focus on our physiology before entering the interview room. Many of us will have noticed that when we’re stressed or unhappy, our body naturally slumps down and inwards, whereas when we’re feeling confident and excited, we carry ourselves with a broader and more upright posture.

However, what many of us don’t know is that this works both ways as a result of a process that psychologists refer to as embodied cognition. You can create a positive state of mind by changing your physiology. Try it for yourself – stand upright, chin slightly facing upwards, chest out and a half-smile – and notice how it improves your state of mind!

On a similar note, I highly recommend doing some breathing exercises before (and even during!) an interview if you feel slightly nervous. Push your stomach out as you inhale deeply while mentally counting to 4, and pull your stomach in as you exhale slowly while mentally counting to 4. This calms our body, and in doing so, naturally creates a calmer state of mind.

During The Interview

We can’t predict the questions that an interviewer will ask – a definite source of anxiety for the majority of us! However, an effective way to show our enthusiasm in interviews is to become very familiar with any topics that we mention within our personal statement.

The more confident we feel talking about these areas prior to the interview, the more we can relax and let our natural enthusiasm for the subject come across. Even if the interviewer doesn’t ask any specific questions about our personal statement (e.g. in some Oxbridge science-subject interviews), the confidence we feel as a result of our good preparation can help us ease into the interview.

During an interview, the interviewer may ask us a question that we don't know the answer to. We may not even have the slightest clue where to start! However, the last words an interviewer ever wants to hear is, “I don’t know." We should always attempt the question anyway, for example by trying to link it to something we have studied. It’s perfectly fine to explain to the interviewer that we haven’t come across a concept before, as long as we follow it up with how we’re willing to try!

If we do this but are unable to devise the right approach to the problem, the interviewer will eventually try to steer us in the right direction. If they do this, don’t panic! You haven't failed!

In fact, this is a wonderful opportunity to reveal our enthusiasm and genuine curiosity for the subject. Listen to what the interviewer says, and then respond with a statement like, “oh wow – I hadn’t thought of it that way before. That’s really interesting! So, if I apply that idea to this problem…”. Doing so not only conveys enthusiasm, but also shows that you are able to take feedback in a positive manner - especially when said with a smile! We'll get to why this is so important when we cover teachability...

After The Interview

Asking questions at the end of the interview is a great way to show our enthusiasm and interest in the subject that we're applying for. It's important to prepare some questions before the interview to ensure that we don't forget to ask them - believe me, it happens, especially if we get caught up in the 'post-interview relief' haze!

However, keep in mind that most candidates will also ask questions. It's worthwhile to think about what questions you can ask to really separate yourself from other students applying for the course.

One final game-changing tip. As we thank our interviewer before leaving the room, we should give a specific example of a concept or idea that they mentioned during the interview that we hadn’t considered before, following it up with something along the lines of, “I had never considered it from that perspective before – it’s actually pretty cool, thank you for showing me that!”. By conveying your curiosity and enthusiasm in a genuine way, you separate yourself from the pack and place yourself in a better position to receive an offer.


That's it for enthusiasm, the 1st key attribute of the EAT Model. In the next two blog posts, we'll cover the two other keys that interviewers look for - our approach to solving problems, and how teachable we are.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to get in touch by email or through social media (Facebook or Instagram). And if you really want to give yourself an edge for your upcoming university interviews (especially Oxbridge interviews), please get in touch about my custom interview-coaching packages.

Good luck with your interviews!


Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.

#exam #interview #university #grades #performancecoach #examdomination #interviewtips

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