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!
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!
In this post, we'll discuss the third and final attribute, TEACHABILITY.
Interviewers want to see that we have the potential to be highly teachable - that is to say, we're open-minded, eager to learn, respond constructively to our mistakes, and in general are a pleasure to teach or interact with.
If our approach to a question isn’t correct, interviewers want to see us actively listening to their feedback, and using their hints to guide our approach. They want us to try to link new concepts that they might introduce during the interview with theory that we’ve already covered.
They want to see how we respond to making mistakes; do we become panicked, flustered or defensive, or do we remain calm, receptive to their hints, and eager to learn from our mistakes?
And especially in the case of Oxbridge, interviewers are asking themselves whether or not they would enjoy the experience of teaching you in a supervision or tutorial environment.
Dealing With Mistakes
In all likelihood, we will get an answer wrong at some point in an interview. Thankfully, every mistake is an opportunity in disguise.
Because although we can’t control the questions that an interviewer asks, we can control our response to the mistakes that we may make. If we respond in an appropriate way, we can actually show the interviewer several desirable traits that may have otherwise been missed had we gotten every answer correct – in particular, that we’re teachable.
Unfortunately, our immediate response to making mistakes often isn’t the most constructive!
For example, many of us might become flustered or begin to panic when we make a mistake. This shows the interviewer that we may have difficulty responding to challenges that we’ll inevitably face in our course. Every university course will be packed with new content – most of which we won’t initially understand! If we respond to ‘failure’ or ‘mistakes’ by freezing up and entering panic mode, it makes us a lot harder to teach.
Our response to making mistakes should show the interviewer that we remain calm, engaged, and receptive to the guidance that they’ll subsequently give us on how to approach the question correctly. If we are able to then use the hint that they provide to get to the correct answer, it not only shows that we have the academic ability to excel in the course that we’re applying for, but more importantly shows that we’re a highly teachable candidate.
On some occasions, we may respond by becoming defensive, or even aggressive. This is more likely to happen in humanities interviews if our view on a topic gets challenged. Unfortunately, responding in this way shows the interviewer that we’re not open and receptive to new ideas. This trait not only makes us difficult to teach, but depending on the extent of our response, may also make us come across as generally unpleasant people!
Instead, we should always remain open to the interviewer’s challenges, even asking for elaboration if we deem it to be appropriate. Following this, we may choose to agree with them, or we may disagree politely. Both are fine, provided that we can clearly explain our reasoning for doing so.
Regardless of what you may have been led to believe, the purpose of the interview is to stimulate thoughtful discussions, not to expose your lack of knowledge – no matter how strict an interviewer may seem! Any harshness or rudeness in an interviewer’s tone is often just a test to uncover whether we become flustered or defensive on being challenged, or whether we respond in a composed manner.
So, pause for a moment before you respond. Compose yourself, and consider the interviewer’s hint or point of view. Respond appropriately in a calm, thoughtful and intelligent manner.
That's it for teachability, the third and final key attribute of the EAT Model.
I’ll end this blog series on this note.
Oxbridge supervisions/tutorials are mostly carried out with one subject supervisor/tutor and anywhere between one and three students. Their purpose is to help students clarify content that they’ve covered in lectures by going through problem sheets/essays, help students to refine their technique for answering questions, and introduce and discuss new ideas relevant to the course or lecture series.
So, if you were supervising a group of students, ask yourself this question:
Would you want someone in your group who gets flustered when they don’t know the answer, defensive when challenged on their views, and is generally unenthusiastic about the course? Or would you prefer someone who was engaged in discussions, able to accept and learn from their mistakes, and shows their eagerness to expand their knowledge on their chosen subject?
Keep this perspective in mind during the interview, and do whatever you can to be the candidate that an interviewer looks at and thinks, “I would honestly enjoy supervising this student or having this student on my course.”
To conclude, if you can show an intelligent and composed approach to answering interview questions, a genuine enthusiasm for the course, and the potential to be a highly teachable student, you can leave your interview with confidence knowing that you gave yourself the best possible chance to receive an offer to study at that university.
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 motivational Instagram posts with in-depth captions that no one reads!