Practicing awkward questions

When you enter certain situations, it’s likely that you will be asked awkward, painful, or intrusive questions. It’s sometimes worth preparing yourself ahead of time to deal with those questions so they have less power to derail you in the moment.

Some examples of situations in which this kind of preparation might be helpful:

  • Interviewing for a job in which you’re uncertain of your qualifications
  • Interviewing for a job when you expect to be perceived as incapable because of your age, disability, race, gender, etc
  • Presenting on a topic related to justice, particularly if people are likely to try to get you to ~tell your story~ instead of talking about the issue
  • Pitching a business idea for a new type of product
  • Coming out
  • (any number of other things)

It’s worth preparing because:

  • There are two problems you’re facing:
  • One is that it might feel horrible to be asked certain questions
  • The other problem is that answers to your questions will be used in a way that hurts you
  • It can be tempting to avoid thinking about these questions, because it hurts to anticipate them
  • But that can actually make the questions hurt more, and it can make it harder to protect yourself from the practical consequences of answering the questions
  • If you can make the thought of answering (or deflecting) the questions bearable, then they have a lot less power to hurt you, and you have a lot more power to choose how to respond

One way to prepare is to do a practice run with a friend, where they ask you the questions you’re afraid that you will be asked.

  • One really good way to make the questions bearable is to have someone you trust ask you the questions you’re afraid of being asked
  • That can allow you to practice hearing the question and finding it bearable, and still being ok
  • It can also allow you to practice finding answers, and experimenting with which ones seem most effective.
  • If you’ve had some experience hearing those questions, answering them, and still being ok, it can make it a lot easier to answer them when the answers are immediately important

Writing down your thoughts can also help:

  • It might help to make a list of questions you’re afraid of being asked
  • And thinking through what kind of response you might want to make
  • Any way you can think about it ahead of time is likely to be helpful
  • (That said, be careful about scripting too much if you can avoid it. Words that you generate at least somewhat in the moment are often received better than memorized scripts.)

Short version: If you’re likely to be asked difficult questions, it’s worth practicing answering them. Two things that work well are having a trusted friend ask you those questions, and writing down thoughts.

Preparing for a college interview

A reader asked:

Any advice for college interviews?

I have one coming up and I always get tongue-tied and I generally don’t do well at them at all, but this is a really big deal and I don’t want to mess it up…

realsocialskills said:

The best way I know of to prepare for any type of interview is to get someone else to do a practice interview with you before you do the real interview.

In a practice interview, someone asks you a whole bunch of questions that might come up, and you practice interviewing them. Once you have practiced, it can be a lot easier to answer interview questions for real.

If you’re in school, you might be able to get a teacher or guidance counselor to do a practice interview with you as you’re applying for college. A lot of adults in that role do that kind of thing regularly. Many adults in schools or teen programs really want to help their students get into school, and most people who want to help are likely to understand why practice interviews are a good idea. (If you’re currently in therapy and your therapist is someone you somewhat trust, you might also be able to convince your therapist to help you practice.)

If you don’t have a teacher or someone like that to help you practice, it can be helpful to practice with a friend. (And you might also be able to help them practice for their interview). While it’s particularly helpful to practice with someone who has good knowledge of how college admissions work, practicing with someone who doesn’t can also be very helpful.

It’s especially helpful if they ask you the questions you’re afraid of hearing. Because if a question you’re afraid of comes up in the real interview, it’s a lot harder to figure out an answer on the fly than if you’ve practiced. It can help to tell the person practicing with you what questions you’re worried about.

Some questions that some people might be worried about:

  • Are you worried that they’ll ask about your activities, and that you might not be able to say anything that sounds impressive
  • Are you unsure about what you want to study and afraid that will make you look bad?
  • Are you worried they’ll ask disability-related questions?

Whether or not the questions you’re nervous about come up in your real interview, it will help to have practiced them. If you feel confident about your ability to answer possibly-difficult questions, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable during the rest of the interview and it will be easier to focus on communicating.

Some questions that are very likely to come up in most college interviews:

“Why do you want to attend this college?”

  • Any answer that reflects positively on the school will work for this
  • Eg: “It’s academically rigorous”
  • “Some of the most interesting people I’ve met have gone to this school”
  • “I’ve heard really good things about the archeology department”
  • “The first year classics curriculum seems like an excellent foundation for further learning”
  • It’s also ok if the reason is partly personal, so long as it also says something specifically positive about the school, eg
  • “I’m looking to study pre-law and stay close to home so that I can be there for family. I like that this college has a large percentage of non-traditional students so that I will have a peer group even though I won’t be able to live on campus.”
  • Don’t say something that would reflect negatively on the school like “I’ve heard that everyone passes” or “I’ve heard it’s a great party schools,“ or “I just don’t want to work that hard.”

“What do you want to study?”

  • The answer to this question should show that you have interests, and that you like learning things
  • It’s ok not to know what you want to study; a lot of entering college students in the US do not.
  • If you’re not sure what you want to study, your answer to this should still indicate that you’ve thought about it and that you care about something, eg:
  • “I’m not sure yet, but I’m considering either history or political science or economics.”
  • “I want to learn a broad range of things before I decide for sure, but I really enjoy math.”
  • If you do know what you want to study, say so, and say something about what interests you about the subject (it does not need to be original, so long as it’s reasonably sincere), eg:
  • “I’m interested in the history of conflict. I want to try and figure out why people fight wars and how we can make peace.”
  • “I’m interested in studying biology so that I can eventually do medical research.”

“Do you have any questions for us?”

  • This question is likely pretty much any time that you’re interviewed for anything
  • It’s helpful to have a question in mind to ask them; it will show that you care about the school and aren’t just generically applying
  • The question should be something that you can’t easily google or get from their website, and it should show that you know something about the school
  • Eg: “I saw on the website that a lot of undergraduates do research. What’s the process like for finding a research adviser?”
  • (Don’t ask about possible exceptions to policies. That’s a conversation to have after you’re accepted, especially if it’s disability-related.)

Short version: If you’re interviewing for college (or anything really), it’s very helpful to do a practice interview. There is likely a teacher, guidance counselor, or coach at your school who would be willing to give you a practice interview. Having a peer do one can also work. Whoever does it, it is most effective when they ask you the questions that you’re afraid or nervous about being asked in the real interview.