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How to Nail the 400K Interview

Do you enjoy working with tomorrow’s leaders? I sure do!

One of my many volunteer efforts is working with students who have a desire to go to a Department of Defense United States Service Academy such as Navy, West Point, the Merchant Marine Academy and the Air Force Academy (Coast Guard is not a DOD Academy and doesn’t require a Congressional Nomination.) An education that has a value of over 400K and is paid back in 5+ years of military service.

A key part of this process is the Admissions Liaison Officer (ALO) interview AND the Congressional interview. I’ve sat in on over 300+ of these interviews and I’ve thought “with some tips and coaching, these students could have done much better in this interview.” We recently participated in a zoom panel with several of these students and their parents.

Besides being an ALO and Congressional Panelist, I’ve also mentored the three Kay sons who graduated from Navy, Air Force and West Point. Here are some ideas that can help you (or your favorite student) go from good to great in high level, pressure interviews. These ideas are based on work I’ve done professional in Toastmasters, in 2800+ media interviews and in being the interviewer on Congressional panels that interview as many as 50+ students in ONE DAY.

Please feel free to share this blog with the student or person you know has a high level interview coming up. It’s written directly to them!

Best Practices, Tips and Tricks

Keep in mind, this is the most important interview of your life thus far. It’s worth approximately 400K+ (the value of a Service Academy education). This is a high-level interview and these tips are not official USAFA policy, nor have they been endorsed by USAFA. These come from 25 years as a professional speaker & corporate media trainer.

They are also based on my experience as an ALO (USAFA Admissions Liaison Officer) and Congressional Panelist, having interviewed/assessed 300 student candidates.  Besides our kids who graduated from USNA, USAFA and USMA, our other civilian children who graduated from Stanford, Columbia, UTA, &  Moody Bible Institute. All of our kids had interviews involved in their education and all got substantial scholarships to graduate debt free from college.

  • Affirmation – Before the interview, practice some positive affirmations such as “I can do this” and “I’ve prepared for this” and “I’ve worked hard, this is going to be a great interview.” It doesn’t matter if you feel that way or not, just say it either out loud or in your mind. If you have a negative thought leading up to the interview,such as “I’m really nervous” or “I’m not looking forward to this interview” or even “I wish this were over.” Then stop. Reset your mindset and say the positive affirmations I mentioned at the beginning of this point. You could even create your own “Top Ten Affirmations” that you and your parents come up with to counter what I call “stinkin’ thinkin’” Your first three are already listed above.Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t—you’re right.”
  • Story Telling and Transparency – As you think through the answers to these questions, incorporate some of your own story that sets you apart. Are you first generation American—there’s a story there. Were you raised by a single parent? Did you have younger siblings to take care of? Did you help care for a family member who was ill or had special needs? Did you have a relative whose example inspired you to military service? Do you have a passion that motivates you such as going on mission trips, helping the homeless, fighting illiteracy or social injustice? Have your parents or mentor help you think through your story and learn to tell it in a way that will have an impact on the listeners.
  • Keep your answers to the ABC Model:

Accurate – Don’t tell anyone else’s story but your own, it will ring of insincerity. If you use numbers, make sure they are up to date. Don’t overstate your scenario. If you quote someone, then give attribution to that quote or story, you don’t want to pretend it’s your own.

Brief – You shouldn’t have an answer that lasts more than one minute. Otherwise, it

sounds like a monologue. But don’t give a “yes” or “no” answer either.  That’s too brief! A 30-45 second answer is ideal.

Clear – Even if you are using fewer words, you still want to be clear so that the panel understands what you are trying to communicate. Ask your parents if you really answered the question and ask them what they heard your answer to be. If they are hearing something different than what you are saying, then you need to rework the answer until you are clear.

  • Practice answering the questions and have your parents listen for the following:

Superfluous Words – parents count how many times they say filler words such as uh, um, ah or like. Work to eliminate these from your vocabulary with more practice. (Using filler words sends a subliminal message of a lack of confidence in what you are saying. )

The Robot – Don’t practice so much that you sound like a robot or like you are giving canned answers. This comes across awkward and/or disingenuous. You want to retain the element of spontaneity even if you have worked on some answers ahead of time.

The Timing – See above under the ABCs of answers (Brief). Parents can time your answers as you aim for a 30-45 second answer. This is just a suggestion and not a hardline rule. The best interviewees keep their answers long enough to answer the question but not so long that they sound like a run-on sentence.

Pacing – Are you talking too fast? This can come across as being nervous if you are a fast talker. The idea is to tell yourself to “slow down” as you are talking and then talk slower still. It “feels” strange to a fast talker, but it comes across as just the right pace. Unless you are from Texas (as I am), then you probably already talk slow enough.  

  • Take Your Time – If you don’t know the answer to a question asked, it’s ok to take a few seconds and compile your thoughts. Look to the side or look down briefly. I call this the “Ryan Seacrest Effect” where that emcee will put his fingers together, briefly look down, then look back up again. By breaking eye contact with the audience, his brain goes to a place where he remembers what he wants to say. It can also eliminate the “deer in the headlights” effect.
  • Complete Sentence – Take a breath, wait a few seconds, then start answering in a complete sentence. As you begin this way, an answer will likely come to you and you buy time in trying to come up with your answer. For example,  Question: What are your two greatest strengths? Answer: I would say that my greatest strength is…
  • Technical Issues – If this is a virtual call (zoom, skype, FaceTime) make sure you have good lighting (light should be BEHIND your computer/device shining on your face.) Check your sound, too. You may want to wear a headset or earbuds to cut down on feedback during the call. You can test these at www.zoom.us/test
  • Posture – Whether virtual or in person, you can improve your posture by sitting on the front half of your chair. Never sit fully back in the chair or you are more likely to slump. Sit up straight with shoulders back, but be comfortable as well. Too straight makes you stiff, too comfortable comes across as careless.
  • Appearance – You can wear a JROTC or CAP uniform (no Scouting Uniforms). It comes across as professional & shows what you look like in uniform.
  • Service Academy Interviews – Young men get a fresh (shorter) haircut, wear a dark suit, even if it is a virtual interview. White shirt, conservative tie. If it’s a new suit, make sure the thread stay holders are off the pleats in the back of the jacket. Just look at the pleats and if there are long threads there, holding the jacket in place, cut those out. Young ladies can wear a modest suit or dress (not a super short skirt). Neat hair (not trendy or brightly colored). Modest makeup (if you use it). Mid height heels (no higher than 3”). Nails should be plain or freshly painted (no peeling polish.) This is a professional look worthy of such a high-level interview.
  • Eye Contact – If in person, make eye contact with the interviewer that is consistent (but not so intense that it comes across as creepy.) If virtual, look for the camera and try to look into the camera.
  • More Information – For further research, I’ve created a three-part blog on how we helped the Kay brothers get into their respective service academies.

https://elliekay.com/wpress/2018/06/12/its-academy-time-usafa-usna-usma-part-1/

https://elliekay.com/wpress/2018/06/19/its-academy-time-usafa-usna-usma-part-2/

https://elliekay.com/wpress/2018/06/26/its-academy-time-usafa-usna-usma-part-3 /

Mock Interview Panel – Zoom/Skype/GoogleHangouts

WHY:  This is an opportunity to compile a group of people to interview the student. It simulates the pressure the student will feel at the Congressional Panel. If they can experience it once before it actually happens, it will give them greater confidence.

WHO:  Your parents, educators or JROTC Leaders can help get a group together. If you’re in Scouting, they could help put together a panel for you. About 3 to 5 people who join all at one time (probably virtually) to interview you. It will last about 20-30 minutes, depending on how verbose the interviewee and the panelists are during the interview and the feedback section.

WHEN:  Sometime before the ALO and Congressional Panel interviews. You can send out a doodle (organizer) to the panelists to get a date that works for everyone. www.doodle.com

HOW:  Let someone serve as the organizer (maybe a parent) who will send out copies of the questions provided in this document. The questions are numbered.  (Or even send this entire file so they know what to look for in the interview.)

  • The organizer will assign different questions (by number) to the different panelists ahead of time (dividing it up equally).
  • Everyone will join the call and the organizer will welcome everyone, then provide an order of who asks questions first, second, etc. Then the panelists take turns asking their questions and taking notes.
  • I suggest the organizer give a copy of all the questions to each of the panelists ahead of time so they can take appropriate notes.
  • Parents will count uhs, ums and filler words.
  • Each panelist can also add ONE question not on the file so that the student gets to answer extemporaneously (something they didn’t prepare ahead of time.)
  • NO feedback comments from panelists (other than questions) will be made DURING the interview. This is simulating a real interview.
  • At the end of all of the questions, the organizer will say “Thank you for coming today.” That marks the “end” of the formal interview. Next–the feedback session.
  • Then the panelists will take 2-3 minutes each to give feedback verbally. I suggest a “feedback sandwich.”  Say something encouraging first, then the “meat” of what needs to be improved, then something encouraging again. Please do not select panelists who are overly critical—this will not improve the student’s confidence. We are looking for constructive feedback, NOT constructive criticism and there is a difference. It’s the mindset of helping versus a mindset of being critical.
  • The panelists can scan and return their written feedback after the mock panel.

For the actual questions, you can email us at assistant@elliekay.com and ask for Mock Interview Questions.

LEAD is Not A Four Letter Word – part 2

BGadmin

 

Last week we talked about how every motivated person can become an effective leader by learning the steps involved in how to L-E-A-D and we covered the fact that “L” is for loyalty and “E” is for enthusiasm. Today we’re going to pick up with the letter “A.”

A is for Adversity

Truly effective leaders accept adversity as a condition of getting the mission done. I have never met a successful person who hasn’t had a lot to overcome a great measure of adversity. Don’t be afraid of adversity—handled properly, it makes you stronger. It helps you grow. Problems and people can’t stop you. The only thing that can stop you is you.

I remember a particularly difficult event when I had to substitute for a former First Lady of the United States at a large speaking event. The event was held in San Antonio Sea World Shamu-atorium. The Secret Service could not guarantee the former First Lady’s safety so they would not let her present at this military audience “Spouse of the Year” award.

The audience was tired and cranky after a long day at Sea World. They had kids that were eager to see Shamu and they had to hear me give a 25 minute “Heroes at Home” speech first. Plus, they were expecting the First Lady and they got me! It was a set up for failure.

I began the speech and the acoustics were horrible, with a huge echo designed to announce, “And here’s SHAMU!” Those microphones were not designed to hear a speech, no matter how compelling. My enthusiasm remained high, but the audience was not warming up. All of the sudden the crowd yelled, “WOW” and “AHHH.”

I thought, “Maybe the audience is turning around and getting on my team.”

The audience soon reverted back to hostile looks and crankypants kids. Suddenly, the previous reaction was repeated when the crowd shouted “WOW” and “COOL!” It was then I turned around to the large tank of water behind me and saw Shamu go back in the water. Apparently, he was swimming the full length of the tank and would break up out of the water at just the right moment!

Adversity means that we begin to view Murphy’s Law (what can go wrong, will go wrong) as a good thing—it can grow us. Adversity means we need to have wisdom in leadership positions to know when to fall on our swords and when to take a more subtle (but effective) approach.

For example, on one of my teams I had 70 year old woman, who was scared spitless to speak in public. As a leader and with the help of the informal leaders on the team, we not only helped her overcome this near phobia to become a speech contest winner.

WHAT IS ONE WAY YOU HAVE OVERCOME ADVERSITY?

 

D is for Determination

Determined people, particularly determined leaders posses the stamina and courage to pursue their ambitions despite criticism, ridicule or unfavorable circumstances. In fact, discouragement usually spurs them on to greater things. When they get discouraged, they recognize that in order to get different results, some change is required. Determined people also display another “D” trait and that is discipline.

In the process of earning my Accredited Speaker designation, I had to present to an audience of 3000 speaking peers at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. There were three jumbo-trons behind a 150 long platform and it was streamed worldwide thousands more people. The night before, I realized that I had to change the first two minutes and I practiced those two minutes 60 times the night before the International Event. Yes, I practiced for two hours in the middle of the night! But the hard work paid off as I was the only finalist to pass the final level the next day, out of 400,000 speakers worldwide in various clubs.

Determination means that just because we can’t do everything we set our mind to, doesn’t mean we can’t do something.

Where do you need to be even more determined?

I believe that every motivated person can become an effective leader by learning the steps involved in how to L-E-A-D:

Loyalty – the ability to both give and inspire loyalty

Enthusiasm – following your passions so that it is contagious

Adversity – helping others to overcome obstacles as you lead by example

Determination – realizing that just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you can’t do something.

What kind of leader are you and what kind of leader are you going to become this next year? I’d love to hear from you!

 

LEAD is Not A Four Letter Word! (part 1 of 2)

BGadmin

One of my passions is leading teams—our Heroes at Home financial event team, our Shop Talk Toastmasters club, and a number of teams that help future leaders attend one of our service academies. Developing leaders, both young and old, is a skill set that you are never too young to learn or too old to implement.  

I believe that every motivated person can become an effective leader by learning the steps involved in how to L-E-A-D!

As fellow leaders, we sometimes have to face the brutal truth about the state of our team and make modifications whether we are leading in our military units, at work, in our volunteer work, or in our homes. Even if you are in the role of a follower, you can still lead informally.

Formal leaders may have the title, the paycheck, the status or the responsibility. But informal leaders can have a position of influence and that can make a huge difference as well. Can you imagine how much your team could accomplish if both the formal and informal leaders did their part for the betterment of the organization?

Everyone one is a leader, whether formally or informally and the difference lies in how we choose to incorporate four key steps to effectively LEAD for the sake of our teams.

 

L is for Loyalty

A leader must be loyal to the organization and leave no question that he or she is committed to its success. Loyalty is the distinguishing quality of winners. That goes for everyone on the team. A leader models loyalty so that it works top down, bottom up and side to side at all times.

In our organizations, it means we care about the success of the group more than we care about taking the “safe” path. When we take the responsibility of leadership in Toastmasters, for example, we take a membership oath where we commit to the club and they commit to the new member, this oath expresses our mutual loyalty.

We build loyalty by being part of the solution rather than the problem. In our social media world, it’s easy to become a troll and pile on the complaints, but loyalty means we look for better solutions. We build loyalty in leading by example, and building street cred. In my speaking profession, I continue to grow and work hard to achieve the highest Accreditation offered—the Accredited Speaker, which is awarded to less than 1% of all speakers, worldwide. This kind of hard work builds that credibility. You can’t encourage people to continue to work toward a goal if you’ve stopped.

We build loyalty by realizing our positions of leadership are a sacred trust – as an Accredited Speaker or a team lead, I have to really watch what I say and how I say it when I’m interacting with my team. I use praise freely and reproof sparingly.

What are ways YOU build loyalty?

E is for Enthusiasm

Leaders know that enthusiasm is contagious and they help spread it around. If you are excited about hitting the pavement every day it will show. And that generates enthusiasm among your team. There is only one thing more contagious than enthusiasm and that is the lack of enthusiasm.

We are passionate about who we lead and what we can accomplish and it’s hard to hide that enthusiasm. I remember when I was speaking at a dinner to honor all the students in the Antelope Valley who were graduating with a 4.0. There were about 1000 people there and I decided to tailor a speech toward financial literacy for young adults. I got so excited and passionate about ways they could graduate from college with minimal debt, get more bang for their buck and manage whatever budgets they had at their disposal.

The principal of one of the schools who had students there was so impacted by my passion, that he quit his job at the end of the year, and pursued his passion for a non-profit organization that would help troubled youth learn to live their dreams. He said that attending that banquet changed his life as he realized he didn’t want to live without passion in his work.

As a support system I think it’s important to retain our enthusiasm even when things get tough. I believe that 10% of life is our circumstances and 90% of life is our attitude toward our circumstances.

What are YOU Enthusiastic about?

Join us next week for the second part of this blog for the “A” and “D” of LEAD so that

You can become the leader your team needs you to be in order to change the world in a positive way.

Ellie Kay