Using examples to support any claim or statement you make is essential – it’s what builds your case, makes you memorable, it adds substance. As we craft personal statements and practice talking with others about our goals, interests and work, developing examples for what you want to say (i.e. I am hard working) will bring you and your story to life. It’s really about telling a story, isn’t it? Rich with details – whether those details be about instances in your background that currently inform your work, or for our more science-oriented scholars, details about the work you’ve completed in lab and ideas you have for future research questions.
This past week we had the expertise of both Shelly and Ed Hinck at hand – communication faculty – during our mock interviewing exercise. Their main message: build in examples to support your claims. Shelly likens answering every question to a “mini speech” – open with a claim, provide several examples to support that claim and then bring it back around and make that claim once again.
The other important factor to consider is how you “set the stage” whether it be during an interview, more informal-type conversations or in your writing. It’s that “tell me about your self” question that folks usually start with. Be purposeful – think about what’s most critical to highlight within the context of the exchange. It’s your chance to “draw the big picture” of who you are and where you are going. Think about three main points to make in this kind of opening:
- I’m a McNair scholar at Central Michigan University studying xx; my goal is to xx.
- I’m currently working on xx and I’m interested in looking at xx.
- I’m a first generation college student from xx and I really enjoy <insert something unique about you OR something unique about your background>.
You want to be strong, energetic and focused in your answer. It sets the tone or “feel” for the rest of the conversation. It also sets up opportunities for interviewers to probe more deeply into something that you initially offer about yourself. Be sure that you are NOT simply offering a list of things, perhaps chronologically based, that will come across as random and/or scattered. Be deliberate and really think about how you wish to project yourself.
Perhaps the most important thing that you should do during any conversation or exchange is make sure that you are “connecting the dots” for people. This relates to the “big picture of you” – you want to talk about your background, your experiences, your research, your interests, your ideas and show how they connect, lead from one to another, how they all lead you to this next step of beginning your graduate work. You want “your story” to make sense. When your story is clear and rich with detail, it becomes compelling.
Create opportunities to talk with others in this way and take advantage of any practice exercises offered. Like with anything, the more you practice, the more “second nature” it becomes.