Education Quandary

'Our son has a university interview coming up - but the personal skills of a warthog. His school doesn't offer any interview training. Help!'
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Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

University interviewers are well used to warthogs, so you could just leave him be. On the other hand, interviewers are also well used to groomed gazelles and prowling pumas, so it is probably your parental duty to at least point out to him that it's a jungle out there, and he will need to fight his corner.

You could talk about such things as the importance of first impressions, and the need to seem enthused about his subject, but it might be more productive to suggest that he look up interview tips on the internet.

What you certainly can do is ensure that he plans his journey to arrive in plenty of time, and try to make him leave the house with clean hair, a clean T-shirt, and no facial jewellery. You could also type out a list of key points and thrust it into his hand as he sets off. Alone on a coach or train, he might well pore over what he would not be seen dead reading at home.

On the list include basic politeness - a smile, a firm handshake, looking people in the eyes - plus some key interview skills. These might include being prepared for obvious questions (Why do you want to come to this particular university? What do you get out of your hobby of kiteboarding/bellringing/playing in a band?); being an attentive listener who responds thoughtfully to questions; and being able to proffer something (a book read, an exhibition visited) that shows that he is really keen on his chosen subject. It is also a good idea to have a couple of questions ready to ask about the course (How often will I see my tutor? What does this module cover?).

No one will mind nervousness or hesitancy, but they will strongly object to waffle or attempts to pull the wool over their eyes. And mobile phones going off in the middle of interviews are a very big no-no.

And why not suggest to his school that they introduce interview training? If they can't do it themselves, parent volunteers might help. So many schools do it now that the ones that don't are definitely putting their candidates at a disadvantage.

Readers' advice

After whom does this poor boy take, mum or dad? Who taught him "the personal skills of a warthog"? With parents prepared to describe him in such a way, he has my sympathy. Does he really want to go to university or is this their ambition? If their present attitude is any indication, one has to wonder whether they have even asked him. They are the ones who need a change of behaviour.
Sheila Smith, Lincoln

I have interviewed candidates for university, and it can be boring, so we welcome anyone who gives us an interesting 10 minutes. You and he could share some ideas by watching TV interviews and analysing how each person interviewed comes across. University interviewers want a rounded picture of the young person in front of them, so he mustn't be shy. Even warthogs have good points.
Robin Minney, Durham

Ask a friend to conduct a mock interview with your son. Ensure that he can answer questions on what he has put in his personal statement (it is astonishing how many applicants claim interest in things they know nothing about), and that he has a good wash and clean clothes for the interview.
Elaine Wintle, Cambridge

Next week's quandary

Our daughter is coming up to school age, and we would love to send her to private school but we can't afford it. Why can't the Government give parents like us the money that it would save by our not taking up state-school places, to put towards the fees? It seems unfair that private-school parents pay twice over.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 17 January, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser