Build Relationships With People Who Can Help You Succeed

This must be my week for experiencing bizarre behavior.  Yesterday, I blogged about an individual who questioned a colleague’s ethics, when he was actually questioning some of the assumptions she made as she collected data on a project.  I used this example to reinforce the point that precision in language makes for effective communication.

Today I’d like to tell you another odd story.  If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I am an alumnus of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Harvard attempts to create a personal relationship with every one of its applicants.  They accomplish this by asking alumni to conduct personal interviews with applicants in their local area. 

I have been volunteering to do these interviews for almost 20 years.  I enjoy doing the interviews.  It is a way to be of some service to both the university and the young people who are applying for admission.  Also, I enjoy meeting these young people.  Most of them are truly exceptional.

I was assigned two students to interview this year.  My plan was to conduct these interviews next week.  I am meeting with a young woman on Monday, and had hopes of meeting with a young man on Tuesday or Wednesday. 

Every student I’ve ever interviewed has appreciated the fact that Harvard reaches out to them.  There are several reasons for these interviews.   One reason is to provide some feedback to the admissions office on candidates by someone who has met them face to face.  Another is to completely explain the admission process to the candidate.  A third reason is to answer questions the candidates may have about the university and student life. 

These interviews are a chance for the students to demonstrate their interpersonal competence.  Interpersonal competence is one of the keys to success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.

I sent an e mail to both the young man and young woman to whom I had been assigned.  The young woman responded quickly and cordially.  We scheduled an interview for next Monday.  I am looking forward to meeting her.

It was a different story with the young man.  In his initial response, he indicated that he was too busy to meet with me and asked to do the interview via phone.  When I told him that these are meant to be face to face interviews, he suggested that we meet Wednesday afternoon as his school will be closing for the Thanksgiving holiday at 12:15 that day.

I suggested that we meet at a local Starbucks at 2:00.  I have been meeting students there for several years.  It is centrally located and easy to get to.  The young man responded, “Since I will already be at my school at that time, I feel that it would be more accommodating to meet there.”

I explained to him that this was not a recruitment interview, rather it is a courtesy that Harvard extends to its applicants.  I also explained that I am volunteering my time to conduct the interview and write the report in the spirit of service to both him and the university.  Because of this, I get to choose the venue.  I also explained that the interview is not a required part of the application process. 

The next day, I received an e mail from him that said, “Mr. Bilanich: I have thought about the scheduled meeting next Wednesday and have decided not to follow through with this interview.”

Having said all this, I need to say that this is a young man, probably 17 years old and a bit naive.  His social skills are probably not well developed.  However, his handling of this situation demonstrates a lack of interpersonal competence.

Let’s look at the facts here.  This young man is applying to Harvard – a university that accepts a very low percentage of applicants; one that has more high school class valedictorians applying than there are spaces in the entering class.  Most students jump at the chance to meet face to face with someone who can enhance their odds of being accepted. 

These interviews can help greatly.  In an interviewer meeting conducted at the end of the interview process a few years ago, I successfully argued for the admission of a student who would have been passed over for admission had I not been there to advocate for her.  I could have done the same for this young man had his credentials and interpersonal skills impressed me.

This young man missed that opportunity.  He was extremely blasé about the whole process.  First he suggested a telephone interview.  Then he almost demanded that I meet with him at the time and place of his choosing.  Finally, he canceled because I insisted on a venue away from his school.

Because he was assigned to me, I will have to complete an interview report.  Unfortunately for this young man, the only thing I have to report is that he chose to decline the interview.  The admissions office will most likely see this behavior as a lack of interest in the university.  In other words, this young man has turned a potential positive into a negative.  I am sorry that he chose to do so.

I can only speculate on why he chose to not avail himself of this opportunity.  Maybe he applied to Harvard on a lark and does not expect to be accepted.  Maybe he is strong academically and thinks that his grades and board scores will guarantee his acceptance.  Maybe he is a legacy and is counting on that to get him accepted. 

His reason for turning down the interview is not the important point here.  What is important is the fact that he had an opportunity to enlist an ally to his cause and chose to not do so.

There are several common sense points here.  Successful people are interpersonally competent.  Interpersonally competent people go out of their way to build relationships – especially with people who can help them achieve their goals.  When you are faced with a situation where someone is willing to help you, go out of your way to meet that person at least half way.  Don’t feel that your performance or reputation is enough to guarantee your success.  Take every opportunity you have to build relationships and demonstrate your interpersonal competence.

That’s my take on the strange case of the Harvard admissions interview that never was.  What’s yours?  I’m really interested in hearing comments on this one.  Please take a few minutes and tell us what you think.  As always, thanks for reading.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Dear Bud,
    I think this is an excellent story. I also think it’s wonderful that Harvard does this. I had no idea, never having heard of this program.
    When I was in the business world, the company I worked for was very big on communicating to us what the psychological studies indicate about who we choose to do business with:
    People do business with you for these three reasons, and in this order:
    1) First, because they LIKE you;
    2) Second, because they TRUST you;
    3) And only THIRD, because you make money for them.
    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas
    (in the Middle East)

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.