Congressional Nomination Interviews


10-Year Member
Jul 9, 2006
I guess it is getting to be that time. My daughter will have her interviews in November. All three MOC schedule them in the span of one week with her Congressperson's committee last.

Does anyone who has gone through this have any advise or input?
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JAM, I thought sure that there would be many responses to your question but alas, everyone seems to be hiding. :smile: I’m sure your dd will do well with her interviews & will be a pro by the time the third one rolls around. All in one week is probably going to be stressful though. Yikes! Anyhow, as I have never sat in on one of these things, I can’t offer much but will give you a tidbit of what shook my son’s tree during one of his interviews. Maybe you can pass this hint along to give your dd food for thought. You probably know the basics. Have her dress business like and be prepared, ect. But when it comes to the questions they might ask her, tell her to have in mind an answer for this one: “What has been your biggest failure & what did you learn from it?” My son came out of his interview saying that was a toughie & he had to sit & think about it in an uncomfortable silence for about 10 seconds. He said every eye on the panel looked up at him & he got a little rattled. I think they go in prepared to say why they want to go to an academy & what will make them a good leader but don’t consider the more humbling questions that might pop up. At 17, how much failure have they experienced in their young lives? Hope this will be of some help should she get this type of question thrown her way. Please tell her good luck & that there are complete total strangers out here rooting for her!
I did these a LONG time ago for our congressman. It is very hard to predict what they'll be like because: each MOC can run things however he/she wants; the composition of the citizen committees can vary greatly from year to year (or not vary for years on end); the people interviewing you may not have any connection to your academy; and there is no standard guide (as there is for BGOs) re what to talk about.

Thus, the topics covered can vary greatly. I would always be prepared to discuss one or two school or non-school activities that are most important to you. I'd also give thought to some "off-the-wall" questions such as books you've recently read, people who have greatly influenced you, favorite teacher (and why); someone who disappointed you and why, etc. It's not that you'll necessarily be able to guess the questions you'll get. Rather, you think about a lot of different people, issues, subjects, etc. and thus will be better able to answer an offbeat question you didn't expect.

BTW, the "failure" question is one I've used with my candidates as a BGO. I'm always a little scared of people who think they're good at everything. No one is. You'll find that out soon enough at USNA. And, also, do NOT try to turn this into a "strength" question -- "I'm not good at delegating." The question is designed to see whether you recognize that you aren't good at everything -- and thus, implicitly, that you'll need at times to rely on others, etc.

Finally, in that regard, just answer the questions. Don't look for the hidden meaning or subtext. Trying to "outsmart" an interviewer who is undoubtedly older and wiser than you -- and probably has interviewed a LOT of people in his/her life -- is doomed to failure. You think you look and sound really good, but you don't. Trust me.
Just a Mom,
Last fall my son got this question from the Congressman’s interview panel: What is the biggest challenge facing today’s military? This was easy for him to answer since he had just finished addressing a similar question while doing his senior project. The other questions he was asked were pretty typical, such as: Why do you want to go to a service academy, why do you think you are qualified, would you accept prep school if it were offered. When answering the questions he reminded himself to take a breath and think before opening his mouth instead of just blurting out the first thing that popped into his head. Tell your daughter it is okay to take a few seconds to think before answering.

One suggestion...keep up to date on what is going on in the world by reading the paper or watching news.

Good luck to her!
The "what's your favorite book and why" question threw me for a couple seconds. A suggestion on mistakes and failures questions, make sure you can cite how you learned and grew from your mistake/failure.

And of course, be able to articulate why you want to go to the Academy.
My daughter said the hardest questions were concerning Iran & Iraq & what her thoughts were as to how things should be handled and military involvement. (last year we had just started hearing more about Iran the week of her interview) Fortunately I am a "news junkie" and she had absorbed a lot by osmosis just riding in the car, sitting in the kitchen, listening to me chastise the "talking heads". She was able to pull some reasoned and logical answers from somewhere(?) She got the nomination so something must have sounded like she at least thought about it. She has never again complained about the news programs.

The most disturbing question had to do with her willingness to destroy things and kill people...something I'm not sure she had really thought through before that day.
Wahoo! There everyone is! Great stuff you guys. Various things to think about & prepare for. You can't cover all the bases but you can try some soul searching to make sure you're prepared. Know your world news topics & have opinions on them, know your favorite books & how the military can improve itself. Know some small thing that set you back in your footsteps & what what made you stronger for it. And know what you are willing to do for this country. I think the kids that get to the interview process are pretty well "there" & understand much about themselves. Just relax & try not to flip out & puke before going in. :D
jamzmom said:
Just relax & try not to flip out & puke before going in. :D
-Relaxing is very important. Not sure about puking.:shake:
-So is looking the Interviewer directly in the eyes and make him think his question is the most important thing you have ever heard. I'm amazed at how many candidates have wandering eyes when answering questions.
-Think before you talk. A pause at the beginning looks a lot better than a pause half way through. Understand the question. If you don't, ask to have it repeated or ask questions about what you don't understand. Know everything you are going to say BEFORE you start talking.
-Wear clothes that you are comfortable in. If you are going to wear a suit and don't normally wear one, wear it to church for the month prior to the interview. Nothing is more distracting than a male candidate who keeps tugging at his tie or his jacket cuff because it's not something he normally wears. Never noticed any particular discomfort from female candidates.
-The aforementioned greatest failure question is always interesting. A lot of kids have never had substantial failures. Losing one's car keys and being late for school hardly qualiifes, but, as a BGO, I have heard similiar ones to that. Don't try to manufacture a mountain out of a mole hill. Admit that you have never had any MAJOR failures but little things like losing one's car keys causes you to be better organized.
-The policy in Iraq question intrigues me. A potentially political question in a potentially political setting with potential disasterous consequences. The military implements policy, they don't make it. Maybe we could get some feedback going on this. I really don't care if a candidate is not well versed in current events. School and leadership-exhibiting extracurriculars are a lot more important, in my opinion.

Anyhow, good discussion. Let's keep it going.
The failure issue stood out in my mind because I thought the same things as USNA69 when my son told me about the question. I recall thinking, geez, what have you failed at besides locking yourself out of the house once & ya couldn’t get in. Or how ‘bout those burgers you burned on the grill that time. He surprised the heck out of me when he said, “Mom, it was my grades”. Early on in high school, his grades were bad indeed and he felt that he’d let himself down in trying to achieve his goal of becoming an officer. He’d told the panel that he’d failed in showing his full potential that he had what it took. I think it was more of a regret issue but its what he thought of as his biggest failure. I remember him saying that he’d told them that he had to learn to move on from his mistakes to overcome anything that would stop him from achieving his objectives.

The Iraq question came into play & son said something to the effect that it wouldn’t be his job as an officer to question policy but to follow his President’s orders. He‘d say the same exact thing today if asked. Just a one sentence answer. He came home from the interview smiling. This in part to him being the cockiest kid I know. He was never a puker. :biggrin: The panel he interviewed for consisted of academy grads from each of the academies. Not much you can do to calm nerves before going in but I got the impression that they’d settled him down & helped make him comfortable before they began. Well, that’s about all I can recall from that day. Hope it helps in some aspect.
Thanks everyone for your input and your many excellent suggestions
Next Question:
For those who are/were candidates at more than one SA - Did it come up during the interview? If so how? Did you see it as a benefit?
If you served on a CP's committee how did you look at a candidate who was applying to multiple SA's?

My daughter is a candidate at USNA, USMA and USCGA (which does not need a nomination). Her Congressperson asked her to rank he choice on the application. We know several kids who have received multiple nominations from him in previous years so she isn't looking at this as a challenge but an increased opportunity to receive an appointment. Her goal is to serve her country and attend an SA, however she can do it and she would be happy with an appointment to any of those.
Re the multiple SA question . . .

It's not uncommon for folks to apply to more than one SA. I don't think anyone sees it as a negative (I never have). Some people want to keep their options open and others have yet to decide which SA is best for them. As to how to handle it --

(1) Be truthful. If asked if applying to more than one SA and you are, acknowledge it. Whoever is asking may already know or be able to find out.

(2) Have an idea of what your first choice is. Some MOCs may require you to choose only one SA (often happens in competitive geographic areas).

(3) Stick with your decision. See point (1) above. Don't tell one person/entity your first choice is USNA and tell someone else your first choice is USMA. Don't even try that with your BGO/ALO. For me, it's okay if someone's first choice is USAFA but is also seriously considering USNA.

(4) Caveat to point (3) above -- it's okay to change what you say if your choice actually changes. This happened to me. I was all set to go to USCGA until I visited. It was too small for my taste and, coming from a very small high school, I realized I wanted a "college" where I didn't know everyone inside of a week. :) Thus, I originally told USCGA that, if accepted, I'd go there. But I changed my mind. Going forward, I explained my change of heart to those who asked and it was fine.

(5) If you're uncertain re your first choice, say so. Explain what you like about each SA and have a plan for making your decision.

(6) Do NOT denigrate another SA. First, you never know whether the person to whom you're speaking has ties to that SA or service. Second, it's really not impressive. There is a comaraderie among SAs and, while a bit of good-natured ribbing is fun, denigrating a fellow SA doesn't earn you bonus points.

(7) Bottom line: Explain why your first choice is your first choice and then explain why you also are very high on your second choice. You might also want to have an explanation as to why you didn't apply to one or more SAs (i.e., I'm not interested in USMA because my father was a career Army officer and I really want to do something different).

Hope this helps.
Thanks for all of your advice. No problem with #1.
#2-#4 first/second choice can seem to change daily. Her senators required her to pick only one - her CP has been known to give multiple nominations.
Honestly, she would be more than happy with an appointment to either USNA or USMA.
I definitely will suggest that she practice #5!
#6 seems obvious - but I can see where some youngsters may get carried away.
Thanks again for your timely advice.
I think usna1985 summed it up perfectly: Be honest; don't denigrate the other academies: and be able to explain thoroughly your choices. Anyone following those guidelines should have a very successful interview. Know your choices and what the career path of each entails.
Also, be ready the moment you walk into the building!

My son just completed a MOC interview that was held at a local college, vs the MOC office. As we walked in, there was a sign-in table with a couple of guys standing around it. We were 20 mins early for a 1 pm interview, so we expected to sit around awhile BUT even as he was signing-in a few of the guys started peppering him (and me!) with questions, right there in the hallway! Mike handled it well though and I think they started right in on him because he was in his Sea Cadet's uniform and looked sharp / ready.

After about 15 mins of chatting about "Why USNA, years w/Sea Cadets, were Mom and Dad OK with his decision to apply, etc." the guy doing the asking said, "Well, we're halfway done the interview, let's go down to a room and finish it off". YIKES!

Please note that Mike's expereince is probably very different than what the rest will be like. In the end he met with just a couple of ex Navy men (vs a whole boardroom like we expected) during the other 15 mins, and they mainly chatted about is extracru's. They even hit him with a "So what else do you want to ask us" question. Luckily for him he had just read an article about North Korea's situation so he asked the "board" what thier opinion was of the future there. I bet that caught them off guard, i.e. a tough question from a high school kid....

Afterwards Mike and the head rep (a current BGO and ex Navy Captain) came out and talked w/me for another few minutes, mainly about the fact that while Mike was considered to be in his "top 5%", that the DODMERB DQ on his record was going to be a problem, so here were some suggestions, etc. Nice!

Again, this expereince was probably VERY unique but keep it in the back of your mind nevertheless. Note too that I sat in the waiting area and saw a number of other kids sign-in and none of them got the attention my son (and his Sea Cadet uniform) got....the rest were just in suits/dresses, and were told to sit tight until thier interview time....

In closing, make sure your son/daughter not only looks sharp clothing / hair wise, don't be like the kid that showed up in brand new clothes BUT was also wearing an IPod set of headphones, reading an very old dogeared book, and carrying a LOOSE/FOLDED/BUNCHED UP copy of his interview letter/resume/transcript. Nothing worse than blowing your first impression with a bunch of loose paper, etc - get a nice binder to carry the paperwork, and leave the rest in the car!

IMHO - Dan
Dan -
Thanks for your input. Were parents invited or encouraged to accompany their son/daughter? Or were you just along for the ride?
Also, did they already know about his DoDMERB DQ? Or did your son bring that up in the interview?
I wouldn't accompany your child unless you're asked to. In fact, throughout the entire admissions/nomination process, I would provide moral support but otherwise stay out of the picture as, starting on I-Day, moral support is all you'll be able to provide (and maybe a few care packages).

One of the things that all interviewers look for is whether it is the kid's decision to apply to a SA or the parent's. Hovering parents suggest that they are running the show, even when that may not be the case. 80% of students who come to me for BGO interviews come alone. Those who come with parents leave their parent(s) in the car.

I don't think your child needs to mention the medical DQ unless asked. If asked, answer truthfully and make sure to point out (if accurate) that the decision is still under review and that you're aggressively pursuing a waiver. But no need to volunteer this information.

It's been said before on this board and others, ALWAYS, ALWAYS tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is not the time to "embellish" your resume, etc. A few years back, a candidate lied to me repeatedly in an interview and I made it my personal mission to ensure that person didn't get an appointment.
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Thanks again for your advice. I don't plan on going with her unless to drive her there since it is over an hour away. She won't want me going in so I was glad to her you say that we should not.
She went to her BGO interview alone and did fine. The only reason her Dad went to her ROTC interview with her is because it was in Philadelphia.

Medically she has some remedials and we are gathering records. I don't expect DoDMERB to have issued a ruling by the time of her interview- but you never know. Your advice is well noted.
MOC by video

My spouse is on active duty and we don't live in our home state. Our home state's Senator asked to have a video interview. The sent a package by email and we had to find a proctor to ask the questions. They mailed the questions to our proctor. It was very interesting and I have all the questions asked.

They ask the why do you want to go.....
A question in regard to ethics.
A question about prisioner abuse.
There were 12 or so.
I think there were no stump the dummy questions. So read the newspaper and know yourself.

And 20 years from I can dig out the tape, and so his kids what what he had to go through.

Just_A_Mom said:
Dan -
Thanks for your input. Were parents invited or encouraged to accompany their son/daughter? Or were you just along for the ride?
Also, did they already know about his DoDMERB DQ? Or did your son bring that up in the interview?

Son Mike is still pursuing his drivers license, so I took him the 1 hr drive to the MOC interview. I just walked into the bldg with him, and then tried to stay out of the way. But when they hit "us" with questions at the front door, it was tough. But Mike answered most everything himself, except for the "does mom and dad OK your decision to apply" - I took that one on.

regarding the question about prisoner abuse, how should i answer?
my interview is this weekend, and I want to prepare as much as i can. if i'm faced with a question, what would the best answer be? personally i think it is morally and ethically wrong, but i support whatever the President orders...