Preparing for a Fellowship Interview

If you're new to Fellowships interviews, or to interviews in general, predicting what to expect and preparing for it can be difficult. Here are some tips to help ease the stress!

Preparing for Online Interviews

Many interviews now take place virtually. You'll find valuable guidance for successful online interviews on the web pages below. 

Several key points: 

  • Rehearse!
  • Be aware of how your head and shoulders are positioned in the frame of your computer's camera.
  • Be aware of background, which should be neat, uncluttered, not distracting to interviewers.
  • Be careful in the interview with hand gestures, particularly because your connection may freeze and thus hold your image in an awkward position.
  • Be patient with yourself and with your interviewers.

Websites with tips for online interviews

Interview Tips

1. Expect more than 1 interviewer.  Being prepared to talk to a group rather than one individual is useful so that you aren't shocked when you walk in. Be ready to address multiple people and make eye contact with each of them as you speak.

2. Dress Accordingly. Interviews are formal, so you should be too. For men, it is standard to wear a jacket or suit and a tie. For women, a dress, suit, or nice skirt and blouse is best. This convention is changing slightly in the aftermath of the pandemic, but it's still best to be more formal rather than less in your clothing choices.

3. Preparation is essential. Think about what you will say in advance to standard, open-ended questions interviewers typically ask. These may include: What is your most significant achievement? What has shaped you? What is the most controversial thing that you have ever done? What was your worst failure and what did you learn from it? What will you do next year if you don't get the fellowship? What do you like about your area of study?

4. Mock Interview. Ask a professional whom you trust to give you a mock interview to practice. Practicing your responses can help you to feel more comfortable answering interview questions.

5. Re-read Your Application (repeatedly). Be prepared to talk about anything you say in the application, because all of it, especially the personal statement, is fair game. You may be questioned about your proposed course of study, graduate school choices, and research plans, so make sure you know what you want to do and where you want to do it.

6. Keep Up on Current Events. Know something about what is going on in the U.S. or the rest of the world as part of the interview will deal with current events. Read newspapers that report on international and national news. This is especially important for those people seeking fellowships in a foreign country - know the current events of your desired destination. The New York Times and The Economist are good sources - and there are many others. Find out what is going on in your home state through local newspapers. Have an opinion. You should be prepared to answer questions dealing with what you feel are the most pressing issues in the U.S. (or world) today and how you would overcome the problems they pose.

7. Give Short Answers. Individual interviews usually last approximately 30 minutes, so time your responses accordingly. (Some awards also conduct group or panel interviews which may vary in length). You don't want to spend too much time on any one question. If they want to hear more, the committee will ask for more.

8. Body Language and Speech are Key. Try to be (and appear) relaxed. Sit up straight. If you want something to do with your hands, put them together. It's best not to fidget with your hands and to keep them low (avoid smoothing your hair, touching your face, using wide, distracting gestures). Smile (or at least avoid frowning): this makes you look more relaxed even if you aren’t. Make sure you make eye contact. Speak clearly and loudly enough that you will be heard. Use short sentences, as these leave little room for confusion; they enable you to make crisp, clear points. They also give the impression that you have a concise, logical mind. Speak slowly enough that you can be clearly understood. This will have the added bonus of allowing your brain to work out what you are going to say next. Avoid filler words "ah," "umm," "like."  You'll be better served by pausing, taking a deep breath and then confidently continuing with a fully formulated thought. 

9. Be Yourself. This advice seems like a cliché, but it is true. The interview is formal but remember to smile. Channel your nervous energy into enthusiasm for the Fellowship!

10. Don't Be Afraid to Say, "I don't know."  Some interviewers may push a particular line of questioning intending to find the point at which you have to say, "I don't know." Don't become defensive. A lively, pointed, probing set of questions from your interviewers can be a sign that they are taking you seriously as a candidate. Stay calm. Answer clearly. Be okay with saying "I don't know," or "you've helped me see this issue in a new light."

11. Come Prepared with Questions. Interviewers want to know that you took the time to understand their program and have an informed interest in it. You'll want to be ready to ask them some questions, but only if you have genuine questions about program details or next steps. Do not feel that you need to ask questions just for the sake of performance. Some fellowship interviews do not include much time for the interviewee's questions in the first round. That's okay. You may simply want to say "I don't have any questions right now. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for this opportunity."

Page last modified January 17, 2023