How to Make a Good Impression in a Fellowship Interview

Feb 28, 2019

By Deborah Vieyra

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you have a fellowship interview to attend. Firstly, may I congratulate you! You are onto the next phase of the application process. Due to the competitive nature of most fellowship application processes, this is in and of itself an achievement, so be proud of yourself.

I know, I know. It’s hard to pat yourself on your back when you are drowning in a pool of your own nerves. I mean, if the winners get interviews, what do the losers get, right?!

The interview process is, for many, the most nerve-wrecking component of the entire application process. It’s hard to know how to prepare, what they’re looking for and how to conduct yourself to ensure that you make the best impression possible.

So if you’re not sure where to begin, start here:

Take three of the deepest breaths you’ve ever taken, and read on:

Top 3 tips for fellowship interviews

While you may have received pragmatic advice about what to prepare for your interview—such as  going over your statement of purpose, research proposal and the mandate of the fellowship you are up for—I want to cover some lesser discussed topics here.

At the heart of all of these are interpersonal relationships. By focussing on the genuine connections you can make at your fellowship interview, your authenticity will ooze through. Nothing is more appealing that this.

Let’s dive a little deeper.

1. Be nice to your peers

Yes, that little piece of life advice that you first heard from parents and kindergarten teachers still very much applies. Here’s the deal—often during fellowship interviews, you will meet the other semifinalists. Be friendly and open to them and try not to view them as “competitors.”

And I’m not only saying this because the fellowship committee could be watching how you interact with others. More importantly, the people who are in that waiting room with you, or whom you pass in the corridor, could be part of your future network. This fellowship interview could be a real turning point in your life, and not just for the obvious reasons reliant on your success inside the room. You can also make great contacts and friendships with an esteemed group of people that you definitely want to be a part of.

Remember that, like you, everyone is nervous. This is no reason to get prickly with others.

2. Be friendly to any staff assisting in the interview event.

I’m going to one-up the previous tip here. Rather than only be polite to the other competitors, be polite to everyone you meet. This may seem obvious, but the reality is we aren’t always our best selves when we think the “important” people aren’t watching. Add nerves to the mix, and we can find the best version of ourselves can get somewhat buried.

If the interviews are taking place at a hotel and you decide to get grouchy with the breakfast bar staff because the coffee is cold, you might be mortified to discover this same staff is assisting with the interview event and reception.

It’s a simple rule that goes a long way—treat everyone with respect.

3. Balance self-confidence with humility.

Now you’re in the room. It’s time to do that tightrope dance between revealing your best self and not coming across as arrogant in any way. Think of it this way—focus on your project and goals, rather than on yourself and how great you are. If you speak with ardour about what you want to achieve and how you will be able to do it, the focus is drawn away from your own ego and onto something outside of yourself.

In addition to this, while you should speak passionately about your project or career track, as well as why you think you will be a good fit for the award, never approach the interview as if the fellowship is in the bag.

But while arrogance can be a turn off, self-deprecation can be too. In fact, both instances reveal an excessive intervention of the ego, and this is unlikely to make you a compelling choice for the committee.

Lastly, as trite as it may sound, be yourself. Steer away from being too formal or overly rehearsed. You have got to this point because the selection committee is interested in you, so give them what they’ve asked for.  

Good luck!

Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.

© Victoria Johnson 2019, all rights reserved.