This is about the time of year when many of you are waiting anxiously for a response to your recent fellowship application, or have already received notice of an upcoming interview. The pressure of these events can be a little overwhelming. The interview is your one and only chance to make a great impression and cinch the opportunity that you’ve prepared diligently for over the last few months. But not everyone is cool, calm and collected when put on the spot. Some people have stage fright, others face imposter syndrome, and still others simply have a hard time expressing what it is they want to do and why. Here’s a few ways you can prepare for your upcoming interviews (and reduce your anxiousness in the meantime).
1. Talk to former fellows who have been there
It’s extremely helpful to speak with current or recent fellows about the interview process. They can provide details that the fellowship organization may not provide, such as what types of questions you’ll be ask, the number and types of people involved in the interview, and what topics you should be well-versed on. These insider tips can help you feel more in control of the big interview event.
2. Practice your pitch
Many fellowship interviews involve not just an individual interview, but also group interviews with the other candidates and social receptions. Typically, you’ll be asked by a wide variety people about the project you’re proposing or why you are interested in the fellowship. It’s helpful to practice your response, particularly if your project is difficult to describe in a just a few words. Work with a friend or colleague and have them give you a mock interview using some predictable questions about you, your project and your goals. This practice will help tighten up your responses and help you stay on point.
3. Do your background research
It is very useful to know basic facts about the fellowship organization’s history and its staff before going into an interview. It’s also helpful to know as much as possible about current events in the city or country where the fellowship will take place. Interviewers may test you on this knowledge to see how serious you are about the opportunity. Even if they don’t test you, you can impress the interviewers if you have an opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve done your research. For example, before my interview for the New York City Urban Fellows Program, I read the New York Times Local section daily. In a group interview, I was able to mention a recent city council policy in my response, illustrating the reading I had done. I believe this is what gave me a slight edge in those interviews.
4. Remember interviewers were once in your shoes
Most people on fellowship interview panels were once applicants to competitive fellowships and programs. They know what this feels like, and they are typically empathetic to flubs like rambling, stammering and brain freeze. Don’t be afraid to be authentic. If it makes you feel better to mention to your interviewers how nervous you are, do it! Your honesty will be met with a smile. Just take a deep breath, you’ve got this.
© Victoria Johnson 2017, all rights reserved