Most fellowships and scholarships require at least one interview. Additionally, Gustavus may necessitate an on-campus interview for students applying to scholarships requiring an institutional nomination.
Interviews are intended to ensure that candidates are not just “strong on paper,” and therefore provide an opportunity for you to demonstrate the essential social and interpersonal strengths that leaders must possess. Some interviews may focus on your ability to socialize and discuss world events, while others may be focused on your explanation of your extracurricular activities and interests. There is no telling what you may be asked, but you can be sure that qualities of engagement, confidence, manner, affability, and sincerity may all be assessed.
If the fellowship or scholarship you are applying for requires either an on and/or off-campus interview, the Gustavus Fellowships Office will work with you to schedule mock interviews to prepare.
Below are 14 strategies for a successful interview written by A. Scott Henderson of Furman University.
- Be yourself. Don't try to adopt a persona, or provide the kinds of answers, that you think the interviewers expect.
- Practice answering potential questions out loud. Typically, your responses should not take more than 30-45 seconds. At the end of that time, you can always ask, "Have I answered your question?" or "Would you like me to elaborate?" Even in the longest interviews (approximately one hour), you should try to limit your responses to about a minute and a half. Better interviews involve more, not fewer, questions from the interlocutors.
- Become conscious about whether you use a lot of "ums" or "ahs." If you do, work on eliminating them. These are usually an unconscious device to gather one's thoughts before continuing with a remark or comment. Thus, the better prepared you are to respond, the less likely you'll say "um" or "ah" (for example, when somebody asks what your street address is, you don't usually incorporate an "um" or "ah" in your answer).
- Don't speak too quickly. If you do, interviewers will stop listening and/or interrupt you to clarify something that they didn't have time to process. Speak at a normal pace, though you can vary your rate (and inflections) in order to emphasize various points. But don't inflect statements into questions. If, for instance, you are asked where you went to high school, there's no reason to respond, "I went to George Washington High School? In Dallas?"
- Use your posture/body language to your advantage. Sit up straight, but in a relaxed manner. Don't sit with your arms crossed, and don't slouch, fidget, or play with your hair, glasses, etc. Place your hands on the table, or in your lap if there isn't a table. It's acceptable (even preferable) for you to use hand gestures to punctuate your remarks; however, it shouldn't appear as if you are conducting an orchestra or directing traffic. Lean forward to indicate passion or emphasis.
- Make eye contact with as many of the interviewers as possible while answering a question. You want to foster the dynamics of a stimulating conversation, not the combative milieu of a press conference.
- If somebody asks a difficult question, take a few seconds to gather your thoughts. You can always do so inconspicuously by taking a brief sip of water (if available). If you don't know the answer to a question ("What is the exact width of our solar system?"), then don't guess or bluff or ask for a clue. Just say, "I don't know." You would be better off, however, if your response could include something that you do know. ("I'm not sure of the exact width of our solar system, but I've often marveled that even relatively short distances in space, such as the length of the Earth from the Sun, are so vast—for example, 93 million miles.")
- Don't automatically accept the premise of an interviewer's question. For instance, if you are asked, "Why do you think Clinton was such an ineffective president?," don't be afraid to respond, "I think that the evidence shows that Clinton was actually a very effective president" (if that's what you believe).
- Don't hesitate to smile or laugh! And don't be afraid to use a little judicious humor—but please note: All humor depends on context. Too many self-deprecating comments (albeit funny ones) might give the impression of low self-confidence, while even small amounts of sarcasm can be offensive. Whatever form it takes, humor during an interview should function as a way to show that you don't take yourself or life too seriously, and that you aren't terrified by the interview or the interviewers.
- Dress appropriately. If in doubt, ask a faculty member or adviser. Don't trust the advice of your friends—they might not be any better informed than you are. Err on the side of over-dressing, not under-dressing.
- The more you know beforehand, the more comfortable you'll be
during an interview. Read widely and deeply, including 2-3 daily
newspapers (good ones include the Wall Street Journal, New York Times,
Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times) and respected magazines (The
Economist, Harper's, Atlantic Monthly, New Republic, The New Yorker,
National Review, and the Weekly Standard). Read international news
sources if your interests/ambitions lie overseas. Be prepared to answer
questions that have nothing to do with your area of expertise:
- What is your favorite novel? Non-fiction book? Poem?
- Who is your favorite composer/piece of music?
- Who is your favorite artist/work of art?
- What is your favorite film/documentary?
- What leader (male and female, living and dead) do you admire most?
- Who do you think was/is a hero (male and female, living and dead)?
- If you could travel backward/forward in time, where would you go and why?
- What adjectives would friends/professors use to describe you? Which ones would you use?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Many interviews end with a question like, "Is there anything else you'd like to say?" It's OK not to say anything, but it's better to have something—a brief sentence or two—as a response. As noted above, be yourself when giving a response. If nothing else, a gracious thank-you is always appropriate ("I appreciate having had this opportunity to discuss my educational and career plans"); final pleading is not ("I'd like to reiterate that my experiences and ambitions make me an ideal candidate for the John Smith Scholarship").
- Be passionate about your interests and plans. This is a vitally important part of every interview.
- Don't worry if other candidates being interviewed seem to have more impressive credentials than you do. How you perform during the interview is almost always more important than what you've listed in your written material.