Interview Preparation

If you apply for a nationally competitive scholarship, fellowship, or experiential learning opportunity, it is likely that you will be expected to interview with one of our UT faculty committees. And, for certain opportunities like the British Marshall, Rhodes, Mitchell, Gates-Cambridge, and Truman, you may be invited to interview at the national level. If so, well done in being selected; it is honor to be invited to interview with the national review committees.

It is important that you treat any scholarship interview – be it campus, regional, or national – with the same seriousness and adequate preparation you would a job interview. Interviews are an opportunity to put your best self forward and, with planning and preparation, will also give you the chance to have a meaningful dialogue about the things you care most about. There are a variety of resources available to you to help prepare which will also help minimize the nerves, affording you a certain level of confidence and courage.

If invited to interview for a nationally competitive opportunity, the ONSF will coordinate individual practice interviews as well as a series of mock-interview with a faculty committee. These are meant to re-create, as best able, the experience of an actual interview, which can be very challenging and certainly requires a good deal of forethought and advance preparation. Your campus mock-interviews will likely be with a highly-educated, non-expert audience though in some cases, you may have faculty from your own discipline represented. You can expect to be pushed and pressed about anything and everything in your application (hence the necessity of carefully considering what you include in your personal statement. Everything is fair game if written down). ONSF staff and your faculty interview panel will provide follow-up guidance and feedback, all in effort to make sure you feel as best prepared as possible for your national interviews. All UT students invited to interview with a national committee will be expected to participate in mock-interviews. But, if you would like guidance from the ONSF in advance of your campus interviews, or any others where you may feel a bit of extra help is beneficial, contact us to set up an appointment.

Make the Most of Your Interview Preparation

  1. First, and foremost, remember that in the case of national scholarship interviews, this is your chance to ‘be at the table’ with a panel of experts genuinely interested in your work and your future. Make the most of it and, remember too, that you are the expert in the room on the subject at hand – you! So, be confident, agile, and well prepared to have a challenging and potentially rewarding experience.
  2. The interview will be largely guided by all of the materials in your application. So, review it carefully and anticipate questions focused on your proposal and personal statement, as well as your CV and transcripts.
  3. Be as well-educated about the specific scholarship opportunity as possible and especially informed about the purpose and people behind the opportunity.  For example, know something about Truman when preparing for a Truman interview; have an opinion about the Marshall plan if pursuing a Marshall Scholarship; find out about Cecil Rhodes; read up on Senator Mitchell’s current views on US-Irish relations; and so on.
  4. Anticipate difficult, challenging questions that may feel confrontational or intended to ‘trip you up.’  That’s not the purpose, but difficult discourse is meant to give the committee a sense of your intellectual agility and ability to cope with differing points of view.  If you don’t know the answer to a question, acknowledge that fact and try to redirect it toward something you are comfortable speaking about.  There is nothing worse than getting backed into a corner because you’ve made false claims about what you actually know.
  5. Practicing with friends, colleagues and even your faculty advisors will only help you to develop the skills and confidence requisite in these particular types of interviews.  Find ways of improving your communication skills, increase your vocabulary, and breadth of knowledge. Read, read, read. The more you expose yourself to by way of current events and other kinds of literature, the more you will have to draw upon in an interview.
  6. Take control of the interview by taking time to pause, think, and even re-state the question. This allows you a moment to collect your thoughts and helps you to avoid rushing through answers and, by default, going down an unintended path of discourse.
  7. Time your answers (in mock-interviews, ONSF will make a point of timing you). You want to err on the side of brevity. Often, when we get nervous, we tend to ramble and speak too quickly. Make a point of practicing directness and stop talking when you’ve answered the question. There may be as many as six members of your interview committee; keeping your answers short and to the point makes it easier for everyone to engage in dialogue.
  8. Practice makes perfect. It is tricky business to adequately give voice to your accomplishments, experience, and preparedness whilst not sounding overly self-absorbed. Much as you did in your personal statement and even project proposals, find a way to always come back to specific examples. This keeps the conversation from being lost in the abstract and grounds the conversation in actual experience.
  9. Finally, be excited! You are passionate enough to have come all the way through the process; now is your chance to really give voice to the dreams, ambitions and cares you have. By being well prepared you can transfer that nervous energy into a kind of engaging, energizing conversational style. Don’t be deferential or apologetic but rather excited and evidently committed to the work you are proposing to undertake.

Focus of Interview Questions

Use questions related to your ‘weaknesses’ or challenges to you advantage by shifting the conversation toward ways in which you overcame those and, in fact, turned them into opportunity. And, remember; never apologize for who you are, your experiences, what institution you are from, etc.

In your campus interviews and in national interviews, questions will largely be focused on your application materials. As a part of your mock-interviews, you will be pressed on those questions and compelled to entertain seemingly unrelated questions as well. Here are a few ideas to help you think about what you might expect:

  1. Be able to articulate, briefly your story. In other words, to be able to answer the who (are you), what, where and why type questions;
  2. What are your greatest strengths? Weakness? Challenge you’ve had to overcome?
  3. What do you do for fun?
  4. What books are currently on your bedside table?
  5. If you were currently the president of the US, what would you change first?
  6. How have you adapted to a challenging situation? Give examples;
  7. How will this experience get you closer to what you hope to do five or ten years from now?
  8. Why said host-country? What do you hope to gain from being in a foreign country?
  9. Can’t you do the very same work at ‘X’ institution in the US? Why should you receive support to pursue advanced studies abroad?
  10. What is the great problem currently facing the US?
  11. How do you feel about current policies on gun control in the US? On immigration policy?
  12. What are your prejudices?

Additional Resources

We are fortunate to have current UT students and alumni who have gone through both campus and national scholarship interview processes. If you would like to connect with one of them, send us an e-mail at onsf@utk.edu.