How to Prepare and Succeed At A Finalist Interview

Making it through the application process to the interview stage is already a major achievement. For most awards, this means you have been selected as a "finalist" which is a great feat.

At this stage, the interview is crucial to your success because it will measure your ability to engage with intellectuals, professionals and experts with respect to the field/interest pertaining to the national award. For these fellowship interviews, below are some tips on how to prepare, practice, and succeed in the actual interview.

How to Prepare:

  • Know your application (including all essays, proposals, and experience listed). Interviewers often refer to your application materials and issues brought up in the application itself.
  • Read several newspapers including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, blogs, scholarly journals, magazines, etc. Think about how current events and contemporary scholarship pertains to your fellowship application. How do broader social and political issues relate to your ideas and interests? Be prepared to talk about these issues in the interview.
  • Expect a real challenge. Interviews are often a test of your ability to control your emotions, frustration, and interviewers may put you into a defensive position. You will need to defend the relevance of your plan of study, research, why you chose a specific school or location and/or proposals. Be confident in yourself and your application. You've made it this far!
  • Know everything about the award. Many of these awards are named for former presidents, military leaders, philanthropists, industrial and corporate leaders, and others. At a Rhodes interview, for example, you may be asked, "What part of Cecil Rhodes' legacy do you aspire towards?" If they take place in a specific location, you may be asked a historical question pertaining to that country. Beware of listing names of people whose work you do not know well enough to speak about.
  • Think about who you represent. If you win one of these awards, you may be representing the United States or Occidental College in various capacities. You may be asked to discuss your views on this during the interview.
  • Have questions for the interviewers. At the end of the interview, the panel may ask if you have any questions. You may also be able to "add" anything that was not covered in the application. Be prepared to do that as well.


  • Participate in mock interviews. A mock interview is a practice interview that simulates as much as possible the conditions of an actual fellowship interview. You will be asked various questions similar to those asked in a real fellowship interview. Afterwards, you are given feedback. We also can digitally video record the interview so you can view yourself and see your mannerisms, how you responded to questions, and your speaking style. Take notes afterwards on the constructive comments given by mock interviewers. Download the taped mock interview to a flash drive so you can review it afterwards.
  • Engage with faculty members. If you can't schedule a mock interview, engage in conversation with faculty or other experienced professionals in conversations in which you are challenged to present and support your application, goals, and academic interests. Make critical observations about how you make those talking with you and yourself comfortable and engaged, even when the conversation is challenging.

Succeeding in the interview:

  • Make a good impression. Formal dress is appropriate. Suits and ties or equivalent will be sufficient. Maintain good eye contact. Engage with every member of the panel. Focus on being calm, and be sure to greet and thank everyone that interviewed you. Respond to and address the entire panel, not just the person asking the question. Handshakes are typically customary. Your posture should be upright, indicating that you are engaged and poised, confident and composed. Watch your nervous habits (fixing hair, fumbling, mumbling, repeating words to pause, etc).
  • Listen carefully to each question. Consider all parts of the question, and what it is inviting you to say, not what you want to say. Place your response at what seems like the most interesting or insightful level--rather than the mundane or glib response.
  • Think before speaking. Well thought out answers are key. It is better to take a moment to formulate an answer than to launch into an open ended response hoping to finally answer the question. Avoid saying "That's a good question" or praising the question as a way to get more time to think. Avoid rambling. Provide specific, relevant, and important connections to the actual question. Be insightful, and be clear about your goals and the goals of the fellowship in your answers.
Contact National & International Fellowships
Hameetman Career Center

AGC First Floor
1600 Campus Road M-12
Los Angeles, CA 90041