A crucial aspect of any scholarship or grant application is the interview component – this is where the what and the why of your application come together and intertwine with the most important of the W’s – the Who. Too often we’ve seen exceptionally high-quality applications spoiled when the candidate is unable to suitably represent themselves, showcase their personality and/or clearly articulate or justify their reasons for appealing for a Fulbright Scholarship.
Here are three tips that you can apply to any interview situation if you’re looking to get ahead:
Whether you know it or not, you’re an ambassador. Be an ambassador, already.
When we say we’re looking for ‘ambassadorial skills’, we don’t just mean ‘wear your Sunday best and smile a lot’. Our Selection Committees actually have this as a literal scoring criteria, and they’re not looking to rate you on how white your teeth are.
‘Ambassadorial skills’ of course relate to your diplomatic affinity, but we’re also looking for indications as to how you would represent the Fulbright Program, and Australia, should you be given the opportunity. How better to assess this than by looking at how you represent yourself?
You are currently the foremost official representative for the Democratic People’s Republic of You, so we will be paying close attention to how well you can handle your own PR duties. Are you confident in your ability to accomplish what you’ve stipulated in your application? Are you comfortable with expressing your own opinion? Are you adaptable to change? How do you react when your opinions are challenged?
It may seem obvious, but the best way to address all of the above is to be yourself, and be comfortable with being yourself. There are no right answers – there certainly isn’t a magic bullet that will work for everyone – but interviewers will always be paying just as much attention to how you respond as they will the actual content of your responses. If your responses are genuine, unrehearsed, and ring true with your written application, you’ll have a much easier task than if you’ve been trying to ‘game the system’ by providing whatever answers you think the interviewer wants to hear. This means that it’s time to step up and actually be the ambassador you’ve always purported to be on your CV.
Know what to say, but more importantly, when to say it.
Speaking of PR – if there is anything that the public relations industry has taught us, it’s the importance of having some concrete talking points, and knowing the best opportunity to drop them into conversation.
In practice this is a bit of a balancing act – you want to make sure you know what ground needs to be covered and have some idea of how and where you can cover it, but at the same time you want to make sure that it comes out organically and (again) doesn’t sound rehearsed or insincere. It’s all well and good to have memorised your sales pitch, but if you respond to a question about cultural sensitivity with a spiel about how self-motivated and resourceful you can be, it’s probably not going to have the interviewer reaching for their green stamp of success.
Instead you need to be conscientious and reactive, inserting your talking points at relevant junctures, or strategically steering the conversation in a direction where you can do so organically. Be an attentive listener by asking the interviewer to further unpack a question if necessary, and use this as an opportunity to collect your thoughts before responding.
Preparation is of course key here. We are often asked about the interview questions, but if a candidate is adequately prepared, then the specific questions shouldn’t matter. If you know your application, and yourself, back-to-front then each question is simply another opportunity for you to paint a more detailed picture of what you’d like to achieve.
Don’t forget: the audience actually wants you to succeed.
Are you nervous for the interview? Good. That means you’re taking it seriously. However, nerves should never become a barrier to success.
We’ve all heard the ‘picture the audience in their underwear’ trope, but we’ve never heard of a non-fictionalised account where this has actually helped someone with public speaking. The whole idea behind this is a flawed perception that the speaker is subject to an antagonistic audience who are actively hoping for failure, and the best way to deal with this is to even the playing field by contriving some form of imaginary counter-embarrassment.
The truth is that there are very few audiences (off the karaoke TV circuit) who actually want to see failure. Most normal people are cheering for success, and the moment you acknowledge and understand that, the easier it is to clear the anxiety hurdle and focus on getting your talking points across.
Anxiety can instead be a force for good, as it indicates to the interviewer that you’re invested in the process and have a bit of humility. If you’re anxious to the point where you can’t get a word out, don’t be afraid to acknowledge it openly – most interviewers are fairly accustomed to a jittery applicant, and will help you calm your nerves if you’re open about it.
Advance your career with binational exchange of ideas, research and culture. The Australian-American Fulbright Commission is pleased to offer Fulbright Future Scholarships – their most generous scholarship program ever. This unique opportunity provides 100% funded opportunities for study and research program in the U.S., for projects that seeks to have a positive impact on the health, livelihoods and prosperity of Australians. Fulbright Scholarship applications will close on 15 July. Click here for more information.
Alex Maclaurin is the Communications Manager of the Fulbright Commission, the largest and most prestigious bilateral exchange program in Australia. Fulbright Scholarships enable Australians to study and/or conduct research in the U.S. in any discipline, and at any postgraduate career level.