Characteristics of Successful Interviews

Candidates demonstrate comfort with the interview setting.
Although some nervousness is natural, successful candidates generally relax quickly, enjoying the give and take of the interview. They are not put off by challenging questions, nor by the lack for encouraging words or smiles from panelists. The best interviews happen when candidates turn them into a conversation with panelists by engaging with questions, rather than merely responding.

Candidates demonstrate a sophisticated grasp of the issues facing society, or in their chosen fields of study.
This means understanding that rarely are solutions clear-cut, that nothing happens overnight, that there may be opposing, but equally valid, points of view. Just saying that something should be this way or that way is rarely enough for an interview panel.

Successful candidates are rarely "single-issue" types.
They have a variety of interests, and a breadth of knowledge beyond their chosen career field. At the very least, they can discuss issues that relate to their studies, and make connections to other, tangential topics.

Candidates show some ability to analyze "on the fly."
Panelists like to see a candidate thinking out an ethical issue, or grappling with concepts they haven't previously considered. "What are the most critical issues facing American society?" is one example of a question that can throw a candidate who isn't prepared to think it through.

How does one deal with such questions? You can never anticipate every questions, but you can think of how you might answer variations of questions, such as: five books you would recommend to the President; three figures from history you'd invite to dinner at the White House; four most important people of the 20th century; three characters from Shakespeare; how you would divide the national budget; how you would spend the next 24 hours if you could do anything you wanted to. Make lists, brainstorm, go wild! (note: each of the previous questions was really posed to a scholarship finalist.)

What do you want the panel to see? That you have opinions, a sense of humor, an understanding of your priorities; that you care about people, the issues, the future. There is no one right answer. The only right answer is one that accurately reflects who you are. The only wrong answer is having nothing to say.

Candidates demonstrate commitment to their community, and show they lead an active life.
Panelists aren't looking for scholars only; being smart isn't enough.

When a candidate isn't handling a question well, he or she doesn't get bogged down.
Few candidates, even successful ones, answer all questions well. Far better to keep your answers short, admit you don't know instead of bluffing your way through, and cut your losses. Let the panelists pose lots of questions so you'll have more opportunity to shine.

Successful candidates, whether or not they are selected as Scholars, keep the interview-and the outcome-in perspective.
Feeling that you "have to win" virtually guarantees a poor performance. Don't think about what you think the committee wants to hear; think about how you can help them get to know the real you. Be yourself.

And above all, practice, practice, practice!

Adapted from "Characteristics of Successful Truman Scholarship Finalists" by Louis H. Blair, Executive Secretary, Truman Scholarship Foundation.

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Student Academic Grants and Awards

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