Sunday, May 1, 2016

Do's and Don'ts of Fulbright Interviews

I decided to write this post after attending a webinar on effective interviewing techniques and tips by the Turkish Fulbright Commission. They answered most of my questions, so I wanted to share this with you and keep it for myself for future reference. :)

What do the committee members generally look at?

Most committee members look at your: 

Oral communication skills
Knowledge in your area of expertise
Extracurricular activities
Willingness to be accepted to the program

Before the interview
  • Research the institution (The Fulbright Program in this case) you're applying to. Try to get helpful tidbits of information you can tactfully include in your questions during the interview.
  • Review your application form and resume. Take a copy of them with you on the interview day to have another look at them before the interview.
  • Take notes of your weaknesses and strengths so you don't waste time during the interview.
  • If your field requires you to show the committee recordings of your music, video or portfolio, make sure you have copies of them with you.
  • Try to arrive 10-15 minutes early.
  • Turn off your cell phone. 

What to do during the interview
  • Sit up straight and speak with confidence and a warm smile (though overdoing it might make you look pretentious).
  • Try to maintain eye contact not only with the person asking the question(s), but also with the other members of the committee.
  • Try to speak fluently. The committee members know that English is not your native language and it is alright to make a few mistakes. The important thing is to keep the conversation going without letting the mistakes affect your self-confidence.

And of course, what NOT to do!
  • Try to avoid overusing gestures and body movements. It might give the impression that you are too nervous. Try to stay calm and speak naturally, not too fast or too slow.
  • People may not realize that they are speaking at a higher volume when they are speaking a foreign language. You might do some practice on that if you think that might be the case for you, too!
  • Avoid trying to impress the committee by giving exaggerated answers to their questions.
  • Do not criticize your own country because you want to go to the US. You might express your opinions where and when they are relevant, but keep it professional.
  • The same thing goes for your former schools and professors. Do not try to blame them for bad grades or any past failures. It would not be professional. And remember they might be friends of the committee members! :)
  • Do not talk about your family or economic problems unless you are specifically asked to. 

Now, let's see some common questions and talk about how you can best answer them.

Personal Questions

Tell us about yourself.

Prepare five statements that would describe you in a quick yet effective way. These are known as the "Fast Five". They can be about your:
            - academic background,
            - extracurricular activities (note that it is essential you mention how these activities/experiences have helped you develop personally or academically).
            - work/internship experiences
            - personality (try to support it with concrete examples)

Try to keep your answer to this question short - three minutes at most.

What are your strengths?
  • Think about your knowledge in your field of expertise
  • Try to demonstrate that you are versatile by talking about things you are good at other than your job / major.
  • Work / internship experiences
  • Scholarships / awards
  • Projects that you participated in that might help you emphasize your leadership skills
  • Your problem solving skills

What are your weaknesses?

As you probably know, this question is a tricky one. You might want to get little political here. Try to talk about a weakness that might also be a strength. For example, something like "I am a perfectionist / I care too much about details" can go both ways. You also need to mention how you can use this so-called weakness as a strength. For the example I just mentioned, you can say: "This much attention to detail helps me do a lot of preparation when I am working on a project/assignment." This example might be a cliche, but you can come up with a similar, maybe more personal one yourself.

What would one your teachers/friends/supervisors say about you?

The answer to this question will vary for everyone.

Questions about your academic background
  • Why did you major in ....?
  • What do you think are the major trends in your intended career field currently?
  • What has been the most important development in this field over the past 10-20 years? Why?
  • How has your academic background prepared you for graduate-level study?
  • What courses have you enjoyed the most? Why?
  • What courses have been/were the most difficult for you? Why?
  • Tell us about the project you did with Prof. ....?

Questions about the Fulbright Program and your academic background?
  • What is the Fulbright program? How did you make the decision to apply to this program?
  • What skills and experiences do you feel have prepared you for admission to the Fulbright program?
  • What will you do if you are not granted the Fulbright scholarship?
  • Do you feel your academic record accurately reflects your abilities and potential?
  • Why do you want to pursue a Master's/Doctoral degree in ... in the USA?

Questions about your extracurricular activities
  • What extracurricular activity has been/was the most satisfying to you?
  • What extracurricular activities do/did you enjoy the most?
  • Do you have any hobbies or (non-academic) interests? (You should say 'yes' to this question)
  • Tell us about any volunteer experiences you have participated in?
  • What was the last book you read or the last movie you saw? (You definitely do not need to mention anything related to your major here. They want to see that you're interested in other things.

Questions about your future goals
  • What has motivated you to pursue a degree in ...?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • How do you see a graduate degree in the USA will fit into you career goals?
  • Tell us about a goal you have set for yourself and how you achieved it or intend to achieve it?

Questions about your leadership/teamwork and problem solving skills
  • Tell us about a major accomplishment and how you achieved it.
  • Tell us about a situation in which you showed initiative.
  • Tell us about a group/team that you worked with. How did you contribute to make this group/team achieve its goals?
  • Tell us about a time you assumed a leadership role.
  • Tell us about a significant problem you faced and how you handled it.
  • Tell us about how you handle stress.
  • Tell us about a mistake you made and how you handled it.

All in all,
  • Be honest,
  • Remember that the committee is trying to get to know you as a person, too
  • Do not let mistakes affect the flow of the conversation,
  • Try to use you body language and tone of voice as effectively as you can.