Science policy fellowships: executing a successful interview

This is the third article in a three-part series exploring how to successfully apply for science policy fellowships. Part one described the different types of fellowship programs, and part two covered how to create your application packet. The series focuses on fellowships for recent biological Ph.D. graduates, although the recommendations are likely relevant for others.

There are two basic types of interviews—the phone interview and the in-person interview. Regardless of the type you receive, your goal should be to demonstrate how your unique qualifications will enable you to be a successful fellow. To accomplish this goal, ample preparation several days before is critical.

  • Research the organization sponsoring the fellowship. What are its current projects? What is its organizational structure? Identify how you can use your skills to contribute to ongoing projects and develop new ones.
  • Research your interviewers. Do they have science backgrounds? How long have they been with the organization? This information will help you to anticipate questions they might ask.
  • Review the fellowship details. Do you remember what candidate attributes they are looking for? If you have questions, make sure they are not already answered on the website.
  • Review your application materials. What did you say in your statement? On your resume? You should know these materials intimately.
  • Anticipate questions and prepare answers. I highly recommend writing down your well-reasoned responses.
  • Develop two or three questions of your own to ask the interviewers. These should reflect your knowledge of the organization and the fellowship and demonstrate your interest in science policy. For example, you might ask what positions past fellows currently hold.

Prepare for standard interview and specific policy questions. Do not discount the standard questions, and make sure you give complete answers supported with examples. Anticipate questions based upon your answers. For example, if you plan to talk about your strong interest in politics, you should know who your elected representatives are. Here are questions I was asked in multiple interviews:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why are you pursuing a career in science policy?
  • Why did you apply to this specific fellowship?
  • What can you bring to the fellowship?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What policy topics most interest you and why?
  • What are your career goals, and how will this fellowship contribute to these?

Here are some general guidelines for interviews:

  • Phone interviews
    • Ensure you are in a quiet, private environment.
    • Enunciate your words, and do not speak too quickly.
    • Ask your interviewers to identify themselves when they ask questions, and address them by name. Unless they tell you otherwise, address them as “mister,” “Ms” or “doctor.” Your research will tell you which courtesy title to use. It is always best to err on the side of formality.
    • Have your notes in front of you, but do not read your answers verbatim.
  • In-person interviews
    • Wear a suit, and check your appearance. More information on interview attire can be found here. Conservative dress is better, and appearance matters much more than it did in your graduate school interviews.
    • Act professionally from the minute you enter the building to when you leave. Treat everyone with respect.
    • Shake hands. Make eye contact. Follow the recommendations for addressing your interviewers noted above.

At the conclusion of the interview, thank you interviewers. Also send a thank you note or e-mail to each participant. The recommendations presented above are certainly not comprehensive. If your university has a career center, I recommend attending workshops or one-on-one interview preparation sessions there. Chris and I are also happy to answer your questions, which you can leave in the comments section below.

Follow the blog to get ready for your interviews by staying up-to-date on science policy news.

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