Congratulations to everyone who made it to the semi-finals of the 2020 Mandela Washington Fellowship program.

Every single year this happens, I am reminded of my own 3 man panel semi-finalist interview back in 2014 before I was selected to go on this incredible fellowship that changed my life!

Today, let me share with you my top interview tips which has worked for me not only in 2014 but even now.

1. Re-read your application: Go back to the draft application you submitted and re-read every single thing you wrote there. Do a very honest assessment of your application and try to ask yourself the lines or responses that would interest you most or make you curious if you were the assessor. Prepare your response to those questions based on your work, interests, and exposure.

Remember that every person on your interview panel will be very familiar with your application and would have highlighted areas of concern. Re-reading your application and having an honest analysis of it helps you prepare well for your interview.

2. Maintain eye contact- Whether your interview is happening physically or via Skype, ensure you maintain eye contact with your interviewer. When asked a question, respond directly to the person who asked the question while also taking intermittent glances around the other panelist to be sure they are listening and following.

3. Answer the questions asked- I know you have done so many amazing things and you really desperately want to share everything with the panel badly so they know you are a good fit for the program. Please resist the urge to ramble!

For every question you are asked, always do a quick dissection of it in your mind by asking yourself ‘why could the interviewer be possibly asking this question and how does it intersect with the program you are being considered for’. As you are thinking about that, let your mind also begin to construct extremely sharp responses to the question so that you leave them in doubt that you are the right person for the fellowship.

If a question stuns you, there are a few tricks to buy a few seconds to think about it. You can take some time to smile, you can ask that the question be repeated while you think or you can simply start by saying ‘that is a very good question’ 😉

4. Get your punchy lines ready- In the work you do, if you haven’t already, you need to have some punchy lines that helps not only to drive home your point but also to drive commendation and applauses your way.

For example if you work on menstrual hygiene, you could end whatever it is you are saying with

‘Our work emphasizes that a girl’s period is as important as a class period.’
‘What is economic advancement for a nation without progress for its women? Good progress happens when girls stay in school!’
‘There is an intersection between education and hygiene. Our work in menstrual hygiene is helping many girls cross that intersection confidently’

5. Share impact figures- Remember that the Mandela Washington Fellowship is for doers. If you have excellent impact figures, no matter the question asked, ensure you never miss out on an opportunity to share them.

For example, if asked ‘tell us why your work is important’, don’t just get fixated on the problem and running some statistics around it, ensure you end it with some impact figures e.g because of our work, more than 500 girls have been able to stay in school and feel confident even when they have their period.

6. Judge the mood and facial expressions of your interviewer- As you make progress in your interview, remember to look intently at your interviews and judge their mood as you respond to questions. If you see an interviewer nod perhaps in agreement as you respond to a question, relax your facial muscles and add a smile before pushing your smile to the next panelist. If you find that they are looking bored, perhaps you have spent too much time responding to the question asked.

Many times people are a reflection of the emotions we give. If you are smiling and happy, it’s only a matter of time before everyone in the room catches the bug.

7. Watch your own facial expressions- You can’t be talking about 300,000 out of school children and smiling. Your emotions must go with what you are pitching. Remember that one of the things that will be judged is also how passionate you are about your work.

Passion can’t be faked. Tame your emotions and let them follow the pitch you are making before the interviewers.

8. Dress confidently- As with any interview, you need dress confidently. Don’t overdo it. Personally, I just think of what I will wear to any formal interview and go with the flow.

9. Remember the names- At the beginning of the interview, the panelists are likely to introduce themselves by stating their names. Ensure you remember their names so that you can use it whenever the need arises in the course of the interview.

10. Be clear- Interviews are about creating a positive lasting impression in the minds of the judges. Let them like not only the work you do but also your person and personality. Chances are you aren’t the only one in your cause being interviewed. The difference will be in not only how you responded to the questions asked but also how you personally connected with them.

Being clear helps in the creation of this personal connection as the interviewers won’t have to spend a lot of time trying to wade through a lot of irrelevant words before seeking out their answers.

Aim to be so clear that by the time you are done, the judges know exactly what you are doing and can do a short pitch of your work.

Finally, trust God to crown your effort with resounding success.

Wishing you all nothing but the very best.

We all can’t wait to welcome you into the alumni fold!

Written by Adepeju Jaiyeoba, 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow and Founder, Mothers Delvery Kit and Brown Button Foundation

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