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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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The Five R’s of Preparing for the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans Interview

05.30.16
Ankur Luthra

In the last few years, I have been fortunate to be an interview panelist for the annual Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans interviews. Meeting the finalists always leaves me feeling energized, humbled, and inspired. It was not that long ago that I was on the other side of the table, being interviewed myself as a finalist for the Fellowship.

When I am asked what I remember most about my own Paul & Daisy Soros interview, I truthfully answer, “the fact that the interviewers wanted to get to know me, rather than just test me.” Nobody asks what I remember second-most about the interviews, which was being nervous and not knowing what to expect.

In the spirit of helping future finalists feel a little less nervous and a little bit more knowledgeable about what to expect, I wanted to share some thoughts about the interview:

1. Relax: 
In 2014, the Green Bay Packers lost two of their first three games. Fans began to panic (little did they know the Packers would win nine of their next ten). In response, quarterback and fellow Cal Bear Aaron Rodgers said famously, “Five letters here just for everybody out there: r-e-l-a-x.” It’s good advice for finalists as well. The night before the interview is the dinner where past recipients of the Fellowship, panelists, and finalists interact. This is an evening to celebrate your being a finalist. Don’t overthink this. You are not being secretly watched and judged. On interview day, enjoy the chance to meet other finalists in the finalist waiting room, but do not feel pressure to do so either. In the interview itself, stay relaxed and imagine that you’re going to have a conversation with a new friend. Our goal as panelists is to have a conversation with you as opposed to the traditional interviewer/interviewee experience. You are being listened to and not judged. In sum, the dinner and interview are more like a celebration of you followed by a coffeehouse conversation to get to know you; so relax and be yourself!
 
2. Re-read: 

Re-read your Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships application essays prior to the interview and review your resume and any supplemental materials you sent as part of your application. Doing so will help you remember the lens through which we, the interview panelists, are seeing you. In fact, when we surveyed a group of interviewers about advice they would give, one of the most frequency cited pieces of advice to finalists was indeed this one, to re-read your essays and to be able to reflect on the content in those essays during the interview. In addition, have a mentor and friend read your application and ask you questions as preparation, ideally over a coffee to make it a casual conversation.

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3. Be Real (with yourself): 

Don’t worry about focusing the conversation around your best accomplishments or the “biggest brands on your resume,” such as prestigious scholarships or top universities. Being a finalist is a tremendous accomplishment, and you earned it with your application. So in the interview, try to help us understand you beyond that application. Don’t be afraid to tell us about your most rewarding experiences, regardless of whether those have big brands or awards attached to them. Help us understand this real person in front of us; the one with successes and failures and strengths and weaknesses. It may sound cliché, but be yourself; be genuine, sincere, and honest.

4. Be Real (about your work): 

It is important to convey the real-world implications of your current work and your goals. As interview panelists, we want to know what you will be doing in your life here on forward–your dreams and goals, how you will apply your background, and why you are doing what you are doing. Many candidates talk about past accomplishments and impressive current work, but sometimes the panelists don’t understand the real-world application of the candidates’ work and potential. We want to know how your current degree plan helps you build the real-life future you seek to achieve.

5. Radiate: 

As interview panelists, our goal is to better understand why you, the finalist, have made the choices that you did, what fuels you, what your passions are, who you are, and who you wish to become. We find that finalists truly radiate when they talk honestly about these aspects of themselves. There is no right or wrong answer to these questions and you should avoid the temptation to say things you believe the panel “wants to hear.”

The interviews are by no means easy, and we know that everyone will come with nerves, but I hope these thoughts will help you prepare. I know the interviews will be a memorable and wonderful experience for you. Congratulations again to the finalists for the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans.

 
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Ankur Luthra (2004 Fellow) has been a panelist for The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans for several years. He was born in San Jose, California, to immigrants from Punjab State, India. The Fellowship supported his MBA at Harvard University. Read his full profile here