Early career option: A fellowship III

This is the last post of the series on applying to fellowships to start your career.

In previous posts I mentioned what I am doing and explained why you should consider applying if we have similar interests. I also proposed a list of other fellowships and entry-level programs you should look into. In this post I share advice to help you prepare a strong application, some of which I learned from experienced professionals in my network (to whom I am forever indebted).

Five ways to prepare strong applications and interviews for fellowship positions

Sell yourself humbly

While it is important to highlight impressive strengths and achievements, try to avoid coming across as someone who has more to teach than learn. I also recommend being flexible, especially when applying to programs that give the option to select one of several posts. As early career professionals in a competitive job market, we cannot afford to come across as over-qualified for a job or too specific regarding the experience we seek.

Be honest, be yourself

Having said this, always be honest and yourself. Do not pretend to be someone you are not because you will likely get caught. I recommend outlining the tasks you may not be comfortable working on and your preferred working or supervision style in particular.

Make sure the program is a good fit and share why you think it is

As it was the case with college applications (and will be with every application, honestly), programs should not feel that you are sending them one of 20 and just copy-pasted your essays. Although it is time-consuming (I have been there, I know :)), I recommend taking the time to get to know each program, find out if it is a good fit, and make each essay personal.

I like to contact “insiders” after reading websites and brochures. For this fellowship, after exchanging emails with a member of the Board, I contacted alums of the program to whom I relate in terms of identity (we were born to African parents) and career trajectory (we went to graduate school). I knew one beforehand. I discovered and contacted the other on social media. They were all very responsive. LinkedIn is another useful tool to find and contact “insiders.”

Prepare succinct and convincing answers to the following key questions or prompts

In preparation for the interview stage of the application process, I recommend coming up with and practicing answers to the following questions and prompts as quickly and convincingly as possible:

  • “Tell me/us about yourself”
  • “What are your reasons for applying to this program?”
  • “What can you contribute to the experience/your cohort?” or “Why should we select you?”

Start preparing for the first round of interviews as soon as you submit your application

There is no such thing as over-preparation for interviews. In fact, it helps to prepare and practice well for them because the answers you plan to give in one interview will likely apply to questions in another.

I’ve been asked the following questions and prompts in interviews:

  • “Describe a major challenge you have faced and how you addressed it”
  • “What would happen if…” *insert a scenario to be solved critically*
  • “Have you worked with a difficult person?”
  • “What is your preferred role in a team?”
  • “When was the last time you…” or “Describe a situation when…” *insert here something about leadership, failure, problem solving or weakness*

It is also good practice to know how to provide details on everything in your application and resume.


What helped you prepare a strong application when you applied to a fellowship program, in your opinion?


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