Blog Volume 3

Fellowships: The Interviews

[This post was guest-written by Kirsty Grainger (@KirstyGrainger), Director, Future Leaders Fellowships, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)]

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; I have the best job in UK Research and Innovation - Director of our biggest fellowship scheme: the Future Leaders Fellowships #UKRIFLF. I love working on a people orientated scheme and discovering more about the amazing research and innovation that the candidates want to do, the many and varied routes that come before that fellowship application, and the different people behind each submission.

Despite all the differences coming into the fellowships, all candidates have the potential to be invited to an interview to discuss their application. Interviews are a key part of the assessment process.

I’d like to now be able to tell you some sure-fire tips to ensure that you ace a fellowship interview. But I have to be honest; there is no easy fellowship interview. Not because fellowship interviews are set to trip-up candidates, or designed to be vexatious, but because interviews are not-ordinary-everyday occurrences. They are not comfortable because they are not normal situations and they come with the additional pressures (personal and professional) that surround them.

That said, I think there might be some useful basic interview advice worth sharing. This is from my experience of the Future Leaders Fellowships but I hope it is helpful and that much of it is applicable to other fellowship interviews.

First, know the interview. What day is the interview, what time? How will you get there? Who is going to be interviewing you? What are you expected to bring/discuss? What can’t you bring? Ideally you don’t want to be fretting about this stuff on the day.

For the FLF interviews we ask for a seven-minute presentation “The Vision for my Future Leaders Fellowship” followed by questions from panel members. We ask for presentations in advance (in a specific format) and we don’t allow animations or props. We do this to help facilitate the smooth running of the interviews and help with the consistency and fairness between candidates - an important aspect of managing the process.

If you’ve read and understand all the information that you’ve been sent then great! But if you don’t and there are things that you still need to know or to raise with the fellowship team then do. Lots of candidates do. I think some people worry that this will impact on their interview in some way. It won’t. The FLF team are looking to help and support candidates where-ever they can; whether that be helping give extra directions to the venue, ensuring individual accessibility needs, or the post-interview reassurance and biscuits.

Access any additional information you’ve been sign-posted to or that is available. For instance, we published a set of example interview questions so candidates get a sense of the structure etc. of the interview. Remind yourself of the original scheme guidance.

Panels make decisions against criteria and not on personality or appearance e.g. how confident/nervous you are or what you are wearing etc. This is why it is important to understand the assessment criteria as interview questions will directly/indirectly link to them.

On being nervous, this is normal. Nerves can show in unexpected and many varied ways. Try and remember that even the most senior, confident presenting panel members have been in an interview situation and know what it is like. Future Leaders Fellowships panels are briefed to take this into account and to be supportive and try and make candidates comfortable and at ease.

Re-read your application. You should know the detail of your proposal better than anyone else - are you able to explain it? Why are you doing X? Why are you working with Y? Why did you choose to do Z? Has anything changed since application?

Think about why you applied for the Fellowship scheme that you’ve applied for. What does this scheme allow you to do that other schemes or routes don’t? What are the benefits of your fellowship to you, your team or collaborators, and the wider community/world?

Ask friends and colleagues to do mock interviews with you. There is no ‘right’ interview presentation style. We’ve awarded fellowships to those that command the room in a traditional extraverted style, to those that present in more introvert ways, and everything in between. Don’t be afraid to ask for questions to be repeated or rephrased, or to take notes, to take your time before answering, or to start again if you realise you’ve gone off on a tangent.

Sit and chat to people about your work and get them to ask you questions. Can you explain it to a non-specialist? Talk to people about interviews and read about other people’s experiences.

Most importantly of all, as reminded to me by round 1 Future Leaders Fellow Sarah Lewthwaite @slewth: “IMPORTANT: You will have a massive crash in energy after interview, 'cause you're switching out of top gear at end of long process (with uncertain result). Even if it went great you'll feel low & ruminate on what could have gone better. Look after yourself. This bit is hard”.

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