Student Academic Grants and Awards

Suggestions for the Truman Scholarship Interviews

Tried, Tested and True Advice from the Truman Foundation

Truman Scholars are selected in part on the basis of their performance in a twenty minute interview before a panel of public service leaders, college and university presidents, and veteran Truman Scholars.

This is generally an intellectually challenging and sometime provocative interview. There are no trick questions, but there will likely be questions that are difficult to answer. Panelists ask questions to help candidates reveal their values and passions, depth and breadth of knowledge, and intellectual and analytical abilities. Panelists look for candidates who are articulate, intellectually honest, consistent in their views, and responsive to questions.

The following suggestions should help you to have a good experience.

Put your selection as a Finalist, and the upcoming interview, in perspective.
This is already a significant achievement, a tribute to your accomplishments, an honor for your institution, and an opportunity to share your views and opinions with Panelists.

While you need to prepare for the interview to have a good chance, extensive preparation will not guarantee winning a Truman Scholarship. Other outstanding candidates from your state or district will also be interviewed.

Review your application and policy proposal.
If recent developments have made your proposal out of date, what do you now recommend? Can you be more specific about your goals, objectives, and opinions than when you prepared the application?

Think about the questions you hope or expect to be asked, and how you might respond. Be careful about having precisely worded answers ready in anticipation of specific questions. Candidates with "stock" answers frequently stumble, having prepared for slightly different questions than the ones they're actually asked.

Participate in one or more practice interviews simulating the Truman interview. The Truman interview is generally a challenging and intense experience far different from a job interview or the normal classroom setting. Candidates who have not practiced often perform poorly.

Read about Mr. Truman and the Truman presidency.

Prepare 30-second opening and closing statements.
You might have the chance to introduce yourself, or close the interview with final thoughts. Thank the committee for the interview.

Learn the names of the Panelists, and try to use them during the interview.
Unless invited, avoid addressing them by their first names.

Dress appropriately. Most men will wear a suit or jacket and tie; women, a suit or dress.

Three Don'ts.
At the reception and during the day of the interview, you will spend time with the other candidates.

Help the Committee have a good interview.
Let the Panelists set the agenda. Answer questions precisely and concisely. Maintain eye contact with as many members as possible-particularly the one who asked the question.

Understand the question before you answer.
If in doubt, ask for clarification. You may pause to collect your thoughts before answering a complex question.

Be honest and forthright.
Give the answers and opinions in which you believe, not what you think the panel wants to hear. Don't be afraid to express your opinions, convictions, and passions. The Panel wants to know what you believe or think and why. It's not looking for a particular answer or agreement with an opinion of a member. Don't overestimate past successes and achievements.

Don't evade a question or try to mislead the Panel in answering a question that might reveal ignorance, failures, or mistakes.
Acknowledge that you don't know, own up to mistakes, don't hide your failures. Tell the Panel what you've learned from them.

Avoid appearing to be an expert.
At least one Panelist is likely to be more knowledgeable than you on the issue. Be careful when presenting data and factual information, especially on complex issues. Be sure that what you state is true, and qualify your answers when making conjectures or assumptions.

Be concise.
The Panel wants to see a well-rounded picture of you in a short time. You can help by allowing time for many questions. Answer each question directly. Spend no more than 15-20 seconds on short questions; for complex questions, limit your responses to 60-90 seconds. You can always ask, "would you like me to elaborate?"

Let other candidates say "ah," "uh," "you know," and "like."
Don't use slang. Don't use "stuff" as a noun.

Don't be defensive about your views, values, and opinions when you think the interviewers disapprove.
Panelists are likely to challenge you to test the depth and basis of your convictions. You should not be judged unfavorably as long as you have a clear ethical and intellectual basis for your views, values, and opinions.

You may disagree with the statements or premises of questions posed by Panelists.
If so, respectfully state your disagreement and why. Panelists sometimes make provocative statements to give you a chance to analyze the issue, present a different opinion or view, and justify your views.

Be willing to admit that you do not know the answer or are not familiar with an event or situation.
Panelists do not expect candidates to be well-informed on all issues.

Benefit from the travel opportunity.
Have fun. Visit a nearby museum, go shopping, or check out a graduate school.

You won't be able to guess the outcome, so why spend much time trying or second-guessing your answers?
The objective is to give all candidates challenging interviews with opportunities to shine. You cannot know how well you met the expectations of the Panelists, or how well the other Finalists did. Be proud you had the opportunity, and build on the experience for your next challenging interview.