10 Tips to Get to the Interview! Mandela Washington Fellowship!!

Ideas from an alumnus who got there 3 times.

In truth, it’s pretty competitive. The interest in the program as you are aware is huge. There are many young Africans with highly impressive resume (just like you) that are putting in applications. Last year alone, nearly 50,000 applied for the 1,000 slots. I got to the interview (semifinal) stage three consecutive times but it was only at the third attempt that I was considered. But all that shouldn’t unnerve you, at all. I am here to help you get selected. Haven both failed and succeeded in the applications process, I guess I now have a pretty good idea on what it takes to get in. First, let’s focus on getting that heartwarming email inviting you for the interview. To that end, the following ideas worked for me and I trust they will help you too.

1. Start the application on time. There are many questions to be answered and from my experience, especially on the essay sessions, your first answer may not be your last. So, it’s important to start writing early enough so that you will have ample time to review or revise as the need arises.

2. Be mindful of your writing. While you don’t need to be an English major to do well in the application, it’s important to make sure that you avoid silly spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Those will quickly turn off your assessors and hurt your chances of advancing to the next stage. To overcome this, get someone (obviously someone that is good in English) to read your write ups before final submission.

3. Choose your words carefully. I think that one of the skills tested in the application process is your ability to tell your stories in few concise and understandable words. You wouldn’t have the luxury of many words to explain yourself. Use words that are inspiring, demonstrate actions and good thoughts process, and then connect them in a coherent way.

4. Avoid the temptations to list too many achievements or engagements. List the few that are verifiable, relevant and truly inspiring. This leads me to the next point.

5. Please DO NOT, I repeat, do not lie in your application. Remember, ‘America Will Know’. Don’t stage heroism. Just say exactly what you have done or what you are currently doing that are making impact in your community.

6. Talking about impact, please talk about impact. It is not enough for you to simply list all the great things you have done or currently doing. You must demonstrate the impact that those great things are making in people’s lives. Where possible, mention the number of people that have been impacted or will be impacted by what you do.

7. Draw on available resources to make your application irresistible. Talk to former Alumni (I am very much available), read posts about success tips and generally open your ears to anything that may be relevant to your application.

8. It doesn’t stop at your application. Although I do not have any hard facts to back this up, I imagine that the selection team in Washington will look beyond your application. I guess they will check out your social media accounts – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram etc. to find evidence that corroborates your stories and to generally judge your suitability. So, please do well to update those accounts to reflect the true you and to keep them clean of anything that raises discomforting eyebrows about your personality.

9. Have positive expectations. Believe me there is a real psychological angle to it. Once you submit your applications, remain upbeat about your chances. You may want to copy what I did. I would usually start preparing for the interview because in my natural way of thinking, I have been selected.

Lastly and most importantly, call it Number 10 – the point deserves the number – PRAYER! I cannot emphasis this enough. Let me say that in a race where participants are equally qualified like MWF, you need some special divine favors to win. From my experience, prayers attract exactly that. Sorry I mean serious, consistent and purposeful prayers. For effect, add fasting to the menu. And if I were you, I would garnish that with doing extra goodness and making extra efforts to stay away from sins. My friend this is a special, premium life time experience and you should expect that it wouldn’t come with ease.

Start the journey here:

Best of luck to you!

Please feel free to contact me and other alumni/alumnae for help on any aspect of the applications.

Can’t wait to hear the good news from you.

Mandela Washington Fellow, 2016.
Doctoral Student,
Othman Yeop Abdullah Graduate School of Business,
University of Utara Malaysia.