Claremont McKenna College

The George C.S. Benson Department of Government

How to Prepare for a Truman Interview

(or, indeed, for any interview)


Your objective in an interview should not just be to field the committee's questions, but to get your case across to the committee members in the short, precious 25 minutes or so allotted. Figure out your two or three strongest areas and try to lead the committee to them. Most will be grateful for the guidance. The worst they (we) can do is shrug you off. They want to know what you are interested in, what you know, and how deeply you have thought about the world around you, especially whatever of it most interests you. They want to see your mind in action. They want to know what you want to study, and what you want to do with your life. The more you have thought about it, the more specific you are likely to be. Learn to use specific illustrative examples, of authors, books, schools of thought, historical personalities, to get your points across quickly, vividly, and economically.

Dress. Power suit always for real interviews; optional for CMC practice interviews.

The following is a list of questions and tips we have used in the past to prep students for regional Truman interviews. You don't have to cram them all in overnight for your CMC interview, but it won't hurt you to start thinking about them ahead of time, and to remember them for every other interview you take.

--How much do you know about your policy essay topic?

--How much have you thought about your career statement?

--Where would you like to be 5, 10, 15, 20 years from now?

--If you wrote a magnum opus, what would it be?

--What does the Truman Scholarship mean to you?

--What have you learned from your government/leadership experience?

--What would you do about some knotty, complex question of local politics, such as running a needed freeway through an Indian burial site?

--What would you do about some knotty, complex question of national or international politics, such as dealing with international terrorism?

--What are two greatest problems facing US today? Your state?

--What are your strengths? Weaknesses?

--What has been your greatest accomplishment? Failure?

--What were HST's greatest accomplishments? Failures?

--What would HST have thought about your proposal?

--Who is your hero?

--What is/are your cause(s)?

--Who is your favorite Presidential candidate? Why?

--What is your favorite book? Book not assigned? Book read this year? Fiction? Non-fiction? What book has most influenced your life?

--If you could invite a speaker to your campus, whom would you invite? Why?

--What is your opinion of latest buzz book/article? Some past ones are: Bloom, Closing of the American Mind, Fukuyama, End of History, Trust, and The Great Disruption. The Culture of Disbelief. Reich, The Work of Nations. The Power of Public Ideas. Putnam, "Bowling Together." Hillary Clinton, It Takes a Village. Wilson, The Moral Sense. Moynihan, "Defining Deviance Down." Bennett's virtue stories. Kennedy, Preparing for 21st Century. Ask your advisor what the current ones are.

--How would you define leadership? Examples.

--What three elements define modern society?

--Outline a press release for your cause addressed to someone who doesn't like your policy proposals.

--How do you like to spend Saturday nights?

--What is your favorite of Newtonís Laws? Other laws of science?

--Name 3 pieces of art that relate to medicine

--What was your greatest disappointment?

--What is your position on genetic engineering?

--Who is in the Cabinet?

--Policy issue from a place you studied abroad? From your home region?

--How would you justify US intervention in the Balkans? Haiti?

--Do you have any questions for us? Have an intelligent one ready, preferably one that re-emphasizes your cause.

Old questions from the Truman Foundationís prep sheets

--In your opinion, what are the four or five main characteristics the public should expect from candidates running for public office?

--What five principles for effective leadership should be on a "Leadership Poster" to hang in the Oval Office of the President of the United States?

--If you could invite three people from history to dine with President Clinton, who would they be? Why?

--Thirty years from now when you are invited to give the commencement address at your alma mater, how do you want to be introduced?

--If you had a totally free week with no commitments, how would you use it?

--What is your definition of public service?

--If you could make one change in the structure or organization of the federal government, what would it be? Why do you think this would improve the operation of the government more than any other change you could propose?

--What do you feel are the three ideas, concepts, or inventions that have been most influential in shaping U.S. society as it exists today?

--What are three novels that you feel all Truman Scholars should read?

--Which of Mr. Truman's personal characteristics do you most wish to emulate?

--If you could have two minutes with the President, what would you like to ask him or tell him?

--What is your dream for the United States?

--Why are you committed to a career in public service?

Interviewing tips. Panel wants to explore your most recent public service activities, your commitment to public service; your goals and ambitions; and your ability to discuss a broad range of issues of public concern and interest. Know your topic, know your career plans; know about Truman and about leadership; know what is on people's minds these days. The panel will be trying to pick 8-10 winners from 25-30 contenders. You only have 25 minutes to convey what you have to offer on these. Help them out. They are looking for the three C's: confidence, competence, care/compassion. Pay attention to everyone on panel; establish eye contact; don't neglect body language; get yourself relaxed but alert. They will probe for depth on what you do know, and on breadth. If you don't know an answer, say so, and try to add something intelligent on a related topic. Every interview has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Try to leave the panel with a clear picture of who you are and what you have to offer: "This is the candidate who wants us to stop subsidizing death abroad." "This is the candidate who wants to be another George C. Marshall."

Real interview panel members usually include a range of people willing to take on demanding, 3-day interview task. A professor of public administration; a dean; a foundation head; a sitting or retired college president; a woman or two; a legislatorís administrative assistant, a former Truman scholar. Most will be moderate Democrats; few, if any, will be very far left or right of center. Find out who yours are by checking the Truman Foundation home page; do what you can to find out what each one has done and what each one finds interesting.