Successful Truman Scholarship Finalists generally possess the following characteristics:
Comfort/Level of Ease in the interview setting: While they may be nervous at the start, they quickly settle in, enjoy the give and take of the interview, do not get put off by challenging questions nor the lack of encouraging words or smiles from panelists. Perhaps the best sign of success is when the candidate turns the interview into a conversation with the panelists.
Sophistication on the issues: The candidate realizes that there are few clear-cut answers and solutions, that there are problems and obstacles, that our political system rarely moves ahead full-speed … and for good reasons. Just saying that something should be this way or that way is rarely enough.
The best ways to become sophisticated are probably through regularly reading the NY Times [especially the editorials] and through small-group or seminar discussions of issues.
Exciting in one or more dimensions: This can be through an unusual career/education program that makes sense, outstanding accomplishments, extraordinary devotion, personal appeal, energy, humor, occasionally sheer intellectual horsepower targeted toward public service.
Breadth of interest and knowledge beyond the intended career field: Single issue folks rarely appeal to selection panels. A frequent question to persons who appear to be single issue is: “What would you do if the problem you want to address suddenly went away?”
Ability to analyze “on the fly”: Often panelists ask questions to see how well candidates can grapple with issues and concepts that they have not connected previously. Examples of questions are: “What are the most meaningful books you have read that the President should read?” “What are the biggest issues facing American society?” Successful candidates feel somewhat comfortable in grappling with such far-out questions, maybe even having fun.
Consistency with the written material: Successful Finalists talk the way they write, thoroughly understand their policy recommendations, and display some of the characteristics mentioned in Item 14 and in the Faculty Nomination letter.
Responsiveness to the questions: They address head-on the questions raised and try to respond to what the interviewers have asked, not what the candidates necessarily want to address. Not getting bogged down, especially on questions to which they are not doing well. Few successful candidates answer all of the questions well. It is far better to keep answers short, cut losses, and let panelists pose lots of questions.
Keeping the interview and the outcome in perspective: Candidates who come in with the attitude that they “have to win” or are “destined to win” do poorly. This is not a life and death situation. Most Finalists will get to graduate school.