Fellowship Season Prep Part 5: The Interview, Continued
May 14, 2020
With fellowship applications submitted but fellowship interviews still on the horizon, we are currently digging into exercises and other ways to prep for an in-person or Zoom interview. And while only a fraction of applicants will make it to the interview round this year, there are staffing interviews, general meetings, and network pitches in your future and plenty of things you can do to get ready for each. If you’ve already worked through the first round of interview prep exercises here, let’s jump into a few more.
- Pick three
Story consultant and screenwriting guru Jen Grisanti runs an amazing online TV writing webinar (which you should check out here), and she’s also the writing instructor for the NBC Writers on the Verge program. She’s an expert on helping writers develop story, pitch to execs, and prep for meetings. One piece of advice she gives that I always go back to before I head into an interview is to go into each meeting with three intentions.
These intentions or goals may vary when it comes to interviews for staffing, generals, pitches, or fellowships. They can be questions you want to ask, personal stories you want to share, or connections you may have to various shows at the network or to the execs themselves.
No matter what they are, having them in your back pocket will give you something to lean on in case the room starts to spin or you get off-topic. And more importantly, they’ll allow you to be proactively engaged in the conversation as opposed to taking a passive and less desirable deer-in-the-headlights approach.
- Pop quiz
I highly recommend having a friend run through a practice interview with you but if that’s not possible, the following exercise is the next best thing.
Write out these prompts on small slips of paper:
- Your personal connection to your writing sample
- Childhood inspirations
- How you got into writing
- Shows produced by the network you’re meeting with
- Your favorite show/showrunner/writer/TV episode
- The oddest thing about you
- The most pivotal moment in your life
- What show would you be a perfect fit to staff on
- Any keywords from your exercise answers
Add as many prompts as you’d like, such as the names of each exec you’ll be meeting with or questions geared toward why you’d be a great fit for this specific fellowship.
Put the papers into a hat or pillowcase and sit at your desk with a timer set for one minute. Draw a prompt from the hat and answer the question before the timer goes off, then track how much of an answer you were able to give in just one minute. While interviews and meetings generally allow for more time, you’ll want to practice giving as concise of an answer as possible to make sure your conversation stays balanced back and forth. And it will be a lot less painful to expand on an answer if you have more time than it will be to notice people are waiting for you to wrap one up if time is tight.
This exercise is great for creating the same sense of being on the spot that you’ll feel in an actual interview. It can also lead to some unexpected answers, so you may want to record yourself as you respond to the prompts in case you stumble into a memory, story or answer that you didn’t expect but would like to use in the future.
You can also do this exercise as a series of flash cards if you have extra cards around, but I’m always looking for an excuse to feel like a magician so I prefer to pull things out of a hat.
If you’re anxious before you head into the room or sign in for that Zoom interview, take a minute to slow your breathing first. If you start your meeting on an intentionally calm note and with a calm heart rate, it’s a lot more likely to stay in a calm place even if your energy kicks into high gear later. If counting it out helps, try breathing in for a count of four, holding for a count of four, breathing out for a count of four, and holding out for a count of four.
Also, if you often get feedback that you come across as low energy, consider doing a few jumping jacks or listening to a song to help you tap into a more effusive side of yourself before you begin. But even in this case, centering your breathing before you enter the room/call is still a great way to start.
And overall, keep in mind that just like on a first date, the person you’re meeting with is hoping you could be “the one.” If you are, it makes the decision process very easy for them, and the more prepared you are when you enter the interview, the more informed they can be when deciding. Also just like a date, if this one ends up not being the right fit, it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road. Each meeting you go into — whether it leads to a fellowship, staffing, representation, a sale, or none of the above — is one more step in your journey that will get you where you’re meant to go. And in case you didn’t know it, we’re all rooting for you.
Written by: Liz ThompsonLiz Thompson is a screenwriter, playwright, and development consultant, and has sold shows to CBS (sitcom) and NBC (crime/mystery). Raised on a mix of Gilda Radner sketches, Columbo reruns, and neuroscience conferences, Liz’s love of comedy, mystery, and the puzzle of human behavior is woven through every story she writes. In between outlining and pitching she runs The Writer’s ARC group on Facebook and can be found at www.BletchleySpark.com.