• Janet Wee •
Before The Interview
Write a good resume. Most people, when writing their resumes, err on the side of the conventional. In order for employers to single you out as the most intelligent applicant, your resume needs to tell a clear story; contain facts that expresses both your abilities and your potentials. The way you organise the information reflects your personality. Good resumes tell it quickly and clearly. Good resumes have such stunning organisation that they arouse curiosity and admiration.
Your resume should include a summary of your academic results and CCAs. Start with your most recent activities. Do give details about your vacation jobs and include a photograph too. Have the resume properly typed and after having checked it carefully, get someone else to proofread it. Include 2 or 3 references in the resume.
Have a nice and short letter to accompany the resume. Do not crowd it with too much details and don’t oversell. Have the letter typed too.
Know your employer. It is right to view your scholarship provider as your long-term employer. Find out as much as you can about the company. Ideally you should know where it is headquartered, what its main products or services are, who its primary customers are and who are its main competitors. If it is a government scholarship provider, know what is its role for Singapore and what are its latest major projects. Check up its website.
Interviewers are generally reasonable and would not expect you to know a great deal about them. By finding out what you can about the organisation granting the scholarship, it will also enable you to ask intelligent questions during the interview; and this usually impresses the interviewer that you have come prepared and are therefore serious about your application.
Know the facts about the scholarship well. Know all the terms and conditions provided by the organisation in its advertisement or brochure. Especially if you are applying for more than one scholarship, do not get the facts mixed up.
Be familiar with your own strong points – those attributes that give you an edge over other candidates. Or, to put it another way, be ready to give the interviewer reasons for taking you and not somebody else. Write them down before you go on the interview. Go over them in your mind. The features that characterise you should be translated into benefits for the employer. For example, you can explain that your success in football indicates that you are a good team player, something most employers very much look for. If you have specific computer skills, show how you can apply them to meet the employer’s needs.
Think of the questions the company will ask you. They will most likely ask you why you choose a particular course or why you want to join their company. Prepare your answers in advance. Also think of questions to ask at the interview, like the career path after your graduation.
Prepare and organise the certifications you’ve received or other proofs of training. Bring along proofs of awards, testimonials, extra copies of resumes, photos etc. Perhaps you have written something for a publication. Bring along a copy. Any accomplishments in community or volunteer work? Be organised. Have a folder for all the certifications and documents properly filed. And don’t forget the pen.
Make sure you know how to get to the place of interview. Do not just be punctual but plan to arrive early. You do not want to seem hurried or disoriented when you enter the interview room.
If, for some reason, you are unable to make it for the interview, be sure to inform the person who arranged the interview for you in advance, explain politely the reason (and make sure it is a good one!) and request for an alternative date or time slot. Usually your request will be acceded to. Not showing up reflects very badly of you as a person, even if you have decided not to take up the scholarship at the last moment.
At The Interview
What you wear matters! It must be taken for granted that an interview setting is likely to be formal. In this case, being ‘conservative’ will be of primary consideration. For guys, this translates into the ‘boring executive look’ – a plain light coloured shirt and a tie. You don’t have to appear in a suit. For gals, a dress or tailored suit (no pants, please) will be best. Use a light make-up and avoid loud and glaring costume jewelleries.
Be sure to look the interviewer in the eye when greeting him/her. Shake hands in a firm but not overbearing manner. Unless the interviewer immediately takes the lead, you may want to say something to establish rapport and break the ice. A nice comment on a picture, a piece of office furniture, or a news event is welcomed.
When answering a question, be sure to maintain eye contact with the person to whom you are speaking. This is important, as it is indicative of both sincerity and commitment on your part. If you’re being interviewed by more than one person, just focus on the one who asked you the question, but also look at the others, each for a few seconds.
Be honest. Getting the scholarship has been likened to getting married. Both you and the employer need as much relevant information about each other as possible. Be prepared to present yourself in an honest, forthright manner. To be offered the scholarship and breaking the bond later is worse than not being offered the scholarship in the first place.
Almost certainly the interviewer will ask for your opinion about the bond. Interviewers these days are especially careful to detect applicants who are merely giving lip service to the obligation.
Expect to be asked some tough questions. Some will require analytical answers, others may require personal opinions or ideas. They can be straightforward, conceptual or even philosophical. Sometimes questions are posed not to seek answers but to examine the way an applicant processes the questions. There are times one must plead ignorance rather than build a smoke-screen to mask the reply.
You will probably be asked to describe your weaknesses as well as your strengths. We all have weaknesses. However, your weaknesses ought not to reflect on your ability to do an effective job. If you are talking about your weakness, state also your plans to work on them. In stating your strengths, support your claims with specific examples of past achievements.
Feel free to ask questions. This shows your interest in the company. Ask about the company’s plan and prospects for scholars, opportunities for further training, etc. You may even ask a question to highlight a special skill. (I was the webmaster for my society’s website, do you think I can contribute to the company in any way?)
Do not ask about salary, vacations or benefits until you are offered or know that you are going to be offered the scholarship.
Show a sincere interest in the company. Focus on what you can contribute to the organisation rather than what the employer can offer you.
Keep a positive attitude at all times. Be confident but not arrogant. Be friendly but not over-familiar.