• Daphne Kwok •
Be prepared that the scholarship interview is not just answering questions and may involve unconventional tasks.
In recent years, interviews for scholarships and job-openings alike have deviated from the standard question-and-answer arrangement. Today, with more and more applicants coming with top grades and impeccable CCAs, and interviewers find it more challenging to differentiate the better ones from the rest. Applicants are also more prepared and trained in answering questions and hence interviewers have to find new ways that would reveal specific aspects of the candidates. As a result, many unconventional types of interviews have surfaced. So while interviewers simply rubbed their hands in delight, potential interviewees (scholarship applicants like you) only groan in agony over the increased prospects of embarrassing yourself during and subsequently, failing the interview.
Therefore, to warn potential scholars of unexpected scenarios, Scholarship Guide has compiled some unique interviews that applicants have faced and provide certain tips that may come in handy during the dreadful selection process.
To assess candidates on their analytical and presentation skills, some interviewers request the interviewees to put up a presentation or a showcase as part of the selection process. The assessing panel can either assign a topic related to the organisation or simply instruct the interviewee to prepare a presentation on any topic. They may give you three days to prepare or just 15 minutes to speak your mind.
According to some helpful post-interview candidates, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has been known to ask candidates to prepare a presentation on the subject (eg English, Geography, PE etc) he/she is assigned to as well as write an essay in response to a hypothetical scenario within 20 minutes. The MOE panel has been known to even act as schooling teenagers and have the interviewee teach them. This is all set up to test candidates’ performance under stress and to observe their classroom management abilities.
- Though not commonly practised, should you be the lucky one to be given ‘any topic of your choice’ to elaborate on, do not panic! Pick a topic that interests you or any that you are well-versed in. Of course, try to make it as ‘job relevant’ as possible.
It’s good to have interesting contents but showing the interviewers your thought processes are more important. If only given a short time to prepare, put pen to paper immediately to start brainstorming fast. Under a limited time frame, use outlines or mindmaps to help you keep track of your thoughts!
The Group Interview
By far, group interview seems to be a bane of every interviewee’s existence. While they appear intimidating at first, group interviews can occasionally turn out to be a rewarding and incredible experience for all.
Group interviews mainly allow the panel to assess one’s ability to work in a team by being both a leader and a follower. Potential employers neither want leaders who cannot work in a team nor followers who cannot step up when necessary. Essentially, the golden rule for group interviews – stand out without monopolising the conversation. Implicitly, your interviewers want to see your leadership abilities and interpersonal communication skills, so show them just that.
Some scholarship boards combine both of the aforementioned, calling for a group discussion followed by a group presentation. The selection process for SMU’s Lee Kong Chian Scholarship is one such example. Randomly grouped candidates are given a case to work on for three hours and then made to present their findings subsequently. After which, the panel would pose a series of challenging and potentially sensitive questions relating to the performance of the group.
- You do not have to speak up all the time. Just once with an insightful and/or impactful comment will do.
Use the group setting to your advantage – bounce off ideas, be the one to lead the discussion into a productive one.
Although it is ultimately a rivalry between you and them, respect your group mates and their ideas. Don’t get into an argument.
The Online Interview (Skype/Twitter)
Overseas universities’ admission board would frequently request for an online interview for international students. Along with normal interview tips, online interviewees should take careful consideration of the following.
- Although it can be done at the comforts of your own home, do still make an effort to dress up and look presentable. First impression, albeit online, counts and is extremely telling of your attitude towards your application and the university or scholarship.
- Ensure that your internet connection and the online application used for the interview (eg Skype) work well – test it out a couple of times with your friends or family members.
- Ensure that the environment you are in during the interview will be conducive for the interview. This includes the lighting, the things that can be seen within the camera, the noise level of the surroundings and the background.
The Unconventional Interview Questions
Don’t get startled with unusual interview questions. These questions are usually tailored in ways that would sieve out certain qualities and perspectives of the interviewees. Examples of some questions include:
- On a scale of 1-10, how lucky are you? This question is to identify people who can embrace their humility and able to acknowledge that good fortune not only comes from the decisions we make, but also from the circumstances into which we are born.
- What is an opinion you hold that most people disagree with? This question brings out candidates who are self-assured and confident in their own abilities. They can tactfully disagree, generating debate and creativity within the office. When there is healthy debate on the table, there will eventually be progress.
- How many ping-pong balls can fill a Boeing 747? How many chickens are there in Singapore?
When interviewers pose this type of questions, they are merely looking out for your thought processes and the ability to come up with a logical reply.
- Usually, interviewers are not keen on answers when they ask such questions. More often than not, they only want to observe the thought processes one has while crafting his or her response. Be yourself and answer truthfully.
In general, some rules still apply regardless of the type of interviews. These rules, or tips, will never fail in preparing one for an interview and are fail-proof ways in ensuring a smoother interview. Such rules include:
- Know yourself clearly and let it come through during the interview.
- Research comprehensively on the scholarship, alongside the workings and goals of the company you are applying for scholarship with.
Make your pre-interview application stand out.