Handling The All-Important Scholarship Interview
You’ve sent out the scholarship application and you received a call or an email to turn up for the scholarship interview. Now it’s time to seal the deal. So what’s the best way to be prepared?
Before The Interview
Research On The Scholarship Provider
Read about the company. Also, ask your friends and relatives about what they know of the company. While this doesn’t mean you should trawl through the last decade of the company’s financial records, you should be aware of the work the company does, any new projects and recent campaigns. And possibly, also its culture and values. Having some knowledge about the company is also a way of showing interest and respect for the company whose scholarship you are hoping to get.
It is good that you prepare some questions and expectations about the company. As much as the interview is for the company to know about you, you should be prepared to use this opportunity to find out more about the company and what plans it has for its scholars. It is acceptable for applicants to ask about the company’s stand on issues and culture. But remember that questions like those must be asked in a tactful, non-confrontational way. You may even ask about the challenges that you may face, the training programmes and growth opportunities.
Once you’ve done your homework, you’re ready to start practising. One good way would be to think about the worst questions you can face in the interview. You should then practise answering those questions through role-play with your buddies or family members. Ask them to tell you honestly about your voice, articulation or if you sound arrogant or insincere.
Know what the organisation is looking for and be prepared to articulate your strengths and skills and what you can bring to the organisation. Even if you’re asked off-the-wall questions like ‘What is your favourite pet?’ or ‘What is your favourite colour?’ be prepared to answer them in a way that focuses on what you can do or contribute to the company.
Know The Scholarship Terms And Benefits
You can’t go into the interview room without knowing the details of the scholarship you are applying for. Know all the conditions provided by the organisation in their advertisements and websites. Many interviewers see this as a pre-requisite of interest, so make sure you do not get these facts mixed up, especially if you are applying for multiple scholarships.
Prepare Your Portfolio
Bring a nice portfolio with copies of your resume. Include a pen and paper for note-taking. Your resume and paperwork should also be well prepared and organised. Listing out and describing your achievements and experiences in reverse chronological order would be a good way to do it. The way you organise and present your materials does reflect your personality. Know your resume thoroughly. Be ready to answer any question relating to what you state there. Also, bring along copies of awards testimonials and proofs of achievement.
At The Interview
Dress For Success
You’ll need to look presentable for the interview. What you wear will send a very strong non-verbal message to the interviewer. In this case, being conservative with the ‘executive look’ is better. For guys, a suit is not necessary but a long-sleeved light coloured shirt with dark pants is appropriate. For girls, a dress or tailored suit is best. Pants, loud accessories or attention-catching dressing are not advised.
On the day of the interview, relax and feel good about yourself. Make yourself a list of things that you know will make you feel better in case some unfortunate things happen prior to the interview. Call your closest friend. Do anything that will help calm you down.
Arrive On Time
If you are not familiar with the venue of the interview, it is advisable to visit the place a day or two before the interview to make sure you know how to get there and how long it takes. Alternatively, give yourself lots of buffer time to catch a cab if you got lost. Punctuality is important, make sure you leave your home early and arrive at least 10 minutes before the scheduled interview.
Make Good Impressions
Your body language is very important in making a good impression with anyone you meet, including interviewers. Avoid crossing your arms which makes you look closed-off. Other non-verbal cues may include slouching, eye-rolling, shrugging, lip biting, mumbling, puckering, yawning, playing with your hair, touching your face and wringing your hands together. All these things can sometimes have negative connotations, so be aware of your body and the signals you’re giving.
Sit up straight at the interview and make eye contact. Don’t fear to look the interviewers in the eye – you’ll find that it’s easier when you’re relaxed and open. Treat the interview like a conversation with a distant relative; be polite, smile, but also look away once in a while, look at your notes or take in your surroundings while you ponder a difficult question – this will give your employer a chance to relax too. Don’t be soft-spoken. A forceful voice projects confidence.
Remember that having a positive attitude and expressing enthusiasm for the job and employer are vital in the initial stages of the interview; studies show that hiring managers make critical decisions about applicants in the first 20 minutes of the interview.
Don’t answer cell-phone calls during the interview, and please turn off your cell phone. Or at least set it to a silent mode.
Interact And Converse
If you have any questions, ask them. Although you might think that you should just be answering questions, the interview is also your opportunity to figure out if you’ll be a good fit in the role and the company. Earlier we mentioned about having questions about the company and the scholarship. An interview is a two-way thing. The ultimate purpose of having an interview is to develop communication between the two parties.
In responding to the questions, do not let them come across as generic and memorised. Experienced interviewers can tell if they were rehearsed. Remember, an interview ultimately is about you, and it is your personal touch in terms of the details and your approaches in tackling issues that they want to hear about.
Most interviewers seek candidates who have both strong technical skills and good communication skills. They ask questions designed to elicit responses that show those skills, or the lack of them.
You should also be prepared to do a ‘60-second commercial’ about yourself if asked to do so. Interviewers have been known to ask candidates to make a short presentation of themselves. You should touch briefly on your background, your strengths, your current activities and your future goals.
You don’t have to tell jokes during the interview.
A final point – having a good night’s sleep is important. You would be more ready to take on a challenge when you’re fresh-faced and looking great.
Good luck! We hope you get the scholarship you want and with it an enriching education and successful career!
• May Fong •