The Interview

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By G.M

Your scholarship interview as with other forms of interview is both evaluative and informative. It is not just targeted at learning more about you and authenticating your story, but also for you to learn more about the scholarship. In other words, an interview is a two-way conversation where the board both assesses you, and you, in turn them.

If you are invited to the interview, it means you are one those fortunate and uniquely differentiated breed. That is a feat in its own right. Fortunate? Yes, indeed! For there would have been loads of equally qualified or even better qualified candidates ditched for a plethora of reasons, some of them unconnected to the quality of their applications. For instance, paucity of funds, reviewers’ bias, Chevening’s bias for the candidates course choices etc. Nevertheless, it still cannot be taken away from this group that their brand stood taller in the average applicant pool. That is something to be proud of. Therefore, you do not want to blow everything up at this crucial stage. You must put your best foot forward. There should be no space or allowance for fretting, stammering or hypophonia. The interview is simply not the place for those. Go prepared! Look the interviewer(s) in the eye and talk with such electrifying aura of confidence. Be articulate, dynamic, jovial and likable. It is your time to shine!

The interview matters! It doesn’t make sense to have put in so much effort on your application, only to betray it with a lack-lustre performance at the interview. The interview is the last step (if you have met your IELTS) closer to your goal. Don’t blow it up!

The interview allows the panel to authenticate your story, learn a few more things about you that may not have come through in your application. When you walk in through that door, the assessors are sitting on the fence about you. What you say and how you say what you say what you say, will mean everything. The interview is no arena to be timid. Kill every such tendency in you before the D-day. This is your future on the line.

Some Interview Etiquettes You May Already Know:

Whilst the interview will yet assess you on the four sections of the essays, some mannerisms can negatively affect your assessment and build the interviewer’s negative bias. This is why you should pay attention to certain etiquettes

  1. Dress appropriately. Be conservative with your attire. Follow the formal and neutral colours e.g. black, blue, grey pants or suits. Ladies may wear a skirt or pant suit. Ignore your jean and other native attires on these occasion. Don’t take unnecessary risks. Keep your nails clean and unpainted or neutrally painted if you must, and let your hair be uniformly coloured, well ‘salooned’ and kempt. Avoid shouting hair colours like blue, red, green, etc. you need your interviewer to focus on your leadership impact not on your fashion sense.
  2. Sit appropriately. As simple an obvious as this sounds, many still flop on this. Sit upright, face forwards, hands on your laps or on the hand-rest, not on the interviewer’s table. Ignore the backrest if the seat has one and avoid a slumping posture. If you’re a lady sit like one, not lap-crossed or legs ajar. Your bag also, should be on the floor beside you, not on the interviewer’s table.
  3. Communicate clearly, precisely and respectfully, not boastfully, what is distinctive about you.  Typically, many interviews of this nature last 15 – 25 minutes, so you can’t afford to ramble or insist on telling the minutest details. The interview usually will focus on your essays or the entire application and sometimes other aspects of your life not captured. The design of the questions helps the assessors to understand your motivation, your self-awareness, and the impact of your leadership, your authenticity and uniqueness. So, be sure to speak audibly, confidently, clearly and precisely. An invitation to the interview is welcome news for any applicant, but isn’t a guarantee for an award. Your presentation is the rate-limiting step. Therefore practice telling your own story to anyone who cares to listen before the due date. Convince the panel that you’re a great fit and will make strong contributions to the Chevening community. Let your speech reveal aspects of your personality and extracurricular activities that make you an interestingly unique person. Candidates who prove to be very articulate, confident and dynamic and likeable would be remembered from the pack. Caution: Avoid interrupting your interviewer. Ask questions only when the timing is appropriate or when permitted to do so.
  4. Wrap up the interview with an intelligent question and say thank you. Do not ask obvious questions for the sake of asking a question. If you have no questions, don’t feel pressed to ask any. If you do have a question, let it be an intelligent one. Also do not go all loose asking every question that comes into mind. Be sensitive, there will be loads of other candidates waiting to come in.

Approaching and Preparing for the Interview:

  1. Compose a concise and clear profile summary. In the weeks leading to the actual interview period, the Chevening secretariat may require interviewees to upload such a document to their application. This summary, sometimes between 25 to 100 words is a micro-distillation of your professional and extracurricular life in the context of your Chevening application. As opposed to a resume, it is less about the details of job descriptions and more about your leadership potential and professional track record. Therefore, you should create this document as a condensation of the most important achievements that reinforce your suitability for the scholarship award.
  2. Talk to alums and current scholars. Alumni and current scholars could prove hugely beneficial in helping you prepare for the interview. Even co-applicants can be helpful by sharing useful previous or other interview experiences and information. Same goes for online community of friends seeking the same goals. The catch here however is, use your discretion when listening to other applicants especially those in the same cohort as you; because some may be eager to psych-out their competitors, therefore everything they share may be misleading or inaccurate.
  3. Know your story and sell it confidently. Revise your application to ensure that you remember all specifics of your story. Remember to demonstrate the what, the why, and the result of whatever you say. Share with the panel practical examples of the impact you have had – show self-awareness, not simply by listing what you have accomplished but by focusing on the why? And on the lessons learned. Demonstrate that you have guts and have ventured into uncertain terrains or into areas outside of your comfort zone or job routine. Go with great energy, and speak passionately.
  4. Practice, practice, practice! This cannot be overemphasized. Have a friend or colleague pose interview questions to you and time yourself. Give yourself 2 -3 minutes for every question. Request feedback following the mock interview to identify areas needing improvement. Do not assume that you’re an excellent interviewee, so neglect preparation. This may prove a costly mistake. Whether you’re a born talker or greatly dread interviews, it is wise to prepare. Practice, they say, makes perfect. Proper preparation prevents poor performance. The more experience you have with interviewing, the better the chance to improve your interviewing skills. I once lost a prestigious scholarship at the interview stage because I was over-confident and hadn’t practiced prior, only for a few questions to sweep me off my feet because, it was difficult to think on my feet.
  5. Go into the interview refreshed. Go into the interview well rested, refreshed, alert and full of energy. If you have to travel from your city to another one, make the journey the day prior. Avoid going to work on the day you have an interview supposing the interview is scheduled in the city where you live. Some have gone to interviews from work, and having experienced an extremely stressful day blew the interview due to physical and mental fatigue. This is preventable. Give yourself every advantage possible by going to the interview refreshed; for only one-third of you will receive the happy mail. Remember that you’re now in competition with the top 3 percent.

There will be further expose on interviews by my colleagues, but in closing this, I advise: make sure that you don not exit that interview room without having communicated key points as to why you’re unique, interesting, and the best fit on the planet for this award. Show your suitability as well as what you will potentially be bringing to improve the Chevening community. Keep your stories, short, clear, laser-specific and arm yourself with accurate/relevant statistics. Leave the interviewers transfixed by your strong personality and articulate presentation. Happy New Year!

*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), its partner organizations or any scholarship awarding institution.

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