A good interview is vital to your scholarship application.
It's an opportunity to supplement your credentials with the kind of
impression that can't be put on paper. However for most, interviews are
a major source of stress. Keep the anxiety level under control by
thinking ahead and following these tips from a scholarship expert.
Before the interview you should:
- Research the organization and its business sector thoroughly to get a good idea of their background - look at their web site, ensure that you are up to date on any 'live' media issues relating to the organization. Work this information into the interview to show how serious you are about receiving the scholarship.
- Find out who will be interviewing you - it could throw you if, instead of the one-to-one interview you had imagined, you are faced with an interview panel of six people.
- Check the format of the interview - for example: Will there be any personality or aptitude/skills testing?
- Prepare your journey to the interview destination well in advance - ensure you are familiar with the venue route and available parking. If using public transport, check bus schedules. Allow extra time in getting to the interview in case of unforeseen circumstances such as heavy traffic.
It's a ConversationTo keep yourself relaxed, think of your interview as a conversation rather than a test. The interviewers are there to learn more about you. View the interview as an opportunity to discuss your goals, plans and concerns with experienced professionals.
Be PreparedYou can also decrease your anxiety level and improve your experience by anticipating the questions you'll be asked.
Be prepared to discuss:
- Your background: your educational history, your employment experiences, family background and upbringing.
- Your academic achievements: class-ranking, grade point average, awards you have won or projects you have undertaken (science fairs, debate competitions, etc.).
- Your future plans: academic plans, career plans.
- Your hobbies and interests: extracurricular activities, skills, jobs, etc.
- Your financial profile and needs: income, savings, parent's resources, level of financial need, anticipated expenses, etc. Information about your financial resources is especially important if the scholarship is need-based.
- Your personal "value structure": the things you think are important in your life. Information about your personal value structure helps the interviewers determine whether you would serve as an appropriate representative for their organization.
While it may be impossible to predict what questions you may be asked in a personal interview, it is possible to prepare yourself by working out answers to some of the more common questions that get asked in these interviews.
Questions you may be asked can fall in the following areas:
- Be prepared to discuss your college choice, career goals and any other information you included in your application.
- Information on your background.
- Obstacles or personal circumstances that were included in your application.
- Personal matters such as how you plan to finance your education, future plans, and your hobbies and interests.
- Your personal value structure, which may include the things you think are important in your life.
Practise answering these questions:
- What are your greatest strengths?
- What are your career goals?
- Why do you deserve this scholarship?
- Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?
- Tell me about a personal achievement that makes you proud.
- Tell me about a mistake that you made and what you’ve learned.
Use this information to develop responses that you may be able to introduce into the discussion to provide the content that you would like to be sure that the panelists hear from you. For example, if you are a finalist in a scholarship competition from an environmental group and you believe that your volunteer work on the local Conservation Commission was key to your selection as a finalist, consider finding examples from that experience to highlight your strengths or describe lessons you have learned.
Prepare yourself to make a good impression. If you need a haircut, get a haircut. If you are a nail biter, invest in a professional manicure. Select your interview outfit with care. It may or may not be advisable to wear a suit or dress, depending upon the specific situation. However, it is always appropriate to make sure your clothes are clean, they fit correctly and there are no loose buttons or hanging threads.
Be sure you know where you are going and how long it will take
to get there. Think about traffic flow at different times of the day.
It is really hard to concentrate on the questions you are being asked when your heart is still racing from the parking lot dash, there are rivulets of perspiration running down your face and you have to go to the bathroom but didn’t have time.
You look great. You have arrived with enough time to visit
the restroom, run a comb through your hair and pick the lint from the
car seat off your clothes. You’re under control.
It’s probably impossible to relax under these circumstances but it may help to remember that you are here because these people think you are a competent, qualified candidate. You earned the right to have this interview.
The panelists will use this time to get to know you better and you are working from the advantage that they are already supporters. Help them to help you have a great interview by being as genuinely pleased to be there as you can.
Let your enthusiasm for your education show. The personal interview can be a wonderful experience if you can approach it as an opportunity rather than as a trial.
What if, despite your logistical preparations, you are late or
arrive with a big coffee stain on your shirt. Well, you now have the
opportunity to exhibit the grace under pressure and ability to adapt
that has gotten you so far already.
Acknowledge the problem (“I had a mid-semester exam”), apologize if appropriate (“I’m so sorry to have delayed our scheduled meeting”) and then move on.
Don’t continue to focus on the initial negative; try to get the process moving forward so you can shine. (“I realize that I’m late but I’m very interested in participating in the interview if you are ready to move forward.”)
What if you can’t think of a good answer to a question that’s been posed? Or, you can’t even think of a bad answer because your mind has gone blank? Again, grace under pressure is key.
- Explain that you’re having a mental block on that topic just now and ask if it’s possible to come back to the question a bit later. Or, suggest that it’s a really interesting question that has prompted a lot of different ideas for you and you’d like to take a moment to organize your thoughts.
- In situations such as this one, it is sometimes suggested that while you take a moment to think, others can freshen their drinks (or something) so that you aren’t groping for an answer while several sets of eyes are watching your mental athletics.
There are a lot more possible what-ifs. The key is to remain confident and don’t let a problem shake your sense of yourself. The panelists recognize the pressure you are under and, as in life, you are often judged not by the reality that problems occur, but by the style with which you manage those problems.
Approach the interview with a sense of confidence, some humility and enough good humour to get you past any awkward moments.
- Be punctual! Check the interview time and get directions to the interview location before leaving your home. Check in when you arrive.
- Dress appropriately. Select conservative, semi-formal wear: slacks and a jacket or a dress shirt for men; dresses, skirts or pantsuits for women.
- Never wear jeans or t-shirts to an interview.
- Additionally you should have:
- Clean and polished conservative dress shoes
- Well-groomed hairstyle
- Cleaned and trimmed fingernails
- Minimal cologne or perfume
- No visible body piercing beyond conservative ear piercing for women
- Well-brushed teeth and fresh breath
- No gum, candy, or other objects in your mouth
- Minimal jewellery
- No body odour
- Make a good first impression. When you meet the interviewer(s), introduce yourself, make eye contact and use a firm handshake, but not too hard.
- Be brief and honest with your answers. Try to sum up your thoughts quickly. Interviewers will ask follow-up questions if they want to know more.
- Maintain eye contact with the interviewer(s) throughout the interview.
- Demonstrate interest and confidence.
- Have some questions ready for the interviewer(s). Prepare these questions in advance by researching the sponsoring organization, school or company.
- Remember to SMILE!! Don’t be shy.
- Show your appreciation. Thank the interviewer(s) for his/her time and consideration. Afterwards, send a thank you note.
- Practice interviewing with a friend.
- Assume the interviewer(s) are knowledgeable about you and your background-regardless of what you’ve included in your application.
- Be negative or critical about teachers, school, or friends. Interviewers value the individual who perceives difficult situations as challenging and interesting.
- Be afraid to say, “I don’t know” or ask questions. It’s better to ask for clarification than to miss an opportunity to produce an insightful answer.
- Use political, racial, ethnic, religious or other sensitive statements.
- Chew gum, bite nails, smoke, yawn, stretch, or slouch.