How I won the Chevening Scholarship (and How you can, too), Part 1: Building a Profile

How I won the Chevening Scholarship (and How you can, too), Part 1: Building a Profile

In July 2019, I was honored to receive the Chevening Scholarship to get my Master’s Degree in Digital Media, Culture and Society at the University of Brighton, UK.

If you don’t know, Chevening is a prestigious scholarship funded by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Every year for the past 35 years, the Chevening Committee selected outstanding scholars from all over the world to join this community. Its alumni have gone on to become world leaders, entrepreneurs, and some of the most influential people in their communities.

Intimidated yet? I know. I was, too, when I read the description.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one riddled with self-doubt. Now that we’ve done that self-awareness exercise, let’s get to work.

Part 1: Building a Profile

Chevening Awards are an important element in Britain’s public diplomacy effort and bring professionals, who have already displayed outstanding leadership talents, to study in the UK. The objective of Chevening is to support foreign policy priorities and achieve FCO objectives by creating lasting positive relationships with future leaders, influencers, and decision-makers. (Excerpt from the Chevening website)

Step 1: Get familiar with Chevening’s values

Take a bit of time to get to know the organization and what it stands for. The information is readily available to you on the Chevening website.

Speaking from my experience as a hiring manager, I always tell candidates that getting a job (or in this case, a scholarship) isn’t about who’s the smartest or the most successful. It’s always about how you fit with the organization.

This organization isn’t any different. It is looking for people who fit in with its community, who share the same values and are motivated by the same thing. Of course, intelligence and achievement are significant, but what you value is a far better indication of where you’re headed.

Chevening’s values are easily interpreted from all of its literature and the application process, but I can share a quick summary here:

Leadership

“Leadership” here is used in the broad sense of the word. If you have experience in managing a team, that’s great. Use that. But you don’t need a title to be a leader. And perhaps, your title doesn’t mean much in this context.

In every organization, there are people whom others flock to for guidance, people whose opinions that others respect, whose every action inspires others. Those are the leaders you should aspire to be.

The best part is, you don’t need to be promoted to be this kind of leader. You can start right now.

Networking

I’ve shared about this in another Medium article, but almost all of the significant job opportunities and business connections that I’ve had have been shared to me by a personal connection. That’s why networking is important.

If you don’t know where to start, I learned a lot of things from “Never eat alone”, a networking must-read. Although some of the tips shared here are a bit calculating and manipulative, one thing that everyone must admit it gets right: Networking is the key to open any door.

Having a strong network means that your influence and reach are expanded and that your goals are more likely to succeed because there is a community who believe in you and support you.

Education plan & career plan

These are pretty self-explanatory. You need to know where you’re going with this. You’re not exactly out here to “find yourself”. You need to have clear, achievable goals and a plan to get there. The scholarship is here to give you a boost to get there a bit faster, and that can’t be achieved if you don’t know what’s next.

*If you want to know more about how I shaped my experience to fit with Chevening’s values, stay tuned for Part 2: Essay Tips

Step 2: Create your Personal Vision

In the application process, self-awareness is the key. It’s simple: If you don’t know who you are and what you stand for, you won’t be able to convince people to believe in you.

Admittedly, I learned how to do this in a Self-help book: “The end of Procrastination — How to Stop Postponing and Live a Fulfilled Life”. Even if you’re not a master procrastinator (like myself), this book still has a few self-awareness exercises that can be beneficial to help you realize who you are, and how this scholarship is going to fit into your plan.

One of the exercises that I found useful was the “Personal Vision” worksheet, where I had to create a personal SWOT Analysis (my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), a list of personal achievements, and activities that motivate me. You can download the worksheet here: Procrastination.com

Writing this down was like putting together an intricate puzzle that reflected my core. Once you know who you are and how the scholarship logically fit in your life vision, building a scholarship profile is just telling a convincing, coherent story that reflects You.

Step 3: Talk about impact

Whatever it is that you’re writing or talking about, make it about impact. It’s no accident that Chevening has an impact report available on its website, listing the awe-inspiring achievements of its alumni for the past 35 years. This scholarship is about changing the world for the better.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to change the world (just yet). I certainly haven’t.

People often think of impact in terms of scale (the number of people you help). If you have done something that impacts a whole community (your school, your business, your city, your country, or the world), that’s great, write about that. But for the rest of us mortals, I like thinking of impact in terms of sustainability: things you’ve done to change your status quo permanently, or at least for a long-term period.

This is the difference between cooking one meal for 200 homeless people (scale) and helping one homeless person get a job so that he/she can support him/herself (sustainability).

There are a lot of ways you can make a small, sustainable impact. Putting a compost bin in your apartment building. Encouraging your company to fund a scholarship. Creating a guidebook for young startups to get started. Writing a book to inspire young people.

When I wrote about my impact, everything was within the scope of my team (10 people) and my company (200 people in Vietnam; 2,500 in 7 countries). But as employee #45 in Vietnam, I did a lot of things to make people’s lives a bit easier in the long term. Creating a better workflow, a healthier culture, a career and development path, founding a mentorship program for young marketers, asking for services to support people’s mental health, asking the company to reduce its plastic waste,… It’s not much, but I know in my heart that I’ve made a difference in this small community.

When you build your scholarship profile, think about this. Participate in activities that have sustainable impacts, however small it may seem. Consider things you’ve done that made a sustainable difference. This is what you should highlight throughout the application process (application, essays, and interview).

Self-reflection is the most important part of this whole process. Once you know your values, your goals, and your (however aspirational) impacts, translating them into a shining scholarship profile is just about story-telling.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Writing your Essays and Part 3: Preparing for your interviews.

Written by: Chi Ngo – Chevening 2019/2020

Photo by: internet



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