How I won the Chevening Scholarship (and How you can, too), Part 3: Interview Tips
This is Part 3 of my series on tips to apply for the Chevening Scholarship sponsored by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Make sure to read Part 1: Building a Profile and Part 2: Writing your essays first.
Hello, friends! I have resurfaced after a few months of overwhelming schoolwork to share with you some interview tips for the Chevening scholarship. If you have made it to the interview round, congratulations! Let’s get started to prepare for your interview.
I’ve also written another post about Things you should never brag about during interviews, which I think also applies in this situation.
General preparation tips
At the interview, you will have about 1 hour to convince a panel that you are worthy of this incredible opportunity. Before getting into the details, here are some general things that you should keep in mind.
Book a morning slot
When you get selected to interview for the scholarship, you can book a time slot to interview. Try your best to book a morning slot — studies have shown that teachers, judges and interviewers tend to be harsher when they are tired. Imagine if you have to interview 5 to 6 people each day for 15 days, you’d get pretty sick of it by the end. So, you should catch the panel when they’re at their best mood — first thing in the morning.
Be consistent with your essays
If you’ve made it to the interview round, you’ve written some fairly compelling essays about your experience, skills, knowledge, and passions in life. The panel will spend a major part of the interview asking about further details to clarify the things you mention in your essays.
Which means to prepare for your interview, you should know your essays inside and out. You should really go deep into what you wrote and dissect not only your experience, but your logic and motivation (why and how you did certain things), passion and goals (what drives you forward). The panel won’t necessarily ask you to repeat what you’ve already written, but will delve further into the details to understand your true motivation.
It is very important to be consistent with your essay (especially when you talk about your passion and motivation), because that paints an impression of self-assurance and authenticity.
Add your personal note to stand out
The most personal is the most creative. — Bong Joon Ho quoting Martin Scorsese at Oscars 2020
I’ve said this again and again, but personal stories, experiences and wisdom that are unique is what will set you apart from others. The Chevening panel interviews hundreds of candidates over the course a month, so the worst thing you can do is having a stereotypical answer that will make you blend in with the other candidates.
“That’s really different, I’ve never heard that before” was a reply that I got for one of my answers about networking. When asked about what I did to expand my network, I replied that I loved volunteering and participating in community activities, because after 5 years of working in the same industry, I felt like I was in a bubble of media professionals. Volunteering was a great way to meet people who worked in different industries and people who were not in the same age group and socio-economic class that I was. At the time, I thought it was just common sense, but I am now sure that it was an A+ answer that set me apart from other candidates.
When you prepare for your interview, think about how you approach leadership, networking, professional opportunities and how your approach stands out from others. That’s what you should highlight in your interview.
It’s okay to show your vulnerabilities
I know that a lot of common interview tips say that you have to dress up in a suit and be super confident at the interview, but in a way, I think that makes you less personable and likeable.
The first thing I said to my panel when asked: “How are you?” is “I’m super nervous. I’ve never done anything like this before.” Being honest at that moment not only help me let go of my nerves, it also relaxes the room and made me seem more genuine in my answers. Stories about your failures and struggles, if told in the right way, also help portray you as an interesting person with life experience.
When I learned that I was shortlisted to interview, I connected with a few other candidates who were also interviewing for the scholarship and formed a mock interview group. Mock interviews are great to help you articulate your thoughts, practice your eye contact and body language, and help you be less nervous during the actual interview.
When my group wasn’t available to do mock interviews, I rehearsed my answers with my husband or my dog. Saying my answers out loud really helped me with structuring my thoughts, getting rid of the unnecessary “ahs” and “ums”, and ultimately becoming better with thinking on my feet during the interview.
If you want to find out more, watch this mock interview video created by a group of Chevening scholar 18/19:
Types of questions you’ll get at the interview
Note that these are, by no means, all the questions you’ll get asked at the interview. The following are just some types of questions that I have generalized after talking to my fellow Chevening scholars and candidates. They serve as a general guide for you to prepare for your interview.
“Tell me about your worst failure.”
This kind of competency-based questions rely on the assumption that what you did in the past will predict what you will do in future situations. The majority of the interview will use this type of question to ask about your personal experience and what you learned from them.
Competency-based questions are also very personal, requiring personal reflection and insight, so you won’t be able to find the easy way out. However, I do have some tips to help you structure an impactful answer below:
1. Use S.T.A.R.
I mentioned the S.T.A.R. method in the Essay Writing post as well, but it’s worth repeating here. S.T.A.R. stands for Situation (what was the status quo), Task (what needed to be done), Action (what you did), and Result (the impact of what you did) and it’s a formula to help you structure your answer in a logical, concise and coherent way.
Keep in mind that verbal answers are very different from written answers — it’s easy to lose sight of important points when you’re talking. Therefore, I always stress the important points with my tone, and when talking about actions and impacts, I always say: “First,…. Second,… and Third.” Doing so really helps me keep track of the important points in my answer, and it helps the interviewer follow the answer as well.
2. Focus on learning and impact
You need to wrap up every answer with the impact you created and what you learned from what happened. This is the most important part of your answer. Sharing the impacts of your actions demonstrates not only your skills and knowledge, but also your influence on your community — and that’s exactly what Chevening is looking for. Sharing what you learned from your experiences, especially your failures, also shows your willingness to learn, your modesty, and your insightful ability to reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses.
Questions related to your personal beliefs and experiences
These questions are different for everyone and very much dependent on your life experiences and industry. Many of them are very tricky to answer, requiring a candidate to be extremely self-assured and confident that they have made (and will continue to make) sensible life choices.
One of the questions I got was: “Why are you not pursuing a higher education in the U.S.?” (I had gotten my B.A. in the U.S.) Of course, the answer to this question is deeply personal, so there is no right or wrong answer. However, you need to demonstrate your rationality and thought process, as well as your knowledge and personal beliefs related to those decisions.
For example, my answer to the aforementioned question is: “Although I had a wonderful time going to college there, the U.S. government’s continuous failure to acknowledge and solve the gun violence problem that they have is the reason I don’t want to continue my study there. I don’t feel safe because I don’t feel like human life and public safety are valued as much as certain groups’ interests.” This answer demonstrates my personal beliefs, my rationale in making decisions related to my future, as well as my understanding of current events and pressing political situations in the States.
Questions related to your industry
One of the judges in your panel will be someone working in your industry, so there will be several industry-related questions. Chevening scholars come from diverse backgrounds, so my only pointer for this type of questions is to thoroughly research your industry’s current standing in your community, your country, in the U.K., and in the world. It is also helpful to identify what the industry is currently lacking, anticipate future developments, and how your skills and expertise can fit in to this picture.
In my essay-writing piece, I shared that Chevening is not an opportunity for you to find yourself. You need to know your future goals and how you want to get there, and Chevening will give you a boost to get there a bit faster. Demonstrating your knowledge of your industry is a great way to convince the panel that you know who you are, what you’re passionate about, and how you want to make an impact in the future.
Questions related to UK interests and efforts in your country
Of course, since Chevening is a FCO-funded opportunity, its ultimate goal is to strengthen the ties between the UK and your country. Therefore, if you can identify the UK’s current interests and efforts in your country, and how your area of study can benefit these programs, that’s great. However, don’t force yourself into the picture if you cannot think of a link between your work and the UK’s interests in your country. Knowing the UK’s current events, programs and focus in your country would be a good place to start.
Questions that you won’t be able to answer
These are the wildcard, philosophical questions that really puzzles you, and they are different every time. “What’s the role of academics in our society?”; “What is the purpose of protests?” are just some questions that my fellow scholars have shared.
It’s okay if you don’t know the answer to these questions, you’re not expected to. In fact, I don’t think there’s a “correct” answer to these questions at all. When you get a question like this, don’t just reply “I don’t know” — these questions are designed to challenge your critical thinking and help the panel understand your thought process. So, the best thing to do is to acknowledge the tricky nature of the question, present different angles that can demonstrate your understanding of the matter, and present your argument.
Finally, I must say that the above information comes from my personal experience applying to Chevening in 2019, so it surely isn’t a complete or perfect guide by any mean. Everyone’s answers and experiences are different, so the only thing that will help you in this process is self-reflection — truly knowing who you are, what you want out of life, and how you fit in the world. Nevertheless, I hope this post has been helpful. If you have any specific question that I haven’t answered, please comment below. Good luck!
Written by: Chi Ngo – Chevening Scholar 2019-2020
Photo: Chevening Awards on Twitter