Applying for a scholarship is the easy part. The hard part is what comes after — the interview.
If the mere thought of having to prove yourself to a stranger sends you into a cold sweat, don’t worry. You are not alone. Many students get anxious when it comes to face-to-face interactions, especially when it’s something as important as a scholarship on the line.
Here are 5 strategies that can help improve your chances of a successful scholarship interview.
1) Prepare ahead of time
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
For a start, practise introducing yourself and come out with some key points about yourself. Think about your achievements, passions and any interesting experiences that you’ve had.
Next, make sure you learn everything you can about the scholarship provider — nature of business, mission and vision, key leaders of the organisation, recent news, etc. Sponsors want to know that you have taken the time and initiative to research about their organisation.
Also, don’t forget to practice answering questions that are typically asked at interviews:
- What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
- Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?
- Why did you choose this course / degree / university?
- Why do you think you deserve this scholarship?
- How have you been a leader or displayed leadership skills?
For some interviews, you may also be required to discuss a topic that is given to you. It can be hard to predict these, as the topics can range from current affairs to lifestyle choices. Do your best to prepare by reading the news and forming an opinion about various matters.
2) Groom and dress appropriately
Like it or not, first impressions matter so it’s important that you dress appropriately. Remember, you’re going for an interview, not shopping at the mall. Interviewers want to know that they’re speaking to someone who is serious and respects others by being appropriately dressed.
If a dress code is stated, be sure to follow it and don’t go overboard. Formal or business attire means buttoned-down collared shirt (do not roll up the sleeves) and a pair of dark-coloured slacks (absolutely no jeans, skinny or otherwise!) or a knee-length skirt. Don’t go wild with flashy neon colours and loud patterns, and make sure your shoes are in good condition.
Don’t forget to groom yourself too, ensuring your hair is neat and tidy. Ditch any extra piercings you have, don’t go smelling of smoke and bring a pack of breath mints.
3) Make sure you are on time
If there’s anything worse than dressing inappropriately, it’s being late. Not turning up on time gives the impression that you are sloppy, irresponsible and bad at managing your time.
Plan your journey a day in advance, taking note of how long it will take you to get to your venue. Make sure you account for unexpected situations, like traffic jams and parking issues. It’s always best to arrive 15 minutes early, as you may need time to look for the exact room the interview is being held.
In the event that you are running late, be sure to give the interviewer a call to let them know so that you don’t keep them waiting.
4) Be conscious of your behaviour
During the interview, it is important that you appear calm and composed, even if you’re wrecked with nerves. Try not to fidget, bite your nails or bounce your leg up and down.
When speaking with the interviewer, it is crucial that you maintain eye contact. Answer the questions clearly and with confidence, and try not to use too many “uhms” and “ahhs”.
If you need time to think before answering a question, try gaining a few precious seconds by saying, “That’s a really good question“. You can also try clarifying or paraphrasing by saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not quite sure if I understood you correctly. Do you mean…“.
Most importantly though, be truthful. Interviewers are looking for authenticity, so don’t tell them that you’re the scout troop leader when you haven’t even been to a camp. Playing up your achievements is one thing, lying about them is another.
5) Finally, just be yourself
Yes, trying to impress a complete stranger can be a real challenge. But ultimately, it’s important to remember to just be yourself. Getting called for an interview means you’ve already impressed them enough, and they’d like to know you a little better.
You’ve worked hard to get the interview, so enjoy the moment and don’t let the pressure get to you. Most of the time, interviewers will keep a straight face and not show too much enthusiasm or acknowledgement, so don’t let that affect your responses.
Always think, act and talk as though you are the best candidate who deserves the scholarship!