This week, a small handful of the candidates to the Chevening Scholarship 2018, the prestigious scholarship from the British Embassy, were informed they would be invited to interview in the next couple of months. Many others were unfortunately not invited to interview.
Those who are successful at the interview stage will be those who get awarded the scholarship and travel to the UK to study for a year. Importantly, they will also become part of the prestigious Chevening network, a collection of influential and talented professionals around the world who have been responsible for creating great social, economic and cultural links between their countries and the UK.
In the past few years I have worked with a number of Chevening applicants, a number who have been successful in getting to the interview and getting awarded the scholarship. Not every person I have coached went all the way, but having debriefed candidates and discovered about their interviews, here are 4 tips to help you prepare for your interview.
Note, this blog is a little longer than normal. Hope you find it informative.
- Know what to expect
Your Chevening interview panel will normally be composed of 3 to 4 people, mixed between embassy staff and ex-Chevening scholars. There will normally be someone there who is actively involved in your subject area, i.e. human rights, finance, education or energy etc. The interview will be panel based and you will have about 30 minutes in front of them. It is a formal interview, but the panel are human beings, therefore well placed humour can go a long way to charming them.
- First impressions matter
As a British person, I can attest to the importance of punctuality. Always ensure you arrive early to the interview. Try to arrive 45 minutes before and go to a café nearby and order a cold drink to calm you down. Arrive at your designated meeting spot 15 minutes before you are scheduled to interview (or at the exact time they have indicated you to arrive). Lateness is considered rude in British culture; arriving late will put you on the back foot or even kill your chance all together.
Ensure your dress is formal and professional. . Women should wear professional dress that would be expected in a business environment internationally. Men should always wear a suit and tie with polished shoes. Your dress should reflect the professional image you are trying to project. Scruffy, dirty clothes will not speak highly of you as a potential leader and influencer.
Take practice lessons in handshaking (and know how to dry your palms) before the meeting and learn how to project a positive, confident attitude on meeting your interviewers, e.g. smiling and making eye contact. You only have one opportunity to make a first impression, so do it right. I teach this skill to young professionals all the time and you would be amazed how few know how to handshake correctly.
- The purpose of the interview
The reason you have been invited to interview is because the Chevening selection committee have seen something of value in your application letters and CV. They are hopeful that you will be someone worthy of receiving the scholarship. It is important to remember that the Chevening scholarship scheme is operated by the UK government and therefore there are diplomatic influences at play.
The UK government is keen to invest in countries like Mexico and to help young professionals study Masters degrees in the UK. The scheme is targeted at creating social, cultural and (importantly) economic links between the UK and other countries. This kind of growth in relations relies on talented individuals who are able to see opportunities and then lead and develop these. It is not all about money though. Some of the most influential leaders are those who can drive social change as much as economic.
One of the key parts of the interview is therefore to see the future leadership and influence potential you have. You may possess bundles of leadership and networking ability, but you need to ensure you show it. Make sure you are able to project these abilities clearly using your voice, body language and words. For some it comes naturally, but for others it takes time and practice. It is a worthwhile investment to hire an interview specialist to coach you. You only have 30 minutes, so if you go off topic and provide waffling answers then you will unlikely make a good impression.
- Kill it or kill it.
The Chevening interview gives you one shot. Few ever get the opportunity to reapply the next year. You need to be ready to kill it (in the positive sense, not the negative). Be fanatical in your preparation. Know what you will say when asked certain questions, ensure you can give concrete examples of your achievements and make sure this sounds natural. Network with Chevening scholars and find out as much about the work Chevening and other organisations do in your area. Get coaching on your interview skills and get a mentor who can give you independent, objective advice. All of this will help you project stronger profile.
As I said, there are no guarantees at the interview stage. The least you can do though it be 100% ready for this huge opportunity that is once in a lifetime. Good luck!
Tom Scott – Admissions Coach and Business Consultant