While those of you seeking a scholarship for post-grad work have likely had some previous experience in this department, for jobs and colleges, many college-bound applicants may be facing their first encounter with what is an understandable source of anxiety: the interview.
Interviews have been a nerve-wracking ordeal for everyone — from high-schoolers on up to corporate executives — since the advent of the desk chair. After having virtually unlimited time to answer questions in the application, you’re forced to think on your feet while smiling and sitting up straight — all in the presence of a member of the scholarship board. Also unlike an application, interviews cannot be completed in one’s underwear (unless it’s a phone interview).
So think of it this way before you start to panic: you’ve already proven your mettle. Throughout the application process you’ve exercised excellent organizational skills and shown yourself to be a well-prepared individual — now it’s simply a matter of allowing those skills to carry over into the interview process.
As with all things, first you must prepare.
One of the most important things about interviewing is anticipation, because it’s anticipation that will save you the squirm-in-the-seat agony of trying to answer a totally unexpected question. Before going to the interview, prepare basic answers to common, generic questions. Be ready to discuss:
-Your personal history in terms of education, employment, and (some) family. How each shaped you as a person, and how each affected your values and dreams.
-Any awards, championships, honors, distinctions you have won.
-Hopes, dreams and plans for the future, how you plan to attain them and why they are so important to you.
-Hobbies and personal interests.
-Your personal financial standing, and that of your parents, especially if the scholarship is need-based.
-Any questions you may have for the interviewer, relevant to the interview. It can’t hurt to come up with a few of these. It will make you look even more enthusiastic.
Bear in mind that all of your answers should be always relevant to the scholarship you’re applying for. In other words, don’t spend the whole time discussing high school basketball triumphs when applying for a business scholarship. You’d do well to practice adapting your personal history and accomplishments to each individual interview. Make everything relevant to the scholarship you’re contending for. Make it seem as though the scholarship was created for you alone. In a sense, it’s like a job interview — the interviewer is seeking the perfect person to represent the image, reputation and values of his or her organization.
Just a side note: if the scholarship is a specific one, be prepared to answer topical questions. For example, if you’re angling for a humanities scholarship, be prepared to discuss Descartes; if it’s a marine biology scholarship, be prepared to hold forth on the mating habits of octopi.
And on the big day:
-Arrive ten minutes early. Do not be late. If something comes up that will prevent you from arriving on time, call as soon as you can so the interviewer can either attend to other matters while waiting, or rescheduling for a more convenient time.
-Men, wear a jacket and tie, women, a suit or conservative dress/skirt. Dress as though you’re attending a job interview. Do not wear jeans, t-shirts or casual clothing. This cannot be stressed enough.
-Make eye contact, sit up straight, and give a firm handshake. No gum, coffee, food or cigarettes are to be brought into the interview.
-Answer all questions as briefly and candidly as propriety allows. Avoid rambling. If you’ve prepared sufficiently, the answers will already be on the tip of your tongue. If you’re confused by a question, don’t hesitate to ask the interviewer to clarify. It certainly beats a grasping, directionless response.
-Be positive and enthusiastic about the scholarship and about your own future. Smile. Foster easy conversation.
Afterwards, get the name of the interviewer, and send along a thank you note, mentioning something discussed casually in the interview, to help keep your face with your name in the mind of the interviewer.