I have applied to Bank Negara twice, once for the Pre-university Scholarship (2013) and once for the Undergraduate Scholarship (2014). After being rejected in the first interview – not even making the individual stage – fortunately I secured the scholarship at my second attempt. Since very little has been written about the application process of Bank Negara Undergraduate Scholarship Program, I think I might just share my experience of my second visit to the Bank’s assessment.
Only sixteen out of two thousands applicants were selected and only 10 of us made the trip to the Bank. I did not expect this few to be present but I am definitely not complaining about the six absentees. Did I also mention that there will be a further short-listing after the group assessment which further reduces the number? Now, allow me to walk you through the process, which is quite lengthy.
The entire day consisted of two parts, one being the group assessment and the other a 3-on-1 individual interview (referred as interview later). The former lasted for about an hour and the latter about 45 minutes.
There were 6 guys and 4 girls, and most of us applied with offers to read economics from UK universities like LSE, Warwick and Bath. Additionally, 2 girls would be heading to UiTM and one guy would be going to Cornell University.
Our day went as something like this:
- 8.00-8.15 : Registration
- 8.30-9.00 : Briefing on the programs
- 9.00-10.30 : Group Assessment
- 11.00-12.00 : Announcement of shortlisted candidates who will proceed to the interview
- 12.00- 1.00 : Lunch
- 1.00 – 4.00 : Interview (which ended earlier than estimated)
In the group assessment, we were made into two groups of five before we entered separate rooms. There were 3 panels in each room who assessed our performances in a role play simulation. Each of us assumed a role (business development, manager, etc) in a fashion company which was facing falling profits and our task was to try to extend its product line. We were given 30 minutes to discuss and a data table as our reference. The task required us to identify the problems, risks and solutions for the company and later present the ideas to the panels who acted as the board members of the company.
Since I like statistics, and had learned to quickly digest them during my A-level economics classes, I volunteered to be the number guy. I noticed some trends in the table which were discussion-worthy and – knowing that I had to make my presence known – brought them up to my teammates. Of course there were disagreements and rebuttal of ideas, but the key here was to stand behind the group’s final decision and not let disagreements turn into fallacious arguments.
The presentation went okay and I thought my group did a good job in defending our strategy even when the panels doubted its practicability. There wasn’t a lot of flare, but then the critical moment came when one of my teammates, Syahmi, was called and asked which of the two of us would he choose to fire!
(It’s The Apprentice all over again! I looked up to the ceiling hoping to find a camera directing at us.)
Aaaaand the results were announced before lunch! 3 of us were eliminated. I really felt bad for those who crashed out because they were going through what I had gone through last year. At the same time I couldn’t help but felt relieved too.
During lunch, I had the opportunity to speak to my panels who would later interview me. Surprisingly, one of them recognised me from last year’s interview and I think that sort of changed their perspectives about me? The conversation went really well and we spoke about why we change to plastic money, what’s life in BNM and other economic issues.
Back to the lounge where we waited for our turns to be interviewed, I felt really sleepy and had to kill my time with some quiz apps. Eventually my turn came and I spoke to the panels for about 25 minutes. I actually timed myself so that I would know how long the interview had been.
The interview consisted of common questions like ‘Tell me more about yourself’, ‘Why do you want to do economics’, ‘What is your weakness’, ‘How do you see yourself 10 years from now’, ‘Tell me a challenge you face before and how you overcome it’ and a few others. Overall I elaborated a lot on behavioral finance which is my favorite among all the economics topics and how I developed my passion in this field, thanks to my amazing economics lecturer.
And since I had so much more to speak about economics, I felt that the interview ended quite abruptly before even the half-hour mark. But apparently the panels were not aware of the duration and told me not to worry about it.
I am sure that many who are going through this process will be extremely anxious at this stage as there are just so many uncertainties about our futures. Still, if the results are already finalized, it is useless to over-think about it. Someone mentioned to me that a scholarship ‘is a privilege, not a right’ so fret not if you do not get one, because ‘better things are going to you if you don’t get this one’. Life is a journey too short for us to stay in our past!
Final tips for the individual interview:
- In hindsight, a short interview doesn’t necessarily translate to a lower chance to win a scholarship. Very often, it indicates that you bore them but it could also mean that they are very sure of you and just need little bit more time to confirm your place.
- Almost all interviews I go to have quite casual settings. The interviewers won’t bite (they certainly don’t want to) you and just wanna know you better.
- Be prepared. Make sure you google up common interview questions and prepare your own answer. A home-cook preparation always work during a chess game, and it’s the same in an interview!
- Ask intelligent questions! A the end of the interview, I always try to ask something related to the institution. It can be a great conversation filler and a chance to display your genuine interest in the company that you are gonna work for the next 5 years.
Ng Shyue Jer is a Bank Negara scholar who will be reading Economics in London School of Economics. He dislikes eating tomato but finds it a nice addition in ABC soup.