Top Tips for Scholarship Interviews


Ahh, the season of scholarship interviews. Since most scholarships are going to have their assessments/interviews in this time range, I’ll try my best to give some advice on what to do in an interview. First, I would like to clarify that I am by no means a professional interviewer, and my advice may or may not be something that you would agree on. Nonetheless, I want to share these tips as they have certainly helped me in all of my interviews, so take them with a pinch of salt, will ya.. 😉

So here’s a basic guideline on what to prepare for an interview (Longkang Mee style).

  1.  Prepare an outline for your interview speech.

Scholarship interviews are pretty standard and you can pretty much predict the questions the interviewers are about to ask. The first and most fundamental question for all interviews is the “Can you tell me about yourself?” Yes it’s the ultimate cliche question, and many of you may or may not know how to approach it. I used to answer this question with really mechanical answers like my name, where I go to school, where I live, how many siblings I have, and etc. Now that I think of it, I would like to facepalm my past self. When you’re asked this question, try to focus the topic on yourself. After all, the interview is a process to extract the most interesting facts/stories about you. So, before your interview, prepare your cheat sheet (mentally or on paper) of your “Tell me about yourself” speech. Try to come out with interesting points about yourself, something only a few people know, and something that makes you unique. If you’re having a hard time figuring out stuff to talk about, you may want to start by talking about your hobbies, and go on from there.

  1. Don’t be nervous

Every normal human being will tend to feel a tinge of nervousness in an interview. So don’t fret if you’re dripping cold sweat or having raging butterflies in your stomach right before one. One of my favorite advice that I always tell people is to treat the interviewer as your relative. Okay, turn on your imagination gears and picture this scenario. Here’s your relative, an uncle/aunty that you’re really fond of. He or she lives out of town and you have not seen him/her for quite some time now. You finally meet him/her and you’re bursting with stuff to tell him/her. And as you start talking to your beloved uncle/aunty, you just can’t stop talking while your eyes light up with enthusiasm. In an interview, you might have an urge to tell the interviewer your biggest achievements – listing them one by one so that you appear as the crème de la crème, the top pile of the competition. But this kind of interview speech only bores the interviewer and shows that you’re just like the rest. When you’re giving your speech, do it more to express rather than to impress. When you’re talking to your relative, do you really want to impress him/her, or do you simply want to express your thoughts and share your experiences? Once you get rid of that psychological barrier of “trying to impress,” you will find that you can articulate yourself better, and your enthusiasm will take over.

  1.  Always and always tell the truth.

Though this might seem like the natural thing to do, I find that most people (including myself) try to exaggerate our achievements in order to put ourselves on top of the interviewer’s selection list. Truth is, once you’re telling something that is not entirely true, it greatly affects your flow of speech and you’re forced to keep track of what you have said (or, should I say, lied about) earlier. This can vastly affect your speech (leading to stuttering), body language, and pupil movement. All these signs can easily be interpreted by the interviewer that you’re not telling the truth and your previously good impression instantly goes down the drain. Unless you’re the ultimate con artist, don’t try to lie in an interview to place yourself higher on the podium. For example, if you placed second in a competition, don’t say that you placed first; instead, try to explain why you got second and how you learned from that experience. Remember that the interviewers are humans too and that they might relate to you on a deeper level if you actually are speaking sincerely.

  1.  Keep eye contact and give a firm handshake.

When meeting the interviewer, just give him/her a firm handshake followed by a short greeting of “good morning/afternoon.” You don’t need to be like super polite and ask, “May I take a seat here?” if there’s obviously only one seat. I mean, if I were the interviewer, I would be like, “you don’t say?” and might think you’re being superficial and someone you’re not. When talking to the interviewer, always try to look into the interviewer’s eye. Don’t go looking into the ceiling or at your hands/table/whatever. If looking into an interviewer’s eye gives you butterflies, try making some small finger movement with your thumbs, or tapping your toes to help ease the nervousness.

  1.  Always ask questions after an interview.

Usually after an interview, the interviewer will promptly ask you if you have any questions for him/her. Here’s your opportunity to ask anything you want to know about the interviewer and your chance to exchange the role of interviewee and interviewer for a brief moment. You can now be the interviewer and be the boss, you can ask anything about the interviewer, the company or anything in general. Do not let this chance slip away by just replying “no.” By asking questions, it shows your confidence and your interest in the specific company.

Here are a few questions that I have asked in an interview (out of my own curiosity about the interviewers):

  1.  What do you (interviewer) do in your daily job? And how do you like working in ___ company? (Axiata)
  2.  Which do you think is more important? Academic grades or communication and networking skills? (The Star)
  3.  Why should I accept this scholarship if I were selected? (Lion-parkson)
  4.  How many hours do you sleep at night, and do you think you are getting enough sleep? (Khazanah 2nd stage)
  5.  I used to think that I am unique, that when I sit in a car, I pretend that there’s an imaginary runner beside me jumping over lamp poles and trees. I later found out that there were many people just like me. Is there a characteristic that you think you have that is so unique that no one in this world shares? (Khazanah 3rd stage)
  6.  What is your motivation to be on the board of directors of Khazanah? (Khazanah 4th stage)

Last but not least, I will try to publish a sample outline of the interview speech that I used in all of my scholarship interviews. After preparing an outline, try to practice it with a friend/teacher/lecturer. Also, by applying for more scholarships, you will eventually go to so many interviews that it would feel like second nature to talk about yourself.

If you’re too lazy to read my whole post, here’s a summary of it.

  1. Prepare your speech.
  2. Pretend the interviewer is your relative.
  3. Tell the truth.
  4. Keep eye contact.
  5. Ask questions.

A blogger at, Dylan Ler Hong Jing is a student in University of California, Los Angeles. You contact him at if you have any questions regarding US, UK applications or anything related to education and scholarship.


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