CIMB ASEAN Scholarship Experience

Hey there! I’m Edmund Kong from the small seaside town of Kuantan in Malaysia, and I am currently a second year student studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at the London School of Economics (LSE) under the 2019 CIMB ASEAN Scholarship.

The scholarship cycle for the CIMB ASEAN Scholarship 2021 will begin on May 24th this year and end on June 16th, and I hope to give a simple sketch of what the application process looks like and to provide some tips along the way! 

Disclaimer: While I hope to provide some information beyond what is described in the web page https://careers.cimb.com/students/cimb-asean-scholarship it is highly recommended to check my information against the website because things do change from year to year. My experiences are just that, my experiences of applying in 2019. Admittedly Covid-19 has changed quite a bit of how some of the application stages will look like (especially the boot camp), so do bear that in mind. For another more detailed but still relevant account from a few years back, refer to https://joannenie.wordpress.com/category/scholarship/ or Debra’s account on this blog too!

Basics about the CIMB ASEAN Scholarship:

  • Undergraduate level (After STPM/A level)
  • Full coverage of fees, stipend, and flight tickets
  • Universities sponsored: Anywhere in the world 😉
  • Courses covered: ANY COURSE!***
  • Guaranteed employment with CIMB upon graduation (Bonded scholarship)
  • Open to citizens of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam or Philippines
  • Other requirements as well, so do scrutinize the website and check with CIMB if you have any uncertainties (I certainly had uncertainties with whether I could apply or not, but they were incredibly accommodating)
  • Merit scholarship (Focused more on your skills/achievements rather than your circumstances)

STAGES:

Pre-application considerations: 

Overseas scholarships are impossibly competitive. Just to reveal, I made 17 scholarship applications during the post-SPM & A level seasons. 14 rejected me without even considering me for the second stage, and the other two rejected me after 3 stages. Also, in 2019 more than 9000 applicants applied for this scholarship alone, but only 15-20 were shortlisted. 

My observation throughout this journey is that there were probably many more talented figures than me who ultimately didn’t secure a scholarship for one reason or another. And the reality is that some of these reasons are sometimes out of your control, so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t end up getting a scholarship, or boast to others about how talented you are just because you secured a scholarship. Much of life is a result of God’s providence, and not by our works.

So the point I’m making now is that if you seriously want a shot at this scholarship, you need to set your expectations right.  No one will just throw a couple hundred thousand ringgit at you for no reason. You’ll need to work really hard, smart, and leave the rest to God, trusting that He will take care regardless of how things turn out.

Another point that you need to keep in mind before applying is that while CIMB does accept applications from anyone studying anything, and many people studying non-banking related courses have been accepted (Some of my batch mates are doing E&E engineering, English or even Chemistry), the key thing to remember is that at the end of the day, CIMB is still a bank. This scholarship does come with an employment bond with CIMB, and having been an “insider” for two years now I can say that the scholarship is as much a means to develop talent for CIMB as it is a means for them to give back to society. 

What that means is that if you want to study a field that is unrelated to banking eg: health sciences, you will not be able to pursue your career (not your studies!) for the first few years of your career. So you need to ask yourself some really big questions. Do I really want to spend 3-8 years working for a bank? How can I help CIMB to grow? Do I value pursuing my profession more than I want to go abroad?  

That being said, if you are open to banking (as I was – I still don’t think I am hyper-passionate about finance), it is perhaps good to know that banking is an incredibly diverse field that accepts people from all kinds of fields (One of my scholarship coordinators studied Music, and one of my final interviewers was a Chemist!). Also, you’re just starting your career with CIMB, not being parked there permanently for life. So do think hard if that is what you want in life. Also, given how competitive the scholarship is, mere tolerance of your bond period in CIMB would not get you through. They need to know that you are genuinely interested in starting your career with them.

Negatives aside, I do think that this scholarship has (and probably will) be one of the best blessings in my life. Were it not for the scholarship I definitely would have been studying in a far less prestigious institution and not been able to live in the UK with all expenses paid for. Much less is talked about I think is the incredible opportunities for growth within CIMB once you become a scholar. 

The scholarship is a prestigious award within the organisation that is recognized by senior management. As a result, I have found it remarkably easy to build connections with very senior people within the Bank, not to mention the incredible support of the scholarship team that you will enjoy while doing your studies. After graduation, you are fast tracked to the final stage of the “The Complete Banker” (TCB) management trainee programme, which will set you for a fast-tracked career within the bank. To have all this handed to you at such a young age is an absolute privilege indeed.

STAGE 1: ONLINE ASSESSMENT

What is involved: 

Basic form filling, a maximum of 3 essays (Max 500 words for each) detailing your co-curriculars and another 2 compulsory essays with a word limit of 1000 words each. My essays were roughly about how my course would serve CIMB and why I was a strong candidate for the scholarship. You would also have to play a “video game” of sorts that mimics those IQ, problem solving games.

What you should NOT do:

Being last minute! I’m going to spill the beans on this one: I almost failed to send my application in. All because of my own negligence. I had chosen to send in my application on the final day to give myself more time to perfect the three 500 word essays. But 8 hours before the deadline I realized something.

I have completely forgotten about the two compulsory 1000 word essays.

What happened next was a horrific experience that I hope no one has to go through, and I must thank Almighty God for not punishing me for my negligence. It was unbelievable.

So unless you have always dreamt of being a banker since you were 9 years old and can churn out a perfect essay within a couple of hours, DO NOT try to leave things to the last minute.

What you SHOULD do:

*Start early

The key thing to excel in this stage is to make sure you have ample time to do research about CIMB, read about where the company/sector is going (Banking is undergoing a technological revolution as we speak) and most importantly to reflect on how you, with your talents, experiences and course can better serve CIMB. 

*Tell them what they want to hear

In writing the essays, I strongly recommend that you write according to the criteria given at the scholarship website. That allows you to more clearly align with what CIMB is looking for, and helps them to identify you easier (Remember, they have to read thousands of applications). For example, if they are looking for “change makers”, then be straight to the point and tell them what experiences you have had in driving innovation in your clubs/societies or during competitions and how this is relevant for CIMB, a traditional bank in a rapidly changing financial world. 

Don’t muddle around and talk about other irrelevant things. This is your time to shine. Go straight for the kill.

*Practice for the games

I tend to do quite badly on problem solving/puzzle games, so I made it a point to drill and play mind games/problem solving related games like Peak on my phone to kill time when I was bored. I guess they helped? 

STAGE 2 & 3: PHONE AND PANEL INTERVIEWS

What is involved: 

Phone interviews will usually happen some time after the deadline closes. Someone from CIMB will call you, at any time! Panel interview will take place at Menara CIMB, KL and you will be interviewed by two staff members. 

What you should NOT to do:

To be honest, there are so many things one should never do in an interview. Never go in unprepared for basic interview questions (Tell us about yourself, why this course, why should we sponsor you out of all people, what are your strengths/weaknesses etc) and never go in unprepared to ask your interviewer good questions (Avoid plainly obvious Google-able questions at ALL costs). 

Never go in improperly dressed for the occasion (I dressed up incredibly hideous one time, and as expected got rejected after that stage), never try and argue with your interviewers (I once got into a really spirited debate with my interviewers which I think I won hands down. But the interviewer gave me a sideways glare afterwards. Anddddd I didn’t get the award ._.) Never go in being too tense or too relaxed for the occasion. Don’t just keep talking, or not talk at all. Know when to speak and when to listen (Time to show off your speaking and quite critically, your listening skills!)

What you SHOULD do:

Go in prepared. Think through your responses. Rehearse them according to ideas, NOT by memorising every single word you will say (Trust me, you will forget them when you get in). Most crucially, remember that this is a competition. The interviewers are looking for the most deserving candidates, so give them your best shot. Differentiate yourself from all the other ill-prepared candidates who just want money to go abroad and have zero interest in serving the company. And it really isn’t that hard. 

Show this by sharing with them the things you are reading about in the financial sector (But don’t come off as if you know everything already, your interviewers know their trade wayyyyyy better than you). Tell them about how you can be a valuable team member of CIMB in a digital era, tell them about how your experiences/courses show that you genuinely look forward to starting your career with them and they have everything to lose by not booking you in, now!

All this sounds incredibly daunting, but it really shouldn’t. I personally knew close to nothing about the financial sector other than some basic news I had read about it, and some lectures on banking that I happened to attend as part of a forum. But in the few months I had after my A levels, I spent it watching lectures about the banking revolution, read articles online and bought a book on the subject. What I really recommend is to also think critically about what you are reading. Consider whether it genuinely appeals to you. How would this change affect the company? How could you help out in this environment?

Of course, it goes without saying to “be yourself”. Admittedly it is one of those throwaway phrases that no one really knows what it means, but I think a good way to think about it is to present the best version of yourself to the interviewers. Be genuine to yourself because you need it to get the scholarship and to complete your bond later on. 

The guide ends here because I’ve not written on the Boot Camp and final interview (that would take ages), but if I do get enough responses, I’ll send a quick draft for you guys! If you’re interested in contacting me for further questions/help, or just want me to write on part 2, I could be reached at e.w.kongATlse.ac.uk (I substituted the @ with AT to avoid spam bots). All the best and God Bless!


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Edmund Kong Wei Ren is currently a 2nd year PPE student at the LSE and a CIMB ASEAN Scholar from a small town in Malaysia called Kuantan. he has been using his time (and money) as a scholar to read a bit too much philosophy (and the Bible), indulge in his cravings for oysters and telling people about the incredible news that they can have a relationship with God through the death of Jesus on the cross.
If you intend to contact the author, feel free to contact the CollegeLAH team at contactus@collegelah.com

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