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What should I say in my Chevening interview? March 29, 2016

Posted by Sharehouse Jakarta in Big Picture, Uncategorized.
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What should I say in my Chevening Programme interview? Sometimes people ask me this question.

Here’s what I say: Tell your story. The Chevening Programme isn’t hiring you. They don’t need you to do anything in particular for them. They’re happy to let you define success your own way. So please don’t wonder about the “right responses” for Chevening essays or interviews. It’s not like that.

The official advice for the interview from the Chevening FAQ page is here:

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So what about this story. Let’s start with the middle, which is where you are today. You’re in a very cold room waiting for your Chevening interview. You’re relaxed and even smiling. You’ll be chatting with Indonesians and British people about subjects you love – UK and Indonesia.  When they ask a question, listen carefully and think where you want to begin. Because there are several ways to tell the same story. Remember, you’re a decent communicator, or else you probably wouldn’t have gotten this far.

Anyway, the middle of the story is set in the present tense. It’s about your current preparations for overseas study and how you fit in to a particular degree program at a particular university in England. Not all international students enjoy international study. With budgets more limited than in the past, Chevening can’t take any risks. They’re shopping hard for good candidates. And you need to shop hard, too — for the field, university and degree program. Research up and know before you go.

Of course, the point isn’t to impress Chevening with your internet research skills. The point of the entire interview – as much as anything else – is to connect with the interviewers and put their minds at ease: Here’s a sharp, likeable person, they’ll say. Let’s give her money to her.

So how does the story actually begin? Please check your CV and the essays you submitted to Chevening for the answer to that. Since the beginning of the story is how your background and track record qualify you for this opportunity. Needless to say, your response in the interview should mirror your written application.

Your family background, gender, ethnicity, religion and your choice of high school, university and work career are an important part of your story. To some degree, all Chevening candidates will be blowing in the wind until June when they hear about the results of the interview and whether your intended career approach is still a thing. Just skip that part. Don’t talk about how you’re blowing in the wind. Focus instead on how you fit in to Indonesia society – the groups you identify with, the roles you play, the developments you follow, the people you look up to, the support you enjoy, the service you give to others. It’s about “where you’re coming from.” Because Chevening knows that, after study overseas, you’ll be returning to more or less that same spot.

Remember, it’s nice to demonstrate your connection to the UK in your interview. But it’s crucial to demonstrate your connections in Indonesia.

The “end” of the story– as you know – is about how you will come back to Indonesia, after postgraduate study in the UK, and be a successful and influential example of how international educational exchange really does matter. But no need to focus too much on how the story ends – and here’s one reason why: No one actually knows! Thus, the point isn’t to prove that you will be fabulous, just that you can be fabulous – and want to be.

The Chevening people have invited you to “fully explain” so they’ll be listening hard to you talk about your background (beginning), your current preparations to study in UK (middle) and your aspirations for the future (end). And they’ll be asking themselves if it  feels like a true story ..because  no one knows for sure.

But if you do get the money, it’s likely because the people at the Chevening Programme concluded:

The candidate was friendly, smart and well-connected. She started way back at point A (your background) and made it all the way here to point B (where you are now).  And we understand her objective — about how she’d now like to go on to point C (aspirations) – which is obviously an ambitious, interesting and worthwhile thing to do. So we gave her the money because we wanted to be involved. We wanted to be part of the story. We think we understand what she wants to do. We think she can do it. And we think we can help her.

Now, if someone is telling you a funny story but you don’t quite get the humor, you’ll probably invest a little extra effort because everyone likes to laugh: “Wait, so the rabbit fell asleep in the middle of the race?”

You can expect the same with the panel of Chevening representatives who will interview you. They may discover that your essays and your answers aren’t 100% in alignment and decide to invest a little effort into trying to understand – because you confused them.

Real life is full of real inconsistency. What should you do? Just retell the story. For example, try starting at the beginning. Remind the panel when you first became interested in study abroad. Help them grasp how your past accomplishments have positioned you to take advantage of future opportunities. In other words, even if the question you’re asked is about the details, the response is still about the background and the picture.

Good luck!

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