How to Ace Your Scholarship Interview

With Lucy Barrie and Isabella Notarpietro, UNSW Engineering scholarship holders.

Congratulations on making the shortlist for a scholarship interview! You have been chosen from hundreds of applicants for your achievements, passion and leadership, so you should be very proud of your efforts so far.

But there’s no doubt about it – formal interviews can be nerve-wracking, and if this will be your first-ever formal interview, it can be overwhelming! You might be unsure about how the interview will work, what questions you might get asked, and what the interviewers are looking for.

Having done a bunch of scholarship interviews ourselves, we completely understand. So we’ve put together our top tips and tricks for preparing for and doing your best in the interview so that you feel like the queen that you are, and can give it everything you’ve got.

Before the interview

Practise, practise, practise!

  • We can’t give you any guarantees, but there are a few standard questions in most job and scholarship interviews. Practise answering these with your friends or family as often as you can.
  • Ensure you don’t rote learn your answers, as you still want to appear natural. However, having some key points and examples ready is a good idea.

Know your audience

  • Depending on the scholarships program you’ve applied for, do some background research so that you know as much as you can about it.
  • You may have applied for scholarships under the Co-op Program, the Women in Engineering Program or the Rural Scholarships Program (or even all three), so find out all you can about them – including a bit about the partner companies if they’re sponsored by industry.
  • Your interviewers will most likely be a mix of academics, scholarships and/or professional staff, and perhaps industry sponsors, depending on the scholarship program – and remember, they only want the best for you!
  • Make sure you attend the briefing session for the scholarships interview, which will be the day before your interview. In that session, you’ll find out more about what to expect in the interview, so take notes!

Re-familiarise yourself with your application

  • Be prepared to answer questions about the academic success, life experience, jobs, activities or interests you have listed on your application.
  • The interview is a chance for the panelists to dive deeper into your application, so if something stands out to them, they could ask you about it!

Check your technology is working

  • When interviews are online, last minute tech problems can really affect your confidence, so it’s important to set up and check everything prior. Do some test meetings with friends or family.
  • Make sure you update your computer or laptop and have it well charged before the interview.
  • On the day, you’ll be able to log in before your interview and check everything’s working with some friendly student ambassadors. Make the most of this opportunity!

Doing your best in the interview

The STAR method

  • Consider the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Response) when answering questions – you can find out more about it and what kind of questions to use it for here

It’s okay to take a moment

  • If you’re asked a tricky question, don’t be afraid to take a breath and think before you answer.
  • If you’re not sure what you’re being asked, you can politely ask for clarification, too.
  • If you’re not sure you were specific enough in an answer, don’t be afraid to ask, ‘Does that answer your question?’

Back yourself!

  • A lot of people feel Imposter Syndrome – especially women. You can read more about it here. It’s a phenomenon where success is attributed to luck and people don’t feel deserving of their achievements.
  • But just remember that you have been shortlisted for this interview from hundreds of applicants, based on your outstanding merits, and you deserve to be here. So be confident in your achievements, and back yourself!

Be yourself

  • The interview is just an opportunity for the panel to get to know you. Let your personality shine through in your answers so that they can see the real you.
  • Make sure that you show your passion for engineering (and think about what ignited it). You’re interviewing for an engineering scholarship after all!

Practical things

What to wear

  • We recommend casual business wear. There’s no need to go OTT: a smart, stylish blouse or top and a business skirt or pants (not jeans) are appropriate for this kind of interview.
  • If you opt for a dress, make sure it’s more formal or structured than a summer beach dress, but not as fancy as a cocktail party dress.
  • For online interviews, try to avoid stripes and bold patterns because they don’t work well on camera.

Body language

  • Online interviews make it harder to read body language. We recommend positioning your camera so that the panel can see your face and shoulders.
  • If you are someone who uses your hands to convey emotion, try to get them in the shot as well.
  • For some people, standing up boosts presentation performance and confidence. If this is true for you, design your setup so that you can stand up during the interview.

Remember your background

  • Think carefully about where you will do the interview. For online interviews, it’s best to have a neutral background, like a blank wall with minimal decoration, or a space with very few items.
  • Ensure there’s nothing distracting in your background, like other people (or a view of your bedroom!). Consider lighting too – a window behind you can throw your face into shadow, so they’re best to avoid.
  • Most online meeting platforms, like TEAMS, have blurred background options if avoiding these things is not possible. If you can, download the app onto your desktop (rather than just connecting through your browser) so you can test the options available to you.
  • Ensure that you have a quiet, private space for the interview. Let your family or friends know when your interview is so there aren’t any distractions.

Presenting in an online interview

  • Present directly to the camera on your computer or laptop. If you’re using a monitor or have multiple screens, ensure that you can look directly into the webcam while also watching the panel.
  • Turn off notifications on any apps on your computer so that you don’t receive messages during the interview.
  • Don’t forget to turn your phone to silent, too!
  • Before your interview, spend five minutes power posing. You might feel a bit funny but there’s a lot of research indicating that some pre-interview power posing goes a long way!

Good luck!

We know that your first interview experience can be a little overwhelming, so hopefully these tips will help to calm your nerves. On the morning of the interview, do something relaxing like catching up with a friend, exercising or watching Netflix.

Remember that the interview is really just a chat with the panel, who just want the best for you, and congratulate yourself that you’ve got this far already. So, take a breath, consider our tips and good luck!