5 Chevening Scholars tell us the hardest question they faced at interview
Successful Chevening applicants reflect on their interview experience and give tips for answering tough questions
Preparing for an interview, especially for an opportunity like a Chevening Scholarship, can be a nerve-wracking experience, because you never quite know what to expect. You might even find yourself worrying that you won’t know how to answer some of the questions.
Never fear. We caught up with five Chevening Scholars who’ve been through the interview process and succeeded.
They told us the hardest questions they faced at interview and gave us tips for how other applicants can show their worth and excel.
1. “Tell us about yourself.”
Sometimes the hardest questions to answer are the ones you know are coming.
For Argenis Toyo, a Chevening Scholar from Venezuela, being asked to describe himself was one of the first big challenges of the interview.
“This is the start of the interview process, the moment you have to tell everything [about yourself],” he says. “You do not want to miss anything.”
Argenis’s advice to applicants is to think about what sets you apart from others when presenting yourself to the interview panel.
“This is not a list of what you have done, this is about who you are and how that impacts your country,” he says.
In Argenis’s case, he recognised that his research into architectural technology gave him the power to create a positive impact in communities by involving people with sustainable projects.
He highlighted to interviewers his work educating young students about new design tools and, in doing so, demonstrated two key Chevening qualities: leadership and relationship-building.
2. “What is your back-up plan?”
For Laith Abdin, a Jordanian scholar who attended University College London in 2021, the most difficult question he faced at interview was an unexpected one about his backup plan if he didn’t receive the scholarship.
“As you can imagine, I was mentally focused on the exact opposite, and it took me a few seconds to make the switch,” he says.
Though it seems like a strange question, having a back-up plan is an indicator of strong commitment to your goals – a key quality we look for in our Cheveners.
Laith’s advice is to be genuine, whatever question is thrown at you.
“I am assuming that being genuine got me through this,” he says.
3. “What are your career goals?”
All applicants who have done their research on the Chevening Scholarship know that this question is coming, but for many people it is not a straightforward one to answer.
Sithabile Daka-Mungobe, a Chevening Scholar from Zimbabwe, found that the political situation in her home country was a barrier to setting out a specific career plan for interviewers.
“Despite there being clear eligibility criteria for my long-term goal of being a Judge in the higher courts, political interference makes it more of a fantasy than a reality,” she says. “I had to indicate this in the interview, not knowing if it was a good answer or not.”
Sithabile did the right thing. Honesty is the best policy in a Chevening interview – especially when it’s backed up with strong examples of how you are working towards your broader goals.
“[I highlighted] my ability to give back to my community through various volunteer activities with UNICA-AfroEdge and other community-based organisations,” Sithabile says.
“They are greatly impacting society through early childhood education and girls’ education, causes which are dear to me because of the odds I had to overcome as a girl growing up in a community that valued girls less.”
4. “How will your proposal support your country?”
As well as showing interviewers how you will make progress in your career, you also need to demonstrate how you will make an impact in your home country if you receive a Chevening Award.
Rana Fakhoury, a Chevening Alumna from Lebanon, views this as one of the key challenges of a Chevening interview.
“The tip here is to ensure that you have done enough research on the development issue you are addressing, and that your proposal offers a solution that is achievable and measurable,” she says.
“If you are doing any voluntary work with NGOs or support groups, mention it! That is not bragging, that is helping the committee to get to know you (and remember you) better!”
5. “Can you tell us how you did that?”
Finally, giving specific examples to back up your statements is one of the most important ways you can excel in a Chevening interview, and interviewers will be asking for them.
“The most terrifying question for me was a follow-up one on exactly how I persuaded my colleagues to accept a new idea – I didn’t expect they would pay attention to such details,” says Hui Wang, a 2021 Chevener hailing from China.
Like Laith, Hui says the best way to avoid stumbling on such a question is to be open and honest from the very beginning of the application process.
“[Questions like this] show the importance of staying true in the application process because you cannot make up a perfect and consistent story under interview pressure,” he says.
Remember, you cannot prepare for every possible interview question. What you can do is think deeply about why you are applying, and be honest with yourself and the interviewers about your answers to each question. If you do that, you’ll be ready for whatever question is thrown at you. Good luck!
By Amy Hughes