Here are some tips for those who are going to the Khazanah scholarship interview (I'm not too sure when the interviews end, although due to my very late blog post, it may already be over! Forgive me!) at Mandarin Oriental KLCC:
- If you are early and very rarely in KL, do drop by the Matahati exhibition in Galeri Petronas; viewing art has a calming, sedative effect (although there are a couple of disquieting, unnerving art pieces on display) and will help you to calm down before the interview. The pieces are all wonderful, unique, and in a word, breath-taking.
- Do take advantage of the fact that your interview is in a 5-star hotel! In the quarantine-cum-waiting room that I was ushered in, fancy hotel food (spinach risotto, masala chicken with dahl, bread and butter pudding with condensed milk) was set out for the shortlisted applicants to enjoy, and not many ate; maybe because they were too nervous?
- Don't worry too much about getting your original documents in order because the judges don't really look at them. I'm not asking you to plagiarise your credentials, but don't tear your hair out if they're not in perfect order!
- Use the toilets. Even if you don't have to go, just use them. 5-star hotel :) 5-star toilet. Enough said.
- Speak to all the other shortlisted applicants. It's fun to make new friends, and chances are, you're going to meet people who have common interests, because we're all such nerds, aren't we? :)
Now, on to the real interview; I was scheduled to go for a 2pm interview on the 8th of April, and asked to register half an hour earlier. However when I arrived, the morning session wasn't done yet, so I was delayed by about 40 minutes.
Eventually I was ushered into one of the three interviewing rooms for an individual interview. My panel consisted of two interviewers, the man was from the Human Resource division of the company, and unfortunately (being horrible with names) I've forgotten the woman's name/job post. They were both extremely friendly and began by joking that they were really tired because they'd been interviewing since morning and had to have lunch, which was why my interview was postponed.
The first question they asked was to tell me about myself. Unfortunately I didn't do too well at this bit because my mind just went blank. All I could think to talk about was my general family structure (ie. I'm in the middle child, my sister is overseas....and that's it) They kept indicating for me to tell more, but somehow everything slipped my mind (excuse the venting of frustration in such a public outlet, but doesn't every interview seem to have gone disastrously upon hindsight?) and I couldn't elaborate any further.
Most of the questions that they asked were related to my co-curricular activities, asking me to elaborate on certain activities that I'd done ie. choral-speaking, editorials, writing. I told them that I loved writing upon which they asked how I planned to develop my interest (another mind-blank moment; I've noticed that the interviewers like to hear more and more. They're favourite phrases seemed to be "Mm-hmm, what else?" and "Okay, please continue", even though I'd already racked my brains for content).
When I told them I wanted to do a double degree in accounting and communication in Monash University, Australia they were open to the idea (Khazanah seems to be pretty open about the courses that they send their scholars to do, which is definitely a good thing for those pursuing less conventional degrees) and we talked a little bit about foreign education, Australia vs Malaysia (I used to study in Australia for a bit). However, because Khazanah has a track record of sending scholars to America and UK, I was told to choose between those two (I picked UK because they're accounting processes are similar with Malaysia's)
In the lulls during conversation, where I tried my best to smile, and be cheerful (note: at this point I had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had made the worst impressions possible with my pregnant pauses and basically short answers, but I tried to redeem myself, desperately, if you will) the judges joked around with me. The woman commented on my Scrabble certificate and said that she and the other judge planned to go play at a Scrabble tournament that evening because they had 'no life'. They were really very jokey and down-to-earth, which lent a nice informal atmosphere to the interview.
Nearing the end, they asked two traditional interview questions. The first one was, why, out of all the other equally qualified applicants, I stood out. Why I deserved the scholarship above the rest. Once again, mind blank. But I tried my best to wing it, saying that I was very passionate and...(that was basically it, Tuesday was Major Mind Blank Day) So it really pays to prepare for these sort of questions! The second, and final question, was "Who is the most difficult person that you have ever had to deal with?"
My answer was that I was the most difficult person I'd ever dealt with, simply because I and I alone am fully responsible for my actions, thoughts and decisions, and that there were very many things I'd done, or flaws I had (which they asked me to elaborate upon) which I'd love to deal with, but due to some weird complex, I hadn't. I conveyed the frustration of wanting to better myself but being faced with the bitter disappointment/knowledge of being 'only' human.
I have no idea if that was a good answer or not, but it was the only one that I could go on and on about, so I suppose it was good to end on that note. That concluded my interview, at which point they asked if I had any questions to ask them. I enquired about the selection process and they said that the shortlisted applicants will be selected based on how they carry themselves, their body language and etc (there was no mention about financial need, though we were asked to bring our parents' payslips) Apparently 4000 people applied for this scholarship, though I'm not sure how many got shortlisted. As for the interview process; if I make it pass this round there are 3 more selection rounds to go through - one group interview, and two with management (if I'm not mistaken she mentioned meeting the board of directors)
So the Khazanah scholarship is obviously a very intimate one (in the sense that the BoD are directly involved in the selection process), apparently last year only 15 were given out! I'm not sure if I did too well at the interview but I really did enjoy myself as the interviewers were funny, friendly and very young at heart :) To recap, the main issue to them was why I was different from alllll the other applicants with similar achievements. They were also pretty interested in knowing whether I'd applied for other scholarships and if I'd managed to secure any (I'm not sure if having secured any would be a good or bad thing. Your two cents?)
That's the end of my rambling guest post for today; to those of you who went/are going for this interview, I wish you all the best! :)
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