Saturday, July 26, 2008

My HSBC Scholarship Experience

So, I won a full scholarship from HSBC 2 days ago and it still hasn’t sunk in yet. I just felt like writing a little about it because it has been one of the best interview experiences ever.
In the first week of April, I had jus received my rejection for a GSS (Graduate Support Scheme) from LSE and I was very disappointed. At that very moment the HSBC scholarships were announced and in frustration I filled up my form within minutes, obviously not expecting to be shortlisted because I knew how competitive it was…but to my surprise I did get shortlisted and that’s when I started hyper-ventilating. After 2 months of freaking out I finally had my interviews.

First round of interviews :

16 of us were shortlisted out of 327 applicants – Chinmaya, Aastha, Surbhi, Shruti, Vrinda, Nimisha, Parul, Karan, Rohan, Navnit, Shahana, Garima, Kamla, Rashmi, Dia and Me.
We were called to the HSBC office at 8:30 am on the 22nd of July. This was supposed to be the first round of interviews with internal HSBC panel. I was so nervous that I felt numb and especially so after interacting with some of the applicants because they were all so brilliant and had accomplished so much at such a young age. Koninika Mitra from the HR department was extremely genial and supportive and kind of helped reduce some of the stress.

I think I was the fourth person to be interviewed by the head of Corporate sustainability and head of Commercial Banking I think at HSBC. While it was a friendly interview I was asked a lot of questions on present policies and my opinions on them and how in my opinion could certain issues be solved. Smooth interview. I didn’t feel like I gave any stupid answer, but I wasn’t convinced that I had given it my best shot either. It lasted around 20-25 minutes. I was nervous till the end. Finally after lunch, 8 of our names were called since we had been shortlisted for the final round of interviews – Vrinda, Chinmaya, Surbhi, Aastha, Rohan, Nimisha, Shruti and Myself. I was happy that I had been shortlisted, but probably a 100 times more nervous.

The Final Interview :

23rd July was supposed to be the final and deciding round of interviews with the external panel. The panel consisted of Mr. Pride- Country director of British Council in India, Mrs. Indu Shahani – Sheriff of Mumbai and Principal of H.R. College, Mr. Govindraj Ethiraj – famous journalist, Mrs. Pheroza Godrej – Environmentalist and educationist, Abha Narayan Lamba – famous conservation architect and there was one observer – Mrs. Malini Thadani- head of Corporate sustainability at HSBC.

The big names in the panel really scared me, but at the same I was excited that I would actually get to meet them. I generally read about them in the papers, so getting to meet them and talk to them was a very big deal for me. I told myself that even if I didn’t get this scholarship, it would be totally worth it because of the interaction with these amazing people.
So again, I had to report at the Oberoi at 8:30 am. I was the second person to be interviewed. I cant remember how many bottles of water I drank and how many times I visited the still did not quell my nervousness.
So, I enter the interview room. The setting was informal. We all sat around a table. The panel was sipping coffee, having cookies. All eyes on me. Oh my God !!!!! I sat next to Mrs. Thadani. Mrs. Shahani congratulated me on my university rank. Dead silence at the table after I said Good morning and blah blah blah. Finally Mr. Pride kicked off by asking me a question. The interview was a mix of personal and academic questions, current affairs, policy issues, my opinion on certain developments and my purpose in life. At this interview there were many questions that I had no answer to and I said so and at certain times I was rambling (I still feel a little stupid about that). I disagreed twice with Abha Narayan Lamba and I’m not sure if she was too happy about it. Govindraj Ethiraj was furiously scribbling notes in his notepad and asked me just 2 questions or so. I was completely overwhelmed by Mrs. Godrej and felt like a star-struck fan. Well, after lots of questions and nearly 30-35 minutes I was finally done. It was over. Nothing more that I could do. I walked out of the room feeling a little apprehensive because I wasn’t sure if that was my best performance. At the same time I must say, the panelists were incredibly nice to me. They did not grill me in a derogatory way and respected every opinion of mine even if it were different from theirs. I felt good about myself after the interview and so did the others. There was a general ‘feel-good’ atmosphere after every interview.

The wait is the hardest part I think..... And to be honest I was really intimidated by every other candidate. They had had more academic training than me, knew more than me and could rattle off theories like Bollywood songs. I felt a little silly actually.

Anyway, after everyones interviews and a few more visits to the bathroom, we finally left for lunch...And throughout I couldn’t stop thinking about my responses and what I should’ve said and what I shouldn’t have said. Oh the agony of waiting !!! I showed some of them around the Jehangir art gallery and then returned to the Ritz hotel and within no time, I was fast asleep on Vrinda’s bed.

The Award Function :

At around 6 pm we all left for the British Council auditorium at Nariman point where the award ceremony was to be held. The place was full, people from HSBC, British Council, NGO groups, students, us. In the beginning there was a panel discussion moderated by Mini Menon on education, leadership etc. It was very nicely done. After a short presentation on HSBC’s social initiatives, it was time for the awards to be announced. Heart pounding, sweaty palms, dry mouth, numb feeling, everything condensed into those few minutes.
The first award went to Rohan. Lots of clapping (mainly to relieve the tension locked inside me). I did not expect my name to be called out the second time. I was in complete disbelief when my name was called out. OH MY GOD !!!!!!!!! And it was done in pure Oscar style, with a background score and cameras following me till the stage once my name was announced. I received the award from Naina Lal Kidwai !!!!!! Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. How many people my age actually get to even see her ??? Best moment of this entire process, especially when she told me that she now expects great things of me. Oh my god !!!What followed was madness, hugs from everywhere congratulatory handshakes, photographs, recorded interview. Wow. It was way too overwhelming.

The Overall Experience :

I loved the entire process for the simple fact that they made us all feel really good about ourselves. It was a confidence booster, even for those who didn’t win the scholarship.....And the kind of relationship we shared with the other candidates was amazing. There was no negative competition and strangely I find myself very attached to some of them. I hope they get the funding they need and make it to the UK so that they will be around next year as well. Nimisha won a DFID scholarship, so she will definitely be there :)
I just am so very grateful to Koninika first of all because they eased the process for us and calmed us when it was most needed.....And of course I have no idea how to thank the panel and HSBC for this amazing opportunity. I do not know what the future holds for me, but I do know that I’m going to make the best of this scholarship and work as hard as I can.

This is surreal. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m relieved, happy, elated, excited, nervous, everything.

The HSBC Scholarship programme :

The HSBC scholarship programme has been active for the past 6 years. This year was the seventh year. Each year 2 scholars from all over the country are selected to join colleges at the University of Oxford , Cambridge and London. It is a fully funded scholarship up to a maximum of ₤25,000 per year. Check this website for more details :

I’m off to bed now. I haven’t slept in weeks and now thanks to this scholarship I can enjoy my last few weeks in India, before I leave for London. I ♥ HSBC :)


Dhawal Korani said...

Wonderful account of your experience Rupal and congratulations again!


Rupal said...

Thanks Dhawal :)

vikram Dixit said...

you wont believe how proud I feel, when i remind myself, "dude, I know this chick!!"

MINDfreak said...

All the true signs of the next big thing! Phew... is this really the 5' tall 21 year old with dimpled cheeks and dreamy eyes?

I'll be looking out for you... make us all proud, Ms. LSE-DESTIN!


Rupal said...

22 years old and 5"2 actually :)