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Why preparing for a DSA interview is about growth mindset, communication skills and self awareness

Updated: May 29, 2021

Each year, many of our Primary 6 students consider the possibility of applying for their chosen Secondary school through Direct School Admission (DSA).

For those who feel that the DSA is the right entry route for them, the interview inevitably becomes a major consideration. It is likely to be the first time that many of our 12 year olds face an interview and facing the unknown can cause some anxiety. This year, all DSA interviews will be conducted via video conferencing, which adds on a new aspect to the interview process for our youths.

As an interview coach who works with youths in preparing them for their first interviews, here are some key considerations for potential DSA candidates as well as their parents/caregivers:

1. The mark of excellence is not whether you successfully obtain the entry into the school of choice. It is about having a growth mindset, and taking on the DSA as a challenge and a learning experience.

Overcoming anxiety, handling pressure and being able to focus on communicating with strangers, with grace and sincerity is the key. No matter how much preparation you do on possible interview questions and their "ideal" answers (we do not recommend over doing this, as will be discussed in later points), the baseline of every individual and the predictive factor of how successful this individual will be during an interview is their mindset.

Being able to handle your nerves, being able to speak naturally and with confidence, having the ability to think on your feet and communicate with ease and build rapport with the interviewers are skills that will take you very far, way beyond an entry into secondary school. And candidates that we have seen who can successfully handle their anxiety, usually have a positive mindset, where they focus beyond the results of the DSA and take on the interview process as a learning experience. Whether they enter their school of choice is secondary - but the experience from the process is invaluable.

2. How you practice matters - focus on communication skills, not rote learning

Just like how each child have different ways of studying (some are more visual, some are more auditory and some others are kinesthetic learners), practicing for an interview depends on their personalities as well. Each personality type have different strengths and weaknesses in communication. They react differently to stress, and have different issues. So, for the same question, each candidate will have different ways of dealing with it, and will find different questions to be more difficult to answer than others. As such, handing children possible interview questions and asking them to prepare for the interview does not always result in the intended outcome. Over practicing this way can also be detrimental as it reinforces the need to focus on the "ideal" answer and candidates tend to be more highly strung when they concentrate on trying to remember the "ideal" answer.

During 1-on-1 coaching sessions, we work with each client and their personal strengths and weaknesses. But in general, practicing by way of rote memory creates a short term focus without building on foundational communication skills, which in the life of a student, should be the key focus.

3. High self awareness is the underlying strength of a successful candidate

Why do we conduct interviews? Why is it such an important hiring tool in our careers?

There are many reasons why we use interviews as a tool, but one key reason is that the interview is designed for the interviewer to get to know the candidate better - and the interviewer is working under time pressure to do so. The interviewer is trying to use the 20 to 30 minutes of interaction with the candidate to predict a future set of behaviours and character that the candidate will exhibit while in secondary school and beyond. While the actual set of behaviour and character parameters will differ depending on the school, the course of study, or the talent category of choice, many of these parameters can only be demonstrated by the candidate during the interview if they have high self awareness.

A student who is highly self aware is able to objectively evaluate themselves, manage their emotions and align behaviours with their values. Self awareness is put to the test again and again in many of the interview questions. It is not necessarily the answer itself but how the student communicates about it, drawing again on their communication skills. The depth and ease of discussing their own strengths, hopes, and weaknesses comes from self awareness and not from practicing ideal answers.

Focus on the interview as a learning experience

Experiencing an interview at a young age of 12 helps children build confidence for later years, if the surrounding situation around the event is a positive, and growth nurturing one.

As an interview coach, I find it important to work on the client's confidence level and provide techniques to harness their own inner potential. This way, the improvements come from within the client's self and becomes a step towards continuous learning in the area of communication skills and self awareness. It is also crucial that young students receive support from home and those around them as this will form the basis of their mindset. Treat the interview as a learning experience. Encourage excellence, but most importantly, encourage learning. Provide understanding that the experience in undertaking an interview provides great value in building communication skills that is crucial in their future holistic development and their careers.

Whether or not the DSA is the right route for your child is a personal consideration. But if it is the chosen route, providing them with the right mindset and preparation technique is important, as it forms the foundation for their future challenges, and to encourage them to look beyond the choice of secondary schools. The DSA is one of many challenges they will face in life. It is also one of many possible learning experiences to encourage a growth mindset, strong communication skills and high self awareness - these are behaviours and skills that will serve them well for their future.

Written by: Siew Ling Hwang, Founder and Principal Interview Coach, Discovering Potential

Ms Siew Ling Hwang has extensive experience providing interview skills training. She specialises in conducting 1-on-1 training for those seeking to improve their interview skills for school interviews including DSA interviews as well as for job interviews. She is a Certified Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and NLP Coaching, as well as a Certified Advanced Behavioural Analyst and Career Coach. Her unique skillset in combining real world practices, NLP Coaching techniques and personality and behavioural expertise provides clients with an effective session to achieve real improvements that carry them beyond the interview they are preparing for.


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