Got an interview? Get prepared

Have you got an interview? Before you even start preparing your presentation you should find out who will be on your interview panel, and get to know your audience. This will help you to present yourself and your work in the best possible light. Remember the people who are interviewing you are not only looking for competence and expertise, they are also looking for a new colleague.

Know your audience
Find the names of the people who will be interviewing you and do your own background research on them. Digital channels make this much easier than it used to be. Start by finding their staff pages on the institution’s site, and look through their other online profiles, if they have them, on LinkedIn, Twitter, Research Gate etc. You should look for things like their most recent published work, which research groups belong to, what conferences they have presented at. What you’re looking for are connection points you may have with your interviewers, and how your own work related to or compliments their work. Even if you know them and their work prior to the interview, still do your research; you may find something new, such as a shared contact.

In terms of the department you are applying to join, do your background research on there too. Again the easiest starting point is the department website. Find out what papers have come from there, and look at the other staff pages. See if you can get a feel of the culture.

This process will help you to formulate your own questions. Decide what you want to know about the work, the opportunities for career development and the culture of the organisation?

Questions, questions, questions
The interview process is an opportunity for both you and the interview panel to find out more about each other. It is a two-way process to help both parties decide whether they want to work with each other. By doing your back ground research on the department and research team you are hoping to work with you will find your own questions. There are also some fairly common questions that you are likely to be asked and which you should be prepared to answer. Of course this is shaped by the level of position you are applying for.

The first thing to do is to re-visit the job description and person specification and review the essential and desirable criteria. Alongside this you should also re-visit a copy of your application. The panel will usually have a copy of your application and CV/resume which you may want to refer to when you are answering questions. You could take a copy of your CV/resume with you, or perhaps copies of pertinent papers and publications. Remember you may not need to hand them out, but it can be helpful to have them to hand, and shows a certain degree of organisation and commitment to your potential new role.

In addition to looking at the specifics of the role you have applied for, there are some commonly asked questions which you can prepare to answer. The team at Vitae, a cross discipline researchers network based in the UK, has put together a comprehensive list of these which cover questions about your research, your capabilities, your ability to gain funding, your proposed research, your role as supervisor/teacher and your ‘fit’ with the department. Click here to read the list of questions which you should be prepared to answer.  In your answers you should be able to demonstrate your capability to do the job, which will likely mean some reiteration of what is in your original application. Having done your research on the department and institution, you should also show that you have clear ideas about how you and the role will develop. Even if you are applying for a role within your current organisation and the panel know your work and know you, you will still be competing for the position with other candidates. So do be prepared to answer these questions.

Finally, remember to ask your own questions. It may be more of a discussion as you go along, or the panel may want you to wait until the end of the interview to ask your own questions. It is a good idea to ask how the panel would like to deal with your questions at the beginning of the interview.

What about you?
As part of your preparation you will need to think about how you will present yourself, not just in what you should wear, but also how you will behave in the interview. Naturally, you are very likely to behave instinctively, but try to think about your body language. There a few things that you should be able to remember without having to concentrate too much. Click here to read our post 12 of the Worst Interview Body Language Blunders to Avoid.

What should you wear? Well this is pretty dependent on your research area, the role you are applying for and the institution you are applying to. These kinds of unspoken nuances may come fairly naturally to some of you, but to others it feels more like an unnecessary complication to an already stressful situation. Fret not. Other academics who have trodden the path deep into academia have documented and shared their experiences and insights on What Not to Wear in Academia.

Practice. It may not make perfect, but you will be so much better prepared!
There is so much to prepare for, and think of, for an interview. You may think you have it all together, but rather than waiting until your interview to give your presentation, do practice it with a peer or supervisor. This is because you may find, as you speak, your presentation doesn’t flow in quite the way you expected. Or, as you practice answering some fairly standard interview questions with a friend or a supervisor, both of you may think of things to include that aren’t in your original application or not part of your prepared answers.

You don’t have to remember your answers as though learning a theatre script, but be sure to remember the key points that you want to communicate to your interview panel. A little bit of repetition is worthwhile, as some people may pick up the point in your presentation, whereas others may miss it. So referring to your presentation, or original application is appropriate, just don’t overdo it.

On the day
You will of course have planned your journey well ahead of your interview, and allowed time once you are at the venue to find where exactly you need to be. A good rule of thumb is to report for your interview about 10 minutes before you are expected, not much earlier. If you are too early it can put pressure on the interviewers, or they may react with a “well they can just wait, they are not due for half an hour.” The panel may have scheduled small breaks between interviews for themselves to re-group and have a comfort break, or to avoid candidates meeting each other.

When you enter the interview room, shake hands with everyone and try to remember their names. This of course will be much easier for you having done the background research on your panel. If you are offered refreshments, say a glass of water, accept it even if you only sip it once or twice. It is better to accept it at the beginning instead of asking for a glass of water part way through the interview. Accepting refreshments offered it shows openness to hospitality, which in turn makes the interviewers more open to you.

When you answer questions be sure to make eye contact with the originator of the question, as well as acknowledging the rest of the panel. Ask how long you have to answer questions and if you are unsure of what is being asked re-frame the question as you understand it.

You need to leave the panel feeling “so excited about the research you’ve done, so inspired by your future research vision, and so energized by watching your performance that they will be proud to call you a colleague.” Philip Guo, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at the University of Rochester, describing his experience of going through the interview process no less than eight times before securing his current role.

Post interview follow up
The time between your interview and waiting to hear the outcome of a job that you really want can seem like forever. But you don’t have to wait passively, there are several things you can do immediately after your interview and also when you hear the decision of the interview panel.

Send thank you emails or notes to those who interviewed you and any promised copies of papers that you may have said you would send. If you are able to claim for expenses, do it right away. Now you know more about the role, make a list of the pros and cons of accepting it. Do your own assessment of the interview and if you are not selected, do not be dismayed, nothing has been wasted.

Closing thoughts
The more you prepare for an interview, the better equipped you will be to present yourself well to your potential new colleagues.

Invest time in getting to know who will be interviewing you as this should help you to get a feel of how well you will fit into the culture of the team. Be sure to re-visit your original application and make sure you have covered all of the person specifications and job requirements. You need to both demonstrate your capability for the role and inspire others about the future direction of your research.

Remember that the interview is a chance for both you and them to decide if you would like to work together.

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