I’m sure we all have them….our favorite bad interview stories. They may be our own, they may belong to someone else, but interview mistakes can be a blast to share around the snack machine or over lunch. My current favorite (and true) story is of a man who told someone at the organization where he was interviewing that someone else at the organization was “really annoying.” Ouch!
So how can you guard against becoming a cautionary tale for others? I once put a question regarding interview gaffes to employers attending a PhD Career Fair–what, in their view, was the biggest mistake interviewees tend to make? The biggest mistake, according to these employers, is not knowing much about the organization with whom one is interviewing. Candidates who spend time researching an organization in preparation for an interview will inevitably fare better than candidates who do not.
Thoughts to consider when preparing for an academic interview:
- Research the college or university and the department
Has the department and/or university received a substantial grant recently that might dovetail nicely with your research? What research facilities are available on campus or nearby? How many faculty members are currently working in the department?
- Understand the student population
Does the student population consist primarily of commuters? What is the percentage of international students? If you are interviewing with a community college, where do students typically go at the end of their studies?
- Read through the courses offered
Which courses might you be responsible for teaching? How many students typically enroll in each class? What course could you potentially offer that might be a welcome addition to current course offerings?
- Familiarize yourself with the interests of faculty in the department
What are the primary research areas of the current faculty? How might your work complement their research? What opportunities for collaboration exist between you and other faculty members?
Here are some ideas for those interviewing for jobs in industry:
- Research the products and/or services provided by the organization
What drugs do they currently have on the market? Are there others in trials? Have they been growing or focusing their research efforts in a particular area?
- Learn about the outlook for the industry in general
What’s hot right now in this field? Who’s failing? Who’s succeeding? Who are the organization’s chief competitors?
- Educate yourself about the organization’s history and culture
What is the mission of the organization? Does it have a global strategy? How old/new/big/small is it? What are the backgrounds of the chief investigators/executives, etc.? If the organization is a start-up, where does it stand in terms of funding? Has the organization been in the news lately?
To find answers to these questions, you might try the following:
- Employer’s homepage
- General websites about different fields (www.sciencemag.org, chronicle.com, www.wetfeet.com, www.vault.com)
- Newsletters, journals, or websites following changes in the marketplace (www.bio.org, www.techcouncilmd.com, www.ncbiotech.org, or similar)
- Current employees, if possible (could potentially reach someone via an alumni/ae network, LinkedIn, etc.)
- Professionals in the field (could be local, could be found via a professional association; may share insights about the landscape of a given field)
Preparation is key, and if you have done your homework, chances are you will feel more relaxed and confident going into the interview.
P.S. Send along your favorite interviewing stories, good or bad (with names omitted and details changed), and I’ll post your comments to give us all a smile—and to remind us how important it is to prepare.