You Got an Interview, Not a Job Offer: How to Impress Your Way into a Position

Its interview season!  This time of year we seem to see an increase in the number of institutions hiring people.  Before they hire someone, they are going to interview at least a few people for each position.  This is why we set September on our Calendar for Career Success to be the month that you practice your interviewing skills.  Here are a few key Do’s and Don’ts you should be focusing on when practicing or preparing for an interview.

Do…

  • Know and understand what you are applying to do.  This does not mean just knowing what the job is called.  You need to know the specific duties associated with the position.  If you are uncertain going in to the interview, do not ask, “So what will I be doing?”  Instead, rephrase your question to show some understanding while asking for more clarification.  For example, “It is my understanding that I will be doing A, B and C.  Are there any other duties or responsibilities?”
  • Research the company/organization for which you will be interviewing prior to the interview.  Start with their web page to get a basic idea of who they are and what they do.  However, you need to read more than just their web page.  Use search engines and read reviews.  Use your network and ask people familiar with the organization to gain a more in-depth understanding.
  • Try to find out who is presently in the position.  This may help you gauge the experiences needed.  If the position is new to the company, research a similar position at another company. This may give you ideas on activities and programs that could be implemented in the position you are applying for.
  • Be careful of your body language, facial expression and your verbal tone of voice.  If you appear to be put off by a question, or uncertain of your answer it is going to be a negative against you when the interviewers are reviewing their candidates.
  • Answer questions in Situation/Task Action Result (STAR) format.  “When I was working for X, I needed to do Y.  I started by implementing Z, and working on A.  After a few months it was running smoothly and my supervisor was thrilled.”

Don’t…

  • Communicate that you are just trying to get away from lab/bench. It is just too negative and makes it appear that you don’t really want this specific job, but you will take any job not doing what you are currently doing.
  • Focus entirely on your graduate school or postdoctoral experience.  Try to draw from all of your experiences both inside the lab and out.  Mention your volunteer work, time spent working on committees, workshops or classes you took outside of your field.
  • Give vague answers to specific questions.  If asked for a time when you showed quality X or skill Y, do not say you finished your dissertation or completed a project as a postdoc.
  • Try to change the position before you get it.  It is good to ask about career growth and projected career trajectory.  However, you should be trying to add duties or move into another position before you even are offered the one you are interviewing for.

One small thing that goes a long way that many interviewees fail to do is to follow up with a thank you note.  Try to track down the e-mail addresses of each person who interviewed you.  Thank them for their time and express how nice it was to meet them.  Wrap up your note with an invitation to contact you with any other questions they may have and tell them you look forward to the opportunity to speak with them again.

For more detailed information on interviewing inside and outside of academia, view the following videos:

Also, view these slides for general interviewing information:

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