Behavioral Interviewing for Scientists

April 11, 2017

Behavior based interviewing is an effective tool used by many science industry recruiters and graduate/professional school admissions officers.   They differ from technical or scientific interviews because they are designed to give a glimpse into how you will perform in the future on “soft skills” by having you reflect and talk aloud about behaviors that you have done in the past. The answers that you provide will inform the interviewer about your potential for succeeding in their organization or school based on your experience in such areas as being an effective team player, ethical and professional, and using your critical thinking , leadership, communication, and problem solving skills.

Often interspersed with scientific interview questions, behavioral interview inquiries will usually start with, “Tell me about a time when…,” or “Give me an example of a time when….”  The best responses to require you to specifically describe actions and behaviors that you used in the past s and then describe the outcomes from this approach.   The SAR technique is an excellent formula to use to create the best answer. Memorize the following acronym and then recall it when you are answering questions.

S              Situation – the background to the problem that you are going to discuss

A             The actions (behaviors) that you took to address the situation from this role

R             The results of your actions

The more thoroughly you describe your behaviors the better the interviewer is able to visualize you fitting into their organization.   You can use examples from the lab, graduate or undergraduate school, internships, work, community, and leadership roles.  Industry and academic examples are welcome.  Here are a few behavioral interview questions for you to try:

  • Tell about a time when you had to make a difficult decision at work.
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
  • Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
  • Give an example of a time when you had to arrive at a compromise with members of your team.
  • Describe a situation in which you had to adjust to changes over which you had no control.
  • Give an example of how you set goals and achieve them.
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
  • What do you do if you disagree with your boss?
  • What do you do if you disagree with your co-worker?
  • How you would you deal with a co-worker who wasn’t doing his or her share of the work.

Your interviewer may ask additional clarifying questions such as:

  • What were you thinking at that point?
  • Tell me more about what you specifically did at that time?
  • Lead me through your decision-making process.

Although awkward, go ahead and answer their questions because they are attempting to understand the full spectrum of specific behaviors that you used in the situation.

To prepare for the behavioral interviews, identify several examples of past experiences in which you utilized the soft skills mentioned earlier.  Select examples where you accomplished something, overcame an obstacle, or something did not go as planned.   Feel free to choose academic experiences and non-academic experiences.  Next, practice answering the questions using the SAR technique.

For more practice, visit the OITE website  make an appointment for a mock interview with a career counselor to receive constructive feedback on your answers to behavioral interview questions.  We encourage you to visit our interviewing blogs or skills workshops.

OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.

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Making Career Searches Less Scary

October 30, 2017

halloween-475x336

During a recent OITE workshop on the topic of career planning, trainees from all levels described finding the job search process “scary” and had feelings of  fear and stress regarding approaching the next steps.  For post bacs, applying to graduate, medical and other professional schools can sometimes feel like an uncharted maze at Halloween.  For post docs and visiting fellows, hearing the scary stories about pursuing academic careers, making the big step into industry, or searching for jobs in the US and abroad country is akin to walking in the dark in uncharted territory.  To add to previous OITE Halloween posts, here are some suggestions to help you slay the ghosts and goblins that are perceived to lurk in the career decision making process.

Do Not Go Gentle (Onto) That Good Career Path:   Put on your cloak of confidence –Allow others to help you learn what is next. 

A career counselor will help you confront myths and arm you with career realities that will empower you to forge ahead and fearlessly apply for opportunities and conquer interviews. You can also re-assess your career decisions and make healthy career choices through using individual career advising and assessments to discover how your interests, skills, and values relate to your career goals and career options.  Wellness advisors can help you manage stress and become resilient professionals through mindfulness exercises that are helpful at managing the stressors associated with the journey.

Researching the necessary qualifications and gaining experience will make career maze is less scary

Aim your flashlight towards the journey ahead by gathering practical information that you need about the career path you are embarking on. Conduct career research (websites, workshops, professional meetings), set up informational interviews with scientists, and utilize the videocasts and blogs found on the OITE web page to train for the trek.  Gain additional experience and skills through fellowships, OITE skills workshops, FAES and other options if you discover you need them. Create a timeline and strategy plan will help you to fearlessly navigate through the maze.

Unmask your talents

Create resumes, CVs, cover letters, personal statements and applications that clearly emphasize your strengths and skills. It is extremely important for scientists at all levels to include your leadership, teamwork, collaborations, communication, and community involvement in addition to your science and research skills.  Visit the OITE resume and CV and cover letter guide to help expose the broad range of skills that you bring to the position.

Use Career Tricks and Treats

It’s time to strut your stuff! Set out to interview at the doors of many schools and or positions.   Learn how to interview well by practicing the STAR technique of behavioral interviewing during a practice interview for graduate school and jobs.  This is a proven method of describing your past experiences, transferrable skills,  and discussing your experience with collaboration, teamwork, leadership, and problem solving and diversity.  Other tricks include, learning how to network, negotiate, and/or develop solid presentations of your research. To sweeten the deal, write effective thank you letters, a welcomed treat to those who have taken time to interview you.

 Have Halloween Fun!

Trainees are encouraged put on your costumes and stop by OITE Trick or Treat celebration on Halloween on October 31, 2017 between 11:00 and 12:30pm to celebrate you and also learn about how our services can help you in your career preparation.  Also hear about some of OITE’s staff’s scary job search stories.


Answering Diversity Questions During an Interview

August 22, 2017

As you prepare for graduate, professional school or job interviews, you may be asked a question related to diversity. Interviewers are very interested in selecting candidates who are aware of and who will contribute to the diversity mission of their organization.  Have you practiced how you will answer diversity-related questions?  In Career Services, we have seen trainees range in their comfort level about addressing diversity topics.  Some trainees have several experiences to answer these questions, that said—many others are unsure how to approach answering the question. Perhaps they do not feel well-versed in diversity-topics, may be from a majority or underrepresented group and wonder how to respond, feel that are being asked to disclose personal information, are unclear about why they are being asked the question, or how to structure their answer.

Here are some possible questions that you may be asked:

  • How do you define diversity?
  • Do you have experience with diversity in this field?
  • How will you contribute to the mission of diversity and inclusion in our company?
  • How will you enhance the inclusion and diversity of your colleagues/peers?
  • Have you had to address a diversity issue while at work?
  • How will you bring diversity to the classroom at our university?

Prepare Early.  Research and build your vocabulary related to diversity and inclusion.

Explore scientific organizations, newsletters, professional journals or Google related to diversity and inclusion issues.  In general, diversity relates to the range of human uniqueness, including race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs.  Inclusion is the behavior of increasing the involvement and empowerment of individuals in a group to create a culture of belonging.  Ask yourself, what are the issues in your current and/or future profession?  What is your knowledge of disparities, diversity issues in research or treatment, the recruitment of a diverse workforce, serving a broader public.  See the OITE blog post about how those on the academic job market can respond to diversity statements that are requested by many teaching positions.

Are diversity questions illegal to ask?

Good question!  In general, diversity questions are asked to all applications equally by interviewers who have had training because there is an explicit mission to enhance the diversity and inclusion mission of their organization. You do not have to disclose personal information to answer a diversity question (i.e.: your age, ethnicity, etc.). However, with  illegal questions you are being asked to disclose personal information about your race, gender, sexuality, age, disability status in such a way that it does not speak to your strengths for the position.

What perspectives can I take to answer the question?

Once you are familiar with the issues above, re-read the wording of the question to determine what is being asked of you. If you do not have experience, then be honest and say so.  Go on to describe your awareness of diversity issues and specifics of how you plan to address them in the future. Answering this way will put you in in a positive light to share additional skills and experiences or connections to the position that will enhance your application.  For example, you could communicate leadership skills, teamwork, community service, other experience that you have or a program that you would like to start.   Here are some perspectives to consider taking:

  • Connect your experience and goals to their mission statement or programs they are already involved in? Give an example.
  • Discuss skills or abilities that you bring and how they will be useful to encourage a culture of inclusion.
  • Discuss an ethical in your profession that affects people differently.
  • Explain something from your personal life and describe specific ways that this it will help you in that organization
  • Think of diversity more broadly because diversity can include international experiences, experience with various age groups, and/or rural, urban, mountain communities that may have unique needs and resources.

Try using the SAR technique

Use the behavioral interviewing technique called SAR (Situation, Actions, Result) as a strategy.  This technique is based on the philosophy that if you have done it in the past, then you will repeat it in the future. It helps the interviewer envision the behaviors they are likely to see you doing to support the mission of diversity and inclusion while there. Get Involved Now

One of OITE’s goals is to create a culture of inclusion among our diverse scientist trainees.  The OITE leadership group creates quarterly get-togethers for all trainees.  Please join us for the upcoming OITE Trainee Unity Day, August 23, 2017 from Noon -1:00pm in building 50, Ground Floor Conference Room. The NIH Academy programs are designed for participants to explore and address health disparities. The Workplace Dynamics series prepares NIH trainees for leadership roles through a series of 5 workshops including the Workplace Dynamics V: Diversity in a Multicultural Society.. The OITE affinity groups are available to NIH trainees and their allies related to such affinity groups as international and visiting scholars, LGBTQ, trainees of color, and those who have families.  The NIH also creates community through SIGS (Scientific Interest Groups) where participants join from across the NIH Institutes on topics of interest to scientists.

Please feel free to visit the OITE Career Services website and take part in career counseling, pre-professional advising and schedule a mock interview to get prepared for graduate school, post doc, and job interviews. If you are beyond NIH, we recommend looking in your respective colleges, universities, workplaces, or larger communities to connect and find services.


Are you Ready for Video Interviews?

March 21, 2017

One of the current trends in the application process for industry positions is to use video interviewing. Currently, business, science, and technology companies are using video interviews as the first step in the interviewing process after a candidate applies for a position because it saves money and staff time for the firms to screen candidates prior to inviting them for face-to face interviews. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2016 Recruiting Trends report, there has been a 50 % increase in the use of video interviewing in the past year.  This trend could correlate with the relative decrease in employers coming to on-campus recruiting interviews and career fairs.   Also,  the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is currently conducting a research study to pilot -test the use of video-interviews with its residency applicants.

In this post, we interviewed an NIH trainee who recently participated in several video interviews to gather a user’s impressions of the process and technology.

What type of company and position(s) did you apply?

They were generally biotech companies that had positions such as a Scientist 1 or Assay Development.

What materials did you use to apply?

I submitted a resume and cover letter through their website. Then you were sent an email with a link to the video interview. This company used HireVue software.  Before the question prompts, there is a short intro about the company mission and culture delivered by the company’s employees.

How did you prepare?

The video interview link came after I applied for the position. I followed the instructions given. You are allowed to complete a few practice questions (mostly behavioral) and to learn how to use the software.  I used Glassdoor to prepare for the interview questions. There was a combination of behavioral and technical questions.  Depending on the position, it may be more technical than behavioral.

Where in the interview process was the video interview?

This was part of the pre-interview process. It was sent after you applied.  I think it takes the place of the telephone screening interview.

How much time were you given to reply to the company?

I was given three business days to practice and then answer the interview questions.

What was it like to record the video interview?

It was both helpful and terrifying at the same time. It was helpful in that it is using a system that makes it convenient.  It was terrifying watching yourself (split screen) while you are answering interview questions vs. looking at someone else.  It’s hard to watch yourself interview.

How many questions were you asked?

You were given about 20 minutes to answer 7-9 questions (about 20-30 minutes). You are given 30 seconds to read the question and then between 1-3 minutes to answer the questions.  Some questions you are given are one minute and most others you have more time. Some questions have multiple stems in them, so you may feel rushed to answer everything in the 3 minutes.

What Questions were you asked?

I was given questions about why I chose this company, behavioral questions, compare and contrast technologies, describe how to develop or troubleshoot assays. I was asked how does product development differ from research and development in biotech.  For another interview, I was asked to summarize my molecular biology, troubleshooting, and optimizing skills.

It appears that the various teams in a company can select their own questions. For example, for some positions I was given one time to answer the interview questions.  However, in another interview, I was given multiple times to answer the question before submitting it.

After the videotaped interview, they presented a short video thanking me for completing the video interview, but the next steps in the process were unclear.

What would you recommend to others who are asked to complete video interviews?

Utilize the practice time to learn the software and practice questions. Be aware of your choice of setting, lighting, height of camera and monitor, and choice of dress for video interview.  You can have some have some notes in front of you.  You will see a split screen with the question on left, outline of self on the right, and countdown clock on the top right corner.

In the 2015 Science Magazine  article, Ace Your Video Interview,  by David Jensen, he recommends that candidates should be highly aware of their environment, appearance, and performance when using Skype technology for live video interviews.  For example, he described that shadows from lighting, animals in the background, and clutter are distractions that can cause a candidate’s interview to be less than stellar.  He also emphasizes that a candidate could be interviewed by several people.  It may be recorded as well.  Based on the experiences of our trainee and Jensen’s comments, here are some additional recommendations to how to prepare for pre-recorded video interviews:

  • Practice using any type of video-based software so that can get used to seeing yourself while you are interviewing. Check to see If there is a way to turn this feature off during your practice sessions with the software you are given. Please note that OITE does not endorse HireVue, SKYPE, or any particular any video interviewing products.
  • Be sure you are looking directly into the camera and that your background is free from distractions.
  • Practice your answers standard industry interview and behavioral questions.
  • Conduct company research in advance to learn about the company, its competitors, and trends in the industry.
  • Although it may end abruptly, send a thank you note after the interview. You may also record a thank you to the committee at the end of your video interview.
  • Dress in professional attire (at least from the waist up) because you are making your first impression with the employer.

While video interviews are not completely replacing the face-to-face interviews, you are likely to encounter them at some phase of the process in the future. If you would like to discuss any part of the process of applying for industry positions, have a mock interview, and /or review your application materials, feel free to set up an appointment with a career counselor. Also please remember to attend the NIH Career Symposium on May 11, 2016 where NIH alumni will discuss their transitions to a variety of careers in academia and beyond.


Career Options Series: Public Health

November 9, 2015

OITE’s new Career Options Series will give you a snapshot overview of different career paths. The goal of this blog series is to help you explore a variety of different options by connecting you to new resources. A large part of making a good career decision is done by gathering information about that field. We encourage you to follow up this online research by conducting informational interviews with individuals in each field.


What is Public Health?
Image of a large globe with hands from different indiviudals touching it
“Public Health is the science of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, and research for disease and injury prevention. Public health professionals analyze the effect on health of genetics, personal choice and the environment in order to develop programs that protect the health of your family and community.”
– From the resource: http://www.whatispublichealth.org

Sample Job Titles
Global Health Specialist; Public Health Analyst; Field Support Manager; Public Health Director; Health Policy Analyst; Regional HIV/AIDS Technical Advisor; Program Associate; Program Officer for Africa, East Asia, etc; Health Policy Consultant; Nutrition/Sanitation/ Maternal Health Specialist; Proposal Writer; Health Coordinator; Field Organizer; Project Manager; Advocacy Officer; Consultant; Program Analyst; Public Health Associate; Regional Specialist, and many more.

Sample Work Settings
Government Agencies; Government Contractors; Intergovernmental or Multi-Lateral Agencies; Non-governmental (NGO) agencies or Non-Profits; Private Sector such as consulting firms or lending agencies; Think Tanks; In-Country/Disaster Relief

Sample Employers
Abt Associates
ACDI/VOCA
Advocates for Youth
American Red Cross
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
CDC
Devex
Department of State
Doctors of the World
EngenderHealth
Family Health International
Human Rights Watch
ICF International
Kaiser Foundation
NIH
Peace Corps
Public Health Institute
United Nations
UNESCO
UNFPA
UNICEF
USAID
World Health Organization
World Vision

Potential Topics/Areas of Specialty
• Biostatistics and Informatics
• Community Health
• Capacity building
• Communicable Diseases
• Consulting
• Emerging economies
• Environmental Health
• Epidemiology
• Global Health
• Grants management
• Health Administration
• HIV/AIDS
• Infectious diseases
• Migration & Quarantine
• Neglected diseases
• Program evaluation
• Policy
• Reproductive health
• Social and Behavioral Health
• Vaccines
• Vulnerable Populations
• Water, Sanitation & Hygiene

Key Skills
– Communication, both written and verbal
– Language Skills — proficiency in Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, etc
– Analysis and Evaluation
– Project/Time Management
– People skills (consensus building)
– Cultural Sensitivity
– Problem-Solving

How to get started
Fellowships e.g., USAID Global Health Fellowship
Internships e.g., NCI Health Communications Internship
Details e.g., NIH institutes; 1 day/week
Networking e.g., With speakers at NIH global health seminars
Volunteering e.g., Global Health charities, here and abroad
Additional education/degrees (Masters in Public Health)
Certificates (Certificate in Public Health –FAES)

Professional Organizations
American Public Health Association
Global Health Council
WFPHA

Additional Resources
OITE’s How To Series: Global Health
Guide to Public Health Careers
Explore Public Health Careers
Schools of Public Health Application Service

………

Coming up in the Career Options Series, we will be highlighting the field of Science Policy.


MCAT Meltdown – Dealing with Test Anxiety

April 1, 2015

Image of a boy with sitting at a desk with a test in front of him. He has his hand clasped to his face and a furrowed brow.Testing for the new MCAT begins this month, on April 17th to be exact. Testing will go through September. You can see the full 2015 testing calendar here.

If you are a registered test taker, you have undoubtedly been spending a good portion of your time studying and preparing. For many test takers, the hours spent not studying are consumed by another activity – worry.

Many people experience nervousness in preparation for an exam and especially on test day. Surprisingly, moderate levels of stress can actually be helpful. In preparation for the exam, it can help motivate you to study. On test day, you can get a boost of adrenaline which can actually help you feel more mentally alert and can help you perform better.

Problems arise though when this fear becomes excessive and debilitating. Like more general forms of anxiety, test anxiety is categorized as a psychological condition. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, test anxiety can cause emotional symptoms (fear & anger) as well as physical symptoms like nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, light-headedness, and a shortness of breath. These physical symptoms can trigger a panic attack. The behavioral/cognitive symptoms that arise from test anxiety often include negative thoughts and a difficulty concentrating.

If you know you are prone to anxiety, especially test anxiety, then you will need to adopt coping mechanisms to help you throughout your MCAT experience. Use your own tried and true methods, while keeping these tips in mind.

Managing anxiety DURING TEST PREPARATION:

  • Maintain a balanced schedule – Study and prepare but don’t spend all of your time focusing on the MCAT as it will only serve to stress you out even more.
  • Keep healthy – Eat right, exercise and get plenty of sleep. It will be more difficult to combat stress and anxiety if you are overtired and sick.
  • Look at the big picture – Your entire self-worth is not dependent on this one exam and if it doesn’t go well, you will have other chances. Putting undue pressure on the situation will only create more stress.
  • It matters what you tell yourself – Instead of saying “I’m nervous,” say “I’m excited.” This can help transform some of the anxiety and in reality, you are excited because taking this test is moving you forward to where you want to go.
  • Practice relaxation techniques – Dr. Andrew Weil swears by a breathing technique which has been described as a natural tranquilizer. Try 4-7-8. Breathe in for four counts, hold for seven counts and the release the breath with your mouth open and hold the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth for eight counts. Repeat this three times.

Managing anxiety ON TEST DAY:

  • Utilize relaxation techniques – It’s time to use the techniques you practiced! Take calming deep breaths and say to yourself “All shall be well. All matters of things shall be well.” Research on meditation has shown that the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain in charge of abstract thinking and critical analysis, responds to positive slogans, exercise and mindfulness.
  • Take a pause – If you begin to panic on test day, then allow yourself a quick break and to breathe and regroup.
  • Focus on you – Test anxiety often comes from dysfunctional cognitive-behavioral patterns, like comparing yourself to others. Do your best to concentrate on YOU!

If you have strategies for managing test anxiety, please comment below!


Soft Skills = Today’s Critical Competencies

August 20, 2014

Image of a person surrounded by eight different bubbles. Each bubble represents a different soft skill, such as "presenting" or "being on time."Traditionally, soft skills were viewed as a secondary bonus to an applicant’s technical skill set; however, in today’s extremely competitive job market, employers are looking for proof of a mix of both hard and soft skills. In fact, recruiters will view a lack of demonstrated leadership or extracurricular activities on your resume as a potential red flag. Illuminating this fact is a study which shows that 60% of managers agreed that soft skills are the most important factor when evaluating an employee’s performance.

Recognizing the extreme importance of soft skills, The Department of Labor (DOL) developed an entire curriculum on the subject entitled, “Soft Skills to Pay the Bills: Mastering Soft Skills for Workplace Success.” Targeted toward teens and young adults, this program was created as an introduction to workplace interpersonal and professional skills.

The DOL’s list of key soft skills is very similar to OITE’s core competencies; it includes:

  1. Communication
    Permeating almost every aspect of a job, this skill is often ranked first among employers. It includes your ability to speak, write and present.
  2. Enthusiasm & Attitude
    Employers get frustrated with employees who are resistant to change or unable to adapt to new directions. Having an open and upbeat attitude will help your group generate good energy and move forward on projects.
  3. Teamwork
    There will be aspects of teamwork within every job. Leaders and project managers often lament that most of their jobs are spent trying to get colleagues to work effectively together. Therefore, it is essential to your career to work cooperatively and be able to participate in group decision-making.
  4. Networking
    Like teamwork, networking is about building relationships. It also involves critical elements of communication and the ability to represent yourself effectively to others.
  5. Problem Solving & Critical Thinking
    There is no shortage of challenges and issues that can arise on the job. Employers want employees who will be able to face these problems critically and creatively by gathering enough information in order to develop a solution.
  6. Professionalism
    No matter the job or the industry, professionalism is a critical key to your success. Professionalism isn’t one trait – it is a combination of characteristics. It often means conducting yourself with a high level of responsibility, integrity and accountability. Part of professionalism is having a strong work ethic and being willing to go that extra mile. Another integral component is being dependable, trustworthy, and always following through on your projects.

Soft skills are no longer undervalued by employers. Make sure you are practicing these skills in your current position and/or seeking out opportunities to develop these skill sets. You will not only be helping your professional development, but you will be especially thankful the next time you are in an interview and they ask you a common behavioral question like “Tell me about a time when you had to utilize effective communication skills within a group setting,” and you have a stellar anecdote to share.


Medical School Interviews

August 6, 2014

The season for medical school interviews is quickly approaching. If you have completed your secondary medical school application and been offered an interview, then congratulations! Schools don’t typically bring you in for an interview unless they are strongly considering your candidacy.

Bearing this in mind, many times the interview is more about your fit with the program rather than your scores and credentials. Schools use an interview to evaluate your professionalism, maturity, and personality. They want to hear in your words – spoken not written – what your motivation is in pursuing medicine.

Effective preparation is critical to the success of your interview.
Here are some things you should know before going to each interview:

  • What type of interviewing format does the school use?
    Schools may do traditional, in-person, one-on-one interviews; Skype interviews; group interviews; or even a mix of them all. Find out more about your school’s format by looking at their Web site and/or asking the admissions coordinator. You can also find information about the interview style and format for each school on The Student Doctor Network.
  • Will it be an open file or closed file interview?
    In an open file interview, the interviewer may have read your whole application or just parts of it. The interviewer could also be reading your file for the first time during the interview. In a closed file interview, your interviewer has not seen any part of your application.
  • Do they do Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI)?
    In an MMI, there are generally six to ten stations. You go around and have about two minutes to read a scenario based question. These tend to focus on situational and/or ethical dilemmas. You are then given six to eight minutes to answer in a way that demonstrates your logic and creative problem solving skills.

Once you understand the format for the interview, you anticipate (or plan!) how you will respond to potential interview questions.
Here are a few groups of sample questions to think about:

Basic
* What experiences have most motivated you to pursue medicine?
* What concerns you about medical school and a residency program?
* How have you tested your commitment to pursue medicine?

Behavioral
* Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership.
*What was the most stressful situation you have faced to date; how did you handle it?
*Walk me through an experience where you made a mistake. How did you fix it?

Traditional
*Tell me about yourself.
* Why did you choose this school?
*What are your three strongest qualities?
*What is the most important thing you would want to convey to the admission committee?

There are many, many more possible interview questions you could be asked! While you will never be able to fully anticipate each question, it can be helpful to review lists of interview questions and begin thinking about how you would frame your answers. To prepare for behavioral questions, you might reflect on personal interactions/situations in your past, considering how you might frame them as stories and what personal characteristics they demonstrate.

Starting on August 18th, the OITE is offering group medical school mock interview sessions to help you prepare. A total of seventeen sessions has been scheduled over the subsequent three weeks. If you are part of the intramural program, you can attend ONE session in order to practice your responses and learn from not only your peers but a facilitator as well.


The Introverted Job Seeker

July 9, 2014

Do you have to be dragged to a networking event or cocktail party? When you do go to an event, do you have to spend the rest of the day recuperating? Do you need plenty of alone time during the day? If you answered yes to these questions, you might be an introvert. The level and intensity of introversion varies from person to person, so even if you haven’t taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), you probably have a general sense regarding your own preference toward extraversion or introversion. For the purpose of this post, we are going to focus on the quieter half of the population – the introverts.

In Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” she argues that U.S. work culture is often biased against introverts; their quiet, reflective and serious demeanors are often trumped by extraverted traits such as being outgoing, assertive and verbose. Now, depending on your work environment, your boss’ style, and the culture of your team, it is arguable whether extraversion or introversion could be viewed more positively.

However, there is one area which is seemingly stacked in favor of the extraverted and that is the job search. Two major aspects of a job search which are especially energy draining to introverts are networking and interviewing.

Networking

How might being introverted hold you back in terms of networking? Well, it could if it means that you find yourself avoiding social situations with possible introductions to new contacts or if you find you never quite muster the energy to take that phone call or set up that informational interview.

Introverts are often excellent networkers though because they tend to observe and analyze people and situations well. Also, introverts tend to prefer listening – a great characteristic for effective networking and an excellent means for gathering new information and new contacts. Whereas an extravert might approach networking with a hard-sell mentality, an introvert tends to go in with more of a soft-sell approach, which is often a preferable way to begin building a rapport (and a larger network of professional contacts).

Just remember to care for your introverted self throughout this process. When you have to utilize your less-preferred extravert skills, you will begin to feel your energy drain. Be sure to build in time to recharge throughout your job search timeline.

Interviewing

One particularly valuable job search trait of extraverts is that they tend to think out loud. This is especially important during an interview. Interviews by design often favor an extravert’s ease in making introductions and connections.

Interview questions, especially behavioral-based interview questions, are asked so that the employer can get a feel for your thought process and how you would approach different situations. Thinking out loud – even if it isn’t stated perfectly – helps you convey information to the employer. Reticence to disclose information, shortly phrased answers, and long silences will likely hurt your chances. Introverts often assume people can read how they are thinking or feeling. Or, if in an interview, they will assume the employer knows they are excited about the position because they are there. On the contrary, employers bring you into an interview in order to see and hear your enthusiasm. Expressing this fully can be a challenge for many introverts.

The good news is that many of these skills can be practiced. You can learn better responses to interview questions, you can role play networking successfully and you can “try on” the façade of an extraverted job-seeker. This doesn’t mean you have to go out there and be something completely different and inauthentic to you; rather, challenge yourself to do things that might not feel completely comfortable to you as an introvert. Hopefully this serves as a reminder to check in with yourself about your true preferences and make sure you are taking care of yourself throughout the job search process.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Consultant

January 27, 2014

Name: Kara Lindstrom

Job Title & Company: Consultant, Booz Allen Hamilton

Location: Rockville, MD

How long you’ve been in your current job: Two years

What do you do as a consultant?
There are tons of consultants in the DC area. We almost outnumber the number of lawyers in the metro area! Generally speaking, consultants are people who assist other organizations in a common goal. I assist the military health system to increase their knowledge on traumatic brain injury and psychological health issues by summarizing current scientific literature. I also convene working groups of experts to make recommendations on standards of care for a specific clinical area.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
Solid critical thinking skills and strong writing skills are definitely a plus. You can learn the consulting skills but you can’t learn the science skills that you get from a PhD in science. Organizational skills are important as is problem solving. Being able to anticipate problems that could arise and coming up with strategies on how to solve them. Those are a few of the top transferable skills that I am still developing.

A common impression of consulting is that it is project-based, but also team based. How much of a focus is there on team or group work?
There is a lot of focus on groups, but I don’t work in a group with just other PhDs. On our teams, we have people that are both senior and junior to us and the idea is to work as one entity with those different levels. You may be the only expert on a particular field of science and need to teach your team about this topic. In that same project, you may be the novice on another subject. So, it is a mix of assuming the teacher role and the student role – all within the same meeting. That is an important skill to have and something I use in my everyday skillset.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I like the flexibility and the fact that it is not the same thing. Similar to grad school, there is something different daily. One day, I might write a lit review and the next day, I may attend a conference or work with our clients on a strategic plan. You are constantly using different skills, so you don’t get bored. In a similar vein to how we have to assume the role of both teacher and student, I like how I get to continuously learn about new topics. I have enjoyed learning about different areas and kind of becoming an expert in a different way than I was able to in grad school.

What are some of the challenges of being a consultant?
I am lucky because I don’t really have to travel with my current job. I would say I travel once every four months. However, that is a decision that you have to make if you go into consulting: Are you willing to do the Monday – Thursday travel schedule? This issue factors into the work-life balance issue, which everyone has to contend with. You have to put limitations on what you will and will not be available for and those decisions may impact your career trajectory. This is just a fact; you just have to decide what you are comfortable with and what you value.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
The general consulting skills (i.e. project and client management, product preparation) because you get used to the world of academia, so switching into a more professional environment is something that took a little bit of effort on my part. I was hired because of my subject background and so I came in thinking I was the expert, but I hadn’t had much experience making client-ready documents. Making things look pretty wasn’t something I was used to doing. In grad school, it is more about the content and in consulting content matters but it needs to be accessible to different audiences. To do this, you have to think about formatting and what level of language you will use. Most of the time, you aren’t speaking to other experts; you are speaking to the general public. It is a different kind of writing; it is not the technical writing that you do when writing journal articles.

What was your job search like?
I graduated in November 2010 and took a little time off to finish up some work. Then, I started to research what firms were available in the area and the different types of consulting firms. I needed to decide if I wanted to go into commercial/management consulting (like McKinsey) or if I wanted to go into government consulting (like BAH). I also had to decide if I wanted to leave my subject area and go into general consulting or if I wanted to stay in my subject area and consult in that field. There are a lot of different firms and I took the time to try and get to know them. First it was identifying the target; then learning the differences within them; applying to the various companies, and finally preparing for the interviews.

What was your interview like?
I went on a few different interviews, but there were two types of interviews- the behavioral interview and the case interview. The behavioral interview is more of the traditional interview where you walk through your resume and they tend to ask situational-based questions. They want to figure out if your personality and thought process are a fit for the team. Then, there is the case study interview and this can be wide-ranging. They give you a scenario and then you have to ask questions to figure out what the problem is and what you would do to solve the problem. They can also give you numbers associated with the case where you have to figure out ratios and do some mental arithmetic. For example, this drug store is having customer service issues; what percent of their profit is being affected? Then there is a subset case interview where you come in and you discuss a journal article. It is basically like a journal club. Those were the types of interviews I went through during my job search.

How did you prepare for your interview?
There is actually quite a bit of information online. There is a book called “Case in Point” which offers a lot of different strategies to help to prepare for a case interview. It is mainly geared toward an MBA type of candidate. It is good to help you understand what type of questions could come up and it gives you the general format of a case interview, but one thing that you have to factor in is that the book is preparing an MBA candidate and you are a PhD candidate.  They don’t need you to know all these finance terms; they want you to display your critical thinking skills, so again that problem solving aspect and being able to identify a problem and organize it into some logical process in order to solve it.

The other thing that I try to impress on people from NIH is that you are not interviewing with your peer group. You are interviewing with people who have no idea about the field of science. When you say I was a graduate student in this lab and I led this study, you really need to spell out what skills you used. By listing your publications, most people at NIH can look through and see what kind of a scientist you were – if you were more of a bench or a clinical scientist. But in consulting, they don’t really know that, so you need to explicitly state your transferable skills. For example, did you manage people? Did you collaborate with postdocs? Did you have any collaboration with leaders in your field? Spelling out all of those different experiences and skills are important to help your interviewers figure out what things they could use from your skill set.

Any last bits of advice?
Consulting is a very logical next step from academia. When making the transition, I kept thinking it was just a huge step, but it really isn’t that big of a jump. The people who are able to adapt to new situations end up being successful in consulting. Those who are much more black and white and need to have stability and structure don’t tend to find consulting to be a good fit for them. It has been a great move for me and I have really enjoyed it. There are lots of opportunities for individuals just coming out of NIH with a PhD to come over to consulting.