Interviewing the Interviewer

October 21, 2013

Picture of a door with a sign on it that reads "Interview in Progress"Thorough preparation is essential in advance of any industry job interview to ensure that you perform at the highest level possible.  Making sure that your resume is in order, that you have accessed available sources to obtain vital information both on the company and the person who will be conducting the interview and practicing your responses to anticipated questions are all key to completing a successful interview.  One additional step that is just as important, but often times overlooked is preparing a set of questions to ask of the interviewers to help you determine whether the company and the work environment are right for you.

The interview process is designed for the interviewer, and in many cases interviewers, to ask a series of questions that will help determine whether your educational background and work experience, as well as your personality attributes are likely to lead to your success in the position.  In the same way, your preparation should include highlighting key questions for the interviewers so you can determine how comfortably you will be integrating into this department and company.

Aside from obtaining the basic information on the job, questions should be designed to evaluate your match with the company and the position in four general areas:

For a large company, assess the role the department and the position play in the overall success of the company.
How does the role/department fit into the overall mission of the company?

For smaller companies, assess the viability of the business plan in leading to the long-term success of the company.
What are the company’s short term and long term goals?
What are the company’s sources of funding and are they adequate to reach those goals?

Work Environment:
Ask questions to assess things like the amount of flexibility and/or autonomy to work on your projects, relationships between managers and subordinates and the way that salary increases, bonuses and promotions are determined.
Can you tell me more about the reporting structure?
How will my success be measured, and by whom?

It is important to determine if the company’s values (the operating principles that guide an organization’s conduct), business practices and ethics are compatible with yours.
What are the most important values (e.g. commitment to sustainability, customer service, profit) in this company?
How are these values exhibited in the every-day work environment?

You will be spending 40+ hours every week in the work environment.  It is important that you determine how comfortable you will be in interacting with your bosses and co-workers on an ongoing basis.
How would you describe the culture of the office?
What are the key elements that make up a typical work day?

When interviewing with multiple people within the company, asking similar questions to a number of them can give you different perspectives and, therefore a more complete picture of what it is like working at the company.

Finally, when the interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions?”  The absolute worst answer for you to give is, “No, not at this time.”  This may communicate that you have not done your homework or that you are, in fact, not really interested in the position.  Therefore, as you prepare your answers for the interviewer’s questions, it is equally important to prepare your questions.  Asking relevant and insightful questions can, not only, solidify in the interviewer’s mind your genuine interest in the position, it can also provide you with important information on the company and its people to help with your decision.

In Industry, It’s About More Than Just Salary

July 24, 2013

Pondering a career in industry?  Then you need to be aware that the industry job offer may contain elements not part of offers in academia, government or non-profits; industry jobs often include a profit sharing plan.

Industry profit sharing takes two basic forms; dividends, a cash payment made to employees and share-holders based upon the performance of the company, usually on an annual basis, and equity, the actual ownership of shares of the company.  Equity in a company is granted by one of the following methods:

  • Stock grants:      A company may grant actual shares of its stock to employees.  The value of these grants is determined by the price at which the shares are traded on one of the stock exchanges.  An example: You are granted 100 shares at $5 per share. Over time if the value rises to $10 per share; the grant becomes worth $1000 after a vesting period.  Vesting is the time that you are required to hold the stock before you can sell.  If the vesting period is four years, you may sell up to 25% of your shares each year, or you can wait the four years and opt to sell all of your stocks.
  • Stock options:   If the company grants a stock option, it gives you the right to buy a specific number of shares of your company’s stock during a time and at a price that the employer specifies.  Typically this stock price is lower than market value.  As in the above example, you are granted the option to purchase 100 shares at $5 per share.  If the value rises to $10 per share, the option to you becomes worth $1000, minus the $500 you paid, or $500.  As in stock grants, a vesting period usually applies for options as well.
  • American Depository receipts (ADR’s): ADR’s are used by non-American companies whose stock trades on a foreign exchange to provide an equity vehicle for American employees.  Its value to you would be calculated in the same manner as a stock option.

Most importantly when considering a job offer, make sure to take into account the offer in its entirety, not just the salary.  The value of these other elements may comprise a significant percentage of total compensation.  In some cases, where the value of the stock has risen tremendously, many of their employees have made huge sums of money.  However in other cases, where the stock has hovered near its price at the public offering, employees have made very little.

The value that these profit sharing vehicles can add to your compensation may vary.  Make sure you connect with your Career Services Center (for NIH intramural trainees that is the OITE) to help you with the negotiation process to optimize the value of the offer you receive.

Preparing for the Application Season

June 3, 2013

Regardless of whether you are planning on applying to Graduate School or Professional school, a successful application requires preparation.  If you remember one word from this post, remember “Early.”  Take your exams (GRE, MCAT, LSAT, GMAT, etc.) early.  Get your letters of recommendation lined up early.  Write your personal statement early.  Have someone look over your materials early.  Submit your applications early.  When you get an interview, show up early.

For those applying to graduate school:

You will want to have your GRE taken by the end of August or beginning of September.  This means you need to start studying now.  In particular, you need to go back and review your high school math.  If you don’t use, you lose it.  The chances are that you haven’t used much of what will be on the test in your four (or more) years of undergrad.  You need to take practice exams…lots of them.  Much of successful test taking is being comfortable and familiar with the format.  Reading about the format is not the same as practicing it.

So why do you need to get your GRE done so early?  So you can know whether or not to retake the exam.  If you are unsure whether your scores are strong enough for a particular program, ask the Director of that program.  Unlike Medical School, these programs are trying to recruit you.  Most of the time, the program directors will respond directly to your e-mail asking about the strength of your application.   Writing in with your scores early shows that you are prepared and organized.  Writing in late, shows just the opposite.

For those applying to professional schools:  This specific material is written for Medical School applications, but the principles apply to all professional school applications.

Submit your AMCAS as soon as possible (note, that is another way to say “Early”).  Ideally, you want to submit it with in two weeks of the opening. Do NOT wait for your MCATs.  You can always add more schools later depending on where your scores make you most competitive.  Your odds of acceptance decrease the later you submit your application.  You simply do not look prepared if your application comes in right before the terminal deadline.  Also, medical schools review applications in waves.  The sooner your application is in, the fewer competitors you have for the most number of invitations.

Once your applications are in, pay attention to your e-mail.  Even if you are on vacation, check it daily.  You want to get your secondaries turned around and back to the schools quickly.  You need to show that you are eager to get in and that you are organized enough to turn things around quickly.  If your secondary sits in your inbox for a week while you are relax on vacation, you look eager to relax on vacation and not attend medical school.

For all applicants:

Nothing is as valuable as face-to-face interactions with representatives of the schools you are applying to.  If you are in the Washington D. C. area, the NIH hosts a “Graduate and Professional School Fair” on July 17 in Bethesda.  This is really a first chance to meet admissions officers and make a strong impression.  There will be 153 programs in attendance to meet with postbacs and students as well as informational sessions geared toward specific disciplines such as med schools, dental school, pharmacy school, psychology programs, PhD programs in biomedical sciences.  If you are in the area, this really is an opportunity you do not want to miss.

Tips on Conducting a Job Search Anywhere

May 20, 2013

Do you need to find a job in a geographically limited area far from your current location? Maybe your significant other just found a dream job, or maybe you just always wanted to live in Seattle, WA – whatever the reason, a remote and geographically limited job search poses a distinct set of challenges that require some strategizing to overcome. Here are a few thoughts that may help from a person who recently was searching for a job in Dallas, TX, while living in Bethesda, MD.  These tips are useful in any job search, but particularly for conducting a remote search.

Begin the search early. Job options tend to be reduced when they are limited by geography. Imposing boundaries on the location means relying on fewer potential employers. The more time you allow for finding a job, the better.

Use your network. Your network should be your first resource in a remote job search. Know the histories of the people in your network, and keep up with their current locations. Ask people currently or historically linked to the area for suggested companies or connections. Some of your contacts may work for a company with an office in that location and may be willing to send out feelers on your behalf. Always ask permission before using a contact’s name or, even better, ask them to provide an introduction.

Do not limit yourself to professional contacts. Talk to friends, alumni associations, volunteer organizations, members of your religious institute, or anywhere else you may find an unexpected lead. If you are a member of a professional or volunteer organization, contact the local chapters to make some connections. Seek local people at conferences. Make your job search as widely known as possible – the more exposure the better. Conducting a secretive job search poses more of a challenge, but typically you can advertise pretty broadly without you current boss finding out.

Use job Sites. Job sites will be your friend. Most career sites filter searches to a specific area or radius around an area. Check out the state labor department for local search engines. The City of Dallas website had links to six local search engines.

Know your business. If you are looking for an academic job, search all the universities. For me, looking for a job in science policy in Dallas meant searching anywhere that might have a policy/government relations office, like non-profit organizations and universities. After finding some leads, go back to your network and look for the connections. Cold e-mails to directors or assistant directors (managers) located in offices of interest can end up in future leads or even a job.  So don’t be afraid to write them a note.  None of the offices I contacted were hiring at the time, but I continued to receive several leads from the people I contacted with in those initial cold e-mails.

Be flexible. Compromising a little on the job you are seeking may go a long way towards finding a position. As a person recently preparing for a science policy career in Washington, DC, where policy jobs are plentiful, now moving to Dallas, TX, where science policy jobs are next to non-existent, I had to broaden my search to jobs with similar skills requirements and career goals. After some considerable research, I found a job in the communications office of a local university requiring many of the same skills and tasks that I enjoyed in science policy.

To recap: start early, use your network heavily, use search engines wisely, cold call companies of interest, and use your network even more.

What are your suggestions or experiences for a remote job search?

Interviewing advice from the hiring partners perspectives

March 6, 2013

We had a workshop on interviewing this week, here is a wrap-up of what was said, and more information to make your interviews a success.  If you want to watch the videocast, it is archived here.  We had three speakers to highlight multiple aspects of the hiring process; a hiring manager, a human resources person, and a recruiter.  The advice here is mostly for non-faculty positions (although we have information on the faculty job hunt at

Interviews questions are best answered in the Situation-Action-Response format.  The basics of this format is that you need to have a story that you can tell that gives background to the situation, tells about the action that you did, then finishes by telling a result or the outcome of the challenge.  You should be able to tell this story in about 90 seconds.  The hiring manager emphasized the need to practice these stories, which gives you the ability to stick to your script and not get led down tangents in the interview process.  He also mentioned that by practicing you are able to maintain your poise and a positive tone of voice, even under difficult questioning.

The human resources manager and the recruiter are looking for the skills specifically based towards the job you are applying to.  Neither of these partners in the hiring process will likely be subject matter experts, so they may not understand the full details of your science.  Rather, they are looking for technical skills and perhaps even specific instrumentation.  They are also looking for good responses to the opportunity questions, such as “Tell me about yourself”.  Being able to answer these questions clearly and concisely is a benefit to getting past these hiring partners.  Answer these questions based on the job ad, to always link how you would be a terrific fit for the position you are applying to.  Here are two examples:

Tell Me About Yourself: “I am a scientist with strong program management, communication and leadership skills.  I have taken on responsibility to organize events, influence leadership with respect to the needs of my fellow postdocs, and have defended scientific ideas. I am looking to use my strong analytical and people skills to move into science policy to help direct science.” (for a non-bench job)

What interests you about this job: “This job utilizes my strengths as an innovative scientist, specifically with XX diseases.  I have had success utilizing new technologies such as XX to explore (my subject matter) can be used for drug development.  Based on the ad, you are also looking for someone who can lead and influence other scientist.  I enjoy that, and have had success in the lab as seen by the numerous collaborations with other scientists and by direct and informal mentoring of other lab members.  I enjoy working with people, and this job seems to have a nice mix of cutting-edge science with leading a team of people to accomplish that science.”

This is just the start of your preparation and the information available from the OITE.  The OITE has posted here on the blog many other articles on interviewing, and have also videocast many in the past.  Here are some links that you may want to read/watch:


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

How to Manage Stress in Interviews

Phone Interviews

Preparing for interviews


Interviewing Skills

Interviewing outside the Ivory Tower

How I Overcame My Fear of Informational Interviewing

November 5, 2012

Post written by a guest blogger Yewon Cheon, former postdoc in the National Institute of Aging and current Program Coordinator in OITE.

“I love interviewing people!”

One day, I was full of energy, running down the hall and shouting with excitement, coming back from an interview. It surprised everyone, including me. Because I am shy and afraid of talking to people I don’t know, it was very hard for me to absorb and initiate informational interviews for my career development. I am a researcher who hates networking, but I am NOT afraid of doing an experiment.  So, I designed my new experiment: informational interviews.

When I started to treat informational interviews like an experiment I found myself enjoying this important career tool, and using it for my advantage.  Think of it like this: It is composed of a literature review (getting information about person and career), developing methods (preparing questions), an experiment (interview), data acquisition (Q&A) and data analysis (evaluating a meeting), and repetition to increase sample size and to confirm reproducibility (contact others).

Here is how I found success:

My background:

I was shy and not confident in myself, finding it easier to label test tubes at the bench rather than to talk to strangers about their careers. Informational interviewing and networking were not things I wanted to do . My career mentor gave me two names to contact for informational interviews, a handout on how to conduct informational interviews, and the encouragement to go out and try….yet, it still took me a week to connect.

I am an Asian woman. I was raised and educated in the traditional Eastern way; listening and following others is considered to be respectful, but being persistent and aggressive is frowned on. I felt that being proactive in conducting informational interviews was the equivalent of being aggressive. Read the rest of this entry »

Preparing to Negotiate an Academic Job Offer

October 9, 2012

If you have been following our Calendar for Career Success, October is the month to prepare yourself to negotiate a job offer.  Because the preparation for negotiating an academic position versus a non-academic position is so divergent, we are going to cover them in separate blog posts.  This week, we will give a brief overview of how to prepare for negotiating academic job offerings.  For more in-depth information, watch the videocast or view the slides from the latest OITE workshop on negotiating an academic job offer.

As you prepare to interview for academic jobs, it is important that you are preparing to negotiate an offer for those positions as well.  Often times the initial negotiation occurs verbally during or shortly after your interview(s).  You may be asked to provide information regarding your needs before the institution is willing to make you an offer.  Thus, it is important that you do your homework and be prepared to know what is reasonable.

Research what a typical offer looks like.   On-line databases can be a good place to start, but you need “real-world” data as well.  Many state universities publish salaries of current faculty.  Also, the Association of American Medical Colleges salary surveys are great resources for knowing your worth.   For those at the NIH, the OITE has the AAMC book that we welcome you to come in and use.  If you are outside the NIH, check to see if your institution has an online subscription to the AAMC web site.  Then you will need to determine your three salary numbers:  Ideal, acceptable and unacceptable.

Understand all the components of an offers. Is your salary is for a 9-month of 12-month appointment? Most 9-month salaries are paid over 12 months, but the duties associated with that salary (e.g. teaching), might only be for 9 months of the year.  You will want to ask if there are realistic ways to find support for the summer months to supplement that salary?  Is it a base salary with the possibility of bonuses?  Will the salary be fully supported by the university?  If not, how much will you be expected to provide from grants and when?  What about insurance (health, life, disability, etc.), retirement plans, sick days, vacations, holidays?  Almost all Universities have a standard benefits package, but you will want to know the details of that package to know if you will need supplement it on your own if it does not meet your needs. Read the rest of this entry »