interviewing problems - do's and dont's

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interviewing problems - do's and dont's

Postby R.S.D. » Wed Nov 28, 2012 11:54 pm

I'm a PI at an R1 medical school and I've been interviewing people for a postdoctoral position. I interviewed a candidate yesterday that I was initially excited about, but was very disappointed in her interview performance. Recent candidates, including her, are making many of the same mistakes interviewing with me and my colleagues. For forum readers currently looking for positions, here are some suggestions:

1. Do not drone on-and-on about how bad the job market is. You have my time and attention in order to sell yourself to me and convince me why I should hire you - do not waste the opportunity with downbeat nonspecific chatter.

2. Read the lab's papers and website and have some specific questions prepared about the lab's research and be able to explain why you are specifically interested in the position. Do not just give a high school level answer of "I want to work in cancer research."

3. Be timely. For phone interviews in which I call you, be ready to answer your phone, or promptly reschedule if you cannot. Do not call/come by my office 30' minutes after the scheduled time and insist on interviewing.

4. Practice explaining your future goals/ambitions before talking to me. And please use positive language. Tell me that you want to pursue a teaching career because you enjoy some aspect of teaching rather than droning on about how you do not want to write grants (bear in mind, I expect my postdocs to write fellowship grants).

5. Prepare questions about more than work hours or pay. For example, ask about potential collaborations, access to speciality equipment, or opportunities for career development. Use this to show evidence of initiative.

6. Do not tell me or my labbies about personal problems. We do not need to know about your bad divorce or your crazy father. This shows that you do not understand boundaries. If there are pressing personal matters driving your job search, like relocation due to a spouse's employment, tell me, but keep it matter-of-fact, and quickly pivot back to the goal of the interview (selling yourself).

7. Write a follow up thank you note within 1-5 days expressing interest in the position and thanking me for my time if you would like to be hired. And please explain to me why you think you would be a good fit in my research program - a few sentences will do. If you don't hear from me for a few weeks, get back in touch and politely express your continued interest.

More often then not, you are your own worst enemy during interviews. Proper preparation and a professional demeanor go a long way.
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Re: interviewing problems - do's and dont's

Postby Ana » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:17 am

That is great feedback RSD. I would add number 8, know the stuff you are presenting during your seminar.

I've seen some PhDs applying for postdoc positions that will focus their talk on a paper where they are first author but that can't really answer why the choice of some methods/conditions was done or why that data was important. Answers like "I don't know, we always did it like that in the lab" or "I didn't do that part" suggest you were just told what to do. Someone with a PhD should show they would be able to do the same type of work in the new lab with little helps as they will be experts, and be able to understand the work of their collaborators (particularly for pharma jobs, were no single project will stay within a single lab and we all take ownership of the collaborative exercise)
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Re: interviewing problems - do's and dont's

Postby R.S.D. » Thu Nov 29, 2012 10:35 am

Ana, thanks for bringing up mistakes people make with their interview seminar. There have been great posts on the forum about how to prepare these seminars, so I won't go into that. However, a great seminar does not get you the job if you cannot properly field questions - how you handle questions really shapes how people view you as a candidate. An interview seminar should not be a monologue. You should want interruptions and questions since that shows that your audience is engaged. Your answers should show that you are thoughtful and knowledgeable, and that you have both a deep conceptual and practical command of the work you are presenting (but remember to be succinct). This is when your intellect and personality shine through, so be aware of your tone of voice and body language while answering. One important point - do not respond to questions as though they are attacks. I have seen candidates act stunned, get very defensive, or be terse and condescending in their answers - not good even if the questioner is being very tough - nothing shows professionalism better than a deftly diffused gotcha question. Sometimes the tough questioner may actually be your strongest supporter (that turned out to be the case in several of my interviews for faculty positions).
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Re: interviewing problems - do's and dont's

Postby Dave Jensen » Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:50 pm

Love RSD's advice and thank him/her for contributing!

"Failure is a bruise -- not a tattoo." -- Jon Sinclair
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Re: interviewing problems - do's and dont's

Postby Priya.S » Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:55 pm

Great post, RSD! Really valuable advice.


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Re: interviewing problems - do's and dont's

Postby E. Johnson » Fri Nov 30, 2012 1:05 pm

Echo your #1. We have had a number of Ph.D. level scientists come to interview at my company and their reason for wanting an industry job? Because the job market for professors is not good. Great! We'll keep looking for someone who really wants this job then!
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Re: interviewing problems - do's and dont's

Postby R.S.D. » Fri Nov 30, 2012 2:22 pm

I'm with you on #1 (and it's close corollary #4) - that's been an ongoing interviewing pet peeve of mine. If you're interviewing with me for a job, I already know that you are on the job market, and that can be hard to navigate even in good times.

Anyway, the day I posted my tips, I'd just interviewed a postdoc candidate (terrible) before interviewing a faculty candidate (terrific), and it was night-and-day. The postdoc candidate had done little preparation (no reading about research in the lab or the department, no specific career goals clearly explained, etc), whereas the faculty candidate had done a great deal of preparation and really sparkled in the one-on-one interviews and the questions-and-answers during his seminar. Of note, the people who'd asked him the hardest questions during his seminar raved about him later in the day. The faculty candidate elicited a lot of enthusiasm because of how well he interviewed, and he's going to get an offer. He did not have a Cell-Science-Nature paper, and his research program was not as mature as other candidates I've seen, but he did come across as very thoughtful and level-headed, extremely well rounded, and collaborative (we like that here), and he made a great case for how he fit into our program. Like many Forum members have said, fit wins out in the end - but it's up to the interviewee to make that case.
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