You get the email you’ve been waiting for… an invitation to interview for a job is one of the more exciting moments in our professional journey. It’s a great feeling when potential employers are impressed with our qualifications “on paper,” and now they want to see if we are the “right” person for the job. Do not forget this is a two-way street; we also want to know if this job is the “right fit” for us. Being prepared is the key to success.
In our profession, interviews usually last at least one full day as the employer wants to ensure key stakeholders and leadership get an opportunity to meet with you and ask relevant questions. In general, our interview performance will be evaluated by a number of categories that will be summarized at the end of the process by the hiring organization.
As much as they want to learn from you, you want to learn everything you can about them. This is critical for your decision-making process as you want to know if this is the “right fit” for you. You may be considering moving to a new city/state, and this is the perfect opportunity to learn as much as possible about the job, the position, and the workplace. Prepare questions ahead of time for all the different groups and people you will meet. These questions should be about the organization, including expectations and priorities, vision, reporting structure, politics, and lab accreditation. Additional position-specific questions should include educational opportunities, on-call duties, opportunities for advancement, promotion/tenure, and overall clinical, education and research responsibilities. You should also learn about quality of life, longevity of personnel, on-going projects, and long-term lab strategy.
One of the most crucial interview skills is to know your CV inside and out. Ensure that every item can be explained succinctly, and in a way that emphasizes your fit to the role and organization. Exclude anything you are unable to justify or describe. If your CV is tailored to a particular position, you should be prepared to discuss the specific version you submitted.
Researching the position and organization/institution/center is another critical component of interview preparation. Learn about the position and the role within the section/department/institution. Company websites are a great resource to learn about mission, vision and values, and to understand organizational structure and institution-wide expectations for employees. Once the interview itinerary is available to you, ensure you are acquainted with the people you are scheduled to speak with, and research their professional profiles (if available) to get a sense of their background.
The day of the interview arrive at least 30 minutes early to find your way around the campus/facilities, and then find a place to quiet the mind and prepare for the day. Most importantly, remember the interview starts the moment you get in your car or depart from the plane; you should assume that you may run into someone you may be speaking with later that day.
The interview day should be viewed as an opportunity to demonstrate tangible examples of your strengths, abilities and experience. Interviews usually consist of two types of questions: specific questions about training, expertise, and qualifications, and behavioral questions. It is very important to have an “elevator speech” ready, as the “Tell me about yourself” question will be asked several times. Good storytelling and the ability to link to the organization and the role, are also great skills to leverage while interviewing, as many fit/behavior questions will prompt you to give examples of real life situations where you were required to apply certain skills (conflict resolution, difficult conversations, leadership, mentoring, etc.). Don’t be afraid of asking your interviewers to clarify a question if it seems unclear to you. “Thinking out loud” is another good strategy to allow more time to think through how to approach an answer.
When answering questions be humbly confident, honest and truthful. Examples are always great to illustrate how you approach a situation. Using positive terms is key, even when describing a less than ideal scenario. Simple, concise answers are best. Remember social etiquette rules at all times (eye-contact, firm hand-shake, smile, avoid interruptions, proper attire, cell-phone off). Be professional at all times and avoid small talk, unless initiated by your interviewer.
When an oral presentation is required, remember it is not all about evaluating scientific prowess, but also about evaluating presentation skills and the ability to communicate and explain complex information in a simple to understand manner. The presentation should be targeted at a wide audience that includes every potential stakeholder, including administration, non-technical and technical staff, colleagues, and students/trainees. Ensure you leave time for questions and be prepared by rehearsing ahead of time.
As the interview is coming to an end it is important to leave a door open for asking additional questions in case something else comes to mind. Make sure you are aware of next steps and have a strategy to follow-up. Finally, write a thank-you note to one or more key people you interviewed with, ensuring it is sent within the next 24 hours.
In summary, at the end of the interview they should be clear about “Why you?” and you should be clear about “Why them?”