Thursday, January 30, 2014

Interested in Interviews? Part 03: Your Interview

Submitted By: Issel Anne Lim, PhD
Department/Affiliation: Radiology / F.M. Kirby Research Center

After finally getting that oh-so-elusive academic degree, we then need to figure out how to get a job. Whether you're trying to get an interview or get the offer, here are a few things to think about: showcasing your skillscustomizing your application, and brainstorming your interview answers.

Part 03: Your Interview

Research the job and organization, so that you're familiar with the lingo (e.g., if you're interviewing for the FDA, find out what a "PMA" is). See which things they emphasize on their websites, and get a feel for how you may fit into the work environment. Also think of a few questions that you may have for the interviewer -- what's an example of a "typical" day on the job? What sorts of things would you want to improve about your job?

The best way to prepare for an interview is to practice -- especially with a real, live person. Schedule a mock interview with the Professional Development Office to figure out what sorts of questions you may need to answer, and/or look through the questions below. 


Why do you want to go into consulting/policy/academia/whatever field you're applying for?
This is not just a philosophical question -- this is a chance for you to showcase your skills. If you are changing fields, then focus on the skills that are translatable from your current field, and state how they would be valuable in the position that you're applying for. For example: "I know how to solve problems analytically, communicate effectively, be resourceful, look at the big picture, ... and I want to apply them to [your field] because ..." Be ready to discuss why you're leaving your current field, but don't sound negative about what you currently do. Do some background research to figure out what the job entails or what makes people in that field successful, and figure out how you can fit in, so that the employer will want you to join the team.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?
This is a tough one. Among your strengths, make sure that you choose something that is applicable for the job you're applying to (e.g., science communication, analytical skills, time management, etc.), and point to specific examples to back it up. For weaknesses, focus on something that you "are working to improve." Do NOT point to a medical problem, religious or political views, or a social issue. Don't bring up anything that could be a deal breaker for your interviewer, like bad time management skills or inability to talk to strangers. (That said, if you have bad time management skills, you should work on that -- any job will be much easier if you learn how to budget your time!) If something was difficult for you in the past, but you've overcome previous weaknesses, then that's a great story to talk about: "I used to be terrified of public speaking, but I've learned that I get less nervous after practicing many times. Now I feel more confident when giving an oral presentation."

Much of our job involves working in teams. Describe how you worked in a team. How did you resolve any conflicts that arose during this collaboration?
Your answer to this question should come from experience. It's especially helpful if you've worked with a team that consisted of people at higher professional positions than you, because it means that you can persuade people, even if you have no direct influence over them. This is a measure of your people skills, your tactfulness, and your resourcefulness.

Tell us about a time you solved a problem.
Try not to use typical things that everyone is expected to go through (e.g., do NOT say, "Well, I had this class, and it was really hard.") Instead, use concrete numbers to show how much of an impact you had. Use that STAR approach: What was the situation or the task that you needed to accomplish? Which action(s) did you take? What were the results? Make sure that you focus on what you did -- say "I" and not "we" -- so that the interviewer knows what you (not the team) are capable of.


Feel free to write out your thoughts first. Use bullet points -- do not memorize word-for-word speeches, which could make you sound insincere. Make sure that you can describe each aspect of your résumé in a concise and clear manner. Practice your answers in your head and out loud whenever you can, whether it's standing in line, looking in the mirror, or meditating in the shower. All of these questions are designed to let the employer determine how well you will fit -- not just the job, but also the job place. Throughout it all, remember that you are showing them a product (you), and you are the expert on yourself. Good luck!

[This is the third part of a series of three blog posts that list a few tips on the job-hunting process. Other sections are Part 01: Your Skills and Part 02: Your Application]

* A version of this article has also been published in The Transcript, a newsletter from the Hopkins BioTech Network.

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