How to Sell Your Skills in an Academic Interview

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Here on's Career Development site, we recently published two articles on the importance of skills - ‘Five skills you need to become a researcher' and ‘Five skills you need to become a lecturer'.

This article will explain why it's important to sell those skills in an interview situation and some strategies for doing that. Just to recap, let's list those key skills again:

  • Public Speaking
  • Time Management
  • Self-motivation
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Record keeping
  • Project Management
  • Handling budgets
  • Team leading
  • Handling data
  • IT skills

In most academic interviews now there are two distinct parts of the process: the presentation and the formal, panel interview. You can make use of these distinct parts to highlight your skills in very different ways. This article will explore how you can show potential employers what you can do.

The Presentation

Giving a short presentation, either on an area of your research or by providing a sample lesson is a great opportunity to sell many of your skills. Public speaking is an obvious one. You will be required to deliver your presentation in front of an audience of potential future colleagues and possibly postgraduates as well. So make sure you put your best public-speaking practice into operation: maintain eye contact while speaking slowly and enthusiastically. Nerves during an interview can make you speak too quickly or hesitate more than you normally would so to maximise this opportunity really familiarise yourself with your material beforehand. Doing extensive preparation for an interview is vital.

Similarly you can use the question and answer session to show off your interpersonal skills. After you have given your speech, the chairperson usually invites questions from the audience and answering these successfully will not only show that you are able to think on your feet and are in command of your material but also that you can engage in one to one discussions and are confident interacting with others. It sounds obvious but when interview nerves hit, sometimes we have the tendency to become very shy or overly talkative: getting the balance right is especially challenging in this setting, more so than in the lecture theatre or tutorial room.

Time management is very important during the presentation too. If you have been asked to speak for 10 minutes, time yourself and make sure you do so almost to the second if possible. Give your presentation a beginning, middle and an end so it is clear that you have written something specifically focussed on the brief and time allotted. Do not simply talk randomly for the given time and then stop suddenly, and certainly do not allow your presentation to run drastically over or under time.

A presentation is also the chance to show off your IT skills, although you shouldn't try to do anything too flashy. Chances are you will only have a short time to deliver your presentation and so if you are constantly fiddling with a computer or a projector then this could distract from the content of your talk. Also be aware that while your IT skills may be honed to a very high level, perhaps the technology in the room where you are presenting will not have been maintained to such a high level. If you plan a complex PowerPoint show, for example, make sure you have the slides available in printed form too in case nothing works for you on the day.

The formal interview

It is during the more formal part of the day, the panel interview stage, when you will be given the chance to show off the rest of your skills; those of record keeping, project management, handling budgets, team leading and handling data. The best way to do this is to prepare in advance case studies of times when you have shown these skills effectively. Have a look at the person specification for the job interview that you are attending.

The most obvious way to show you are suited to the job is to take each requirement one by one and relate it to a skill that you already have. However, do not simply say that you have this skill and expect the employer to take that on trust. Use an example from your previous experience to illustrate this point. So, for example, if the person specification requires someone to lead research projects then you need to demonstrate you have the skills to do that, such as project management, team leading, handling budgets and data. If you have run a successful research project in your current or previous institution then give detailed examples of how your activities show that you have the skills needed to carry out this duty successfully in the new job. If the job requires you to take on an administrative role such as admissions tutor, show that you are a good record keeper and interpersonal communicator by describing tasks you have done previously.

The best way to prepare for an interview is to write these sorts of relationships out on paper, listing duty, skill and example. That way it should stick in your head when it comes to the interview itself. It is important to relate your previous experience to these broad skills because skills are transferable: they can be adapted to suit any new situation, whereas if you only provide lists of previous activities the interviewers have no way of knowing whether you will fit into their department and institution.

As with all interview techniques, preparation is everything. Go through this skill-matching process for every interview you have, do not just rely on doing it once. That way, you'll be able to convince the interviewers that it is their job that you want and that you have the skills to do it.

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