The final part of our series on successful academic interviews covers general advice. Even if you are well prepared for the presentation and panel interview, sometimes nerves or unexpected events can throw your best laid plans into chaos. Here’s Dr. Deborah Toner’s experience as she describes how she overcame illness to get the job of her dreams!
Sometimes your ideal interview preparation can be scuppered by illness, but this doesn’t mean you won’t get the job, as Dr Toner proves!
I came down with a dreadful cold a few days before my interview, which, although hardly ideal, achieved one thing: it took my mind off the interview in the days before. I was so focused on feeling human in time for the interview that, aside from preparing my presentation, reading about the department, and going over some anticipated questions, I didn’t think about the interview too much and actually spent more time than usual relaxing and resting.
So I went into the interview feeling excited rather than nervous, which really helped me to be myself and to get the most out of myself on the day. If at all possible, then, I’d recommend factoring in some downtime in the days before your interview and doing something that will occupy your mind.
Research the department:
As Dr Toner suggests, your background research will provide you with the information needed on the day and will give you added confidence.
Another key thing that will help is to find out as much about the department as possible: read the website, and talk to anyone you know who has worked or studied there. This will do a couple of things besides helping you give good and relevant answers to interview questions: first, it will help you to become excited and enthusiastic about working there, which should come across well during the interview; second, it will equip you with things to talk about during the more informal portions of the day, when you might be taken to lunch with staff members and the other candidates, or given a tour of the grounds and facilities, or some other meet and greet occasion. These parts of the process are where your potential colleagues are trying to figure out whom amongst the candidates they would enjoy working with, so it’s a good idea to demonstrate that you’re interested in what they do and that you’re easy to get along with. This can also be a good opportunity to find out information about the department’s priorities and modus operandi, which could help you give a better answer to one of the questions in the panel interview.
Interacting with other candidates:
One of the greatest challenges is speaking to other candidates on the day of the interview. How do you maintain your confidence and composure? Here are some tips from Dr Toner:
Finally, it’s not unusual to have to spend some time with the other candidates, which can really aggravate nervous tensions. I tend to approach these moments in two ways to minimize their impact on my confidence levels. First, avoid dwelling on what they can offer that you cannot: if you’ve made it to interview, there is something about you that the panel members are interested in. Focusing on your strengths and attributes – as opposed to someone else’s – will help you to give positive, confident answers. Secondly, avoid getting into one-upmanship with the other candidates, which can generate self-doubt and project an unflattering picture of yourself to your prospective colleagues. Instead, I always try to keep conversation with other candidates on a friendly and non-interview based level. Not only does this help to avoid the above problems, it is also makes you feel more normal and relaxed, as if you were at a conference instead of an interview.