What advice can you give on some tricky issues?

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Generally, all interview issues are potentially tricky. What makes them less so is having a plan so that you don’t leave yourself open to being caught out.

I am getting some interviews but seem to come second or third. How can I come first?

The good news is that your application forms, personal statements and CVs are doing the job. If this is happening more than a couple of times, really push for some specific feedback and prepare follow-up questions, don’t just be a passive listener. Ask specifically what you might do differently next time, remember to get the best from anyone giving feedback: be polite and courteous. There is absolutely no point using the time to complain about the questions, the panel or the way you were treated.

How do I answer questions about gaps in my employment history?

There is a chance that if there are significant gaps of a year or more which aren’t explained in any way, you may well not make it to the interview. It’s a really easy thing for selectors to spot at short-listing. If you are invited for interview and you think you’ll be asked about a gap, prepare your answer and give it a positive spin. If it’s complicated and you can’t easily explain it in an application, consider discussing the issue with the employer before you apply and it might be easier to approach the HR department rather than your potential line-manager.

Does the lack of a PhD represent a strong negative point for getting a university job?

Academic posts often ask for a PhD, especially if research is a major part of the role, but not all. It’s possible to get a foot in the door without, but if you want to make academia a career, especially in research, be prepared to embark on a PhD sooner or later.

Non-academic posts can sometimes ask for a PhD, but it’s rare. However, there can be some snobbery around academic qualifications even if it’s completely irrelevant to the role. On the flip side, job descriptions are not set in stone and the magic words:’…or equivalent experience…’ can provide an opportunity.

I'm trying to move from academia to industry- how might the industrial interview differ from the academic?

To an extent, all interviewers want to check out the same things: a match between the application and the applicant; specific communication skills; some kind of rapport and do they ‘fit’. Beyond that, they vary enormously and it’s well to check out the format beforehand, and most people don’t. Academic interviews are more likely to get you to engage in a debate or discussion as that kind of challenge is at the heart of academia.

What is the appropriate length of response - how long is too long; what level of detail is required?

It’s probably easier for an interviewer to ask follow-up questions if the initial answer is too short, than to interrupt someone who is straying off the point of not answering the question. It might help to think in terms of bullet points: this gives you a structure and enables you to be specific and concise. Keep an eye on the interviewer too; they may give you clues in their body-language which indicates that you may need to adjust the length of your answers.

Does being away from the UK represent a handicap?

This all depends on what you were doing and how it related to the job you’re applying for. Think about what an employer’s preconceptions might be, then plan some answers which would allay those reservations. You may underestimate the experience gained from working in a different culture and getting used to different conventions in the work place. Often, time away can equip you with useful, objective insights on your return. And if you think that you are generally just out of touch, put a plan together to get you up to date and explain that in interview.

How can I deal with questions that you feel you do not know the answer to?

If you feel you should know the answer but it hasn’t come to mind immediately, take a breath to give you time to order your thoughts. It may be that you have been thrown because the question hasn’t been very well phrased, so you could paraphrase it by saying: ‘could I just recap….’ or: ‘so, your question is asking….’ If you are being asked something factual or to talk about work experience you haven’t had, it’s probably easier to say you don’t know, but then go on to say how you would acquire that knowledge.

How to stay focused on questions; is it acceptable to make notes?

I wonder why you would want to make notes. Making notes gets in the way of your communication with the panel; the same applies to taking notes in with you.

Perhaps the very occasional note as a reminder of something that comes up in the interview which you would like to return to at the end might be acceptable, but if you do this, it might be worth telling the panel what you are doing and why.


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