How to Prepare for a Postdoc Interview
So, you’ve been invited for a postdoc interview. Congratulations! This means the principal investigator (PI) liked what they saw in your CV, cover letter, and letters of recommendation. The interview will allow both of you to determine if your skills, experience, and personality are a good fit for the position.
A postdoc interview often has multiple parts. First-round interviews are usually conducted one-on-one with the PI on the phone or Skype, followed by on-campus interviews for the top candidates. The on-campus interview will be one to two days. During this time, you will have another in-person interview with the PI, meet with other members of the lab or department, tour campus, and give a talk about your current research.
Here are some ways to prepare for each stage of the interview to make sure you stand out from the crowd:
Practice Your Answers
You can’t predict every question that will be asked during each round of your interview, but the job description will give you a good idea of the technical skills and qualifications the PI is looking for. You are likely to be asked research-centred questions such as:
- What are the main findings of your PhD?
- What areas of our research interest you and why?
- How will your research fit in our department?
- How would you seek funding for your work?
- How will this postdoc help you reach your professional goals?
- Do you have an experience mentoring graduate students?
You should also be prepared to answer questions about topics such as teamwork, your strengths and weaknesses, and how you deal with failure. Before the interview, you should also come up with elevator pitches in answer the two most common interview questions: “tell me about yourself” and “what do you research?”
Ask for Feedback
While thinking through these questions and taking notes is fine, the best preparation is actually saying your answers out loud in front of another person. Ask your supervisor to hold a mock interview with you. Having hired their own postdocs, they are in a position to offer valuable feedback about your answers and ask questions you hadn’t thought of.
Prepare Some Questions of Your Own
Remember, an interview goes both ways. A postdoc is an important part of your training and you want to be sure you choose one that’s right for you and your future career. You want to be sure you understand the PI’s expectations for you and that they are clear on your goals. Some potential questions include:
- What have past postdocs done after leaving the lab?
- Where does the lab funding come from? How is the postdoc position funded?
- Will I able to take my project with me once the postdoc ends?
- How does the lab handle authorship?
- What is the institution’s postdoc policy?
Prepare Your Talk
If you reach the on-campus interview stage, you will be asked to give a 40-minute talk to the lab about your current research. Your talk should introduce your topic, cover the experiments you’ve done, their results, and the implications for the field. Remember not to get too technical and always put your findings in context as it is unlikely everyone in the room will be specialists in your field. Take care when preparing your slides and make sure they are easy to follow with no errors. You should practice your talk several times on your own, as well as in front of an audience of your labmates. It’s also a good idea to give a practice talk to someone outside of your field if you are interviewing in a different field than you did your PhD in.
Read Up on the Lab
Take some time to familiarize yourself with the lab and its recent publications. Look at who the current lab members are and their backgrounds. Read a few of the lab’s recent publication and note which lab members are working on each project. This will allow you to ask intelligent questions about their work when you meet them.
Dress the Part
You know what they say about a first impression. An interview is always an occasion to look your best. Your day to day attire as a researcher will likely be casual, but you should still dress up for your interview. Wear business attire and while you’re at it, get a haircut too. This tip also applies to Skype interviews, for which you should wear a complete outfit just in case you have to stand up for some reason or switch locations.
An often overlooked part of the interview process comes after the call ends or you leave campus. In the 24 hours after the interview ends, you should send the PI an email thanking them for their time and reiterating your interest in the position.Continue reading