By Carlos M. Guardia, PhD
“Take a moment and look at all that white empty space in your CV…that space represents all that defines you—and what they are going to ask you during your job interview.” These were the first words that Scott Morgan (of The Morgan Group) said to capture our attention during his workshop on successful job interviews. Morgan is an expert trainer and facilitator in the art of communication for scientists. Through his work, he has found that scientists tend to spend too much time on putting together a brilliant CV, and not enough time on the critical step of the interview, which is one of the most important parts of the job search and hiring process.
The secret to an effective interview is to prepare for the questions and practice the answers in advance. Morgan created a list with the ten most popular questions asked during interviews (see sidebar), and we practiced how to properly answer them. We talked, for example, about our personal background and motivations, rehearsed a five-year plan response, and shared in the panic of the Why should we hire you? question.
Morgan reminded us that there are no good or bad answers, but there are vivid and vague responses, which is why our goal while answering is to paint a picture in the mind of the evaluators. We learned to avoid using self-qualifying and over-confident adjectives, like hard working, motivated, and smart. Instead, he encouraged us to illustrate how we are hard working, with real examples from actual work situations. Also, Morgan pointed out that the interview should flow in a logical way, since the interviewers are interested in your analytical thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving attitude. This stage of the hiring process is more about you than your results from previous lab experiences. The hard data and information about your science is already in your CV and research proposal.
Another interesting segment of the workshop included how to talk about your current work. The members of the interviewing board have specific needs for their institution, and they are looking for a new candidate who meets those needs. For that reason, Morgan advised us to review the job description carefully and list the position requirements. He then introduced the funnel approach as a way to show how to address the needs of the institute. You should begin with the big picture first, then lead the interviewing board into your specific area of knowledge (like the wide mouth of a funnel narrowing at the bottom). During this time, you should identify the issues and problems that you may share with the institution, and of these, focus on your work that could offer solutions. Bonding and identifying with the interviewers by sharing common, problematic experiences may make them feel interested in your work and want to bring you to their institution.
Finally, Skype interviews are gaining in popularity, especially for the first interview step before an in-person meeting. For this method of interview, Morgan recommended that you utilize the space in front of you by pasting reminders and useful tips on the computer screen. You should also be thoughtful about the lighting (avoid lights from above) and the backgrounds (never place yourself in front of a window).
Wishing you the best of luck using Morgan’s advice and strategies during your next job interview!