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Think about your life in photographs and then try to build short stories around the images. These instructions were at the heart of a job interviewing workshop led by Scott Morgan for a group of NICHD fellows last month. Scott, director of the Morgan Group, is a communications coach who targets scientists. Scott has led several seminars for NICHD members on the art of scientific presentations. During the current job-searching season, Scott offered two recent sessions on optimizing the interview portion of job applications. He notes that applicants spend hours perfecting their CVs but rarely prepare for the interview, which can be equally or more important than the paper application. Scott has constructed a list of 9 standard questions to expect during an interview, including the familiar “tell us about your strengths and weaknesses” and “where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?” to the slightly more intimidating “why should we hire you?” He advises preparing for each question by finding a story that exemplifies the qualities you wish to communicate. For example, rather than listing buzz words such as hard-working, motivated, and intelligent, you could instead tell a story that exemplifies these qualities—perhaps one that describes a night you worked late while trying to resolve a problem with an experiment. Such stories may lead interviewers to discern your strengths while helping them to get to know you as a person rather than summarized by a list of adjectives. Scott also emphasized that presentations during a job interview (whether formal or chalk talks) should not be heavily laden with data. Instead, you should focus on why you chose to ask the research question of interest and why you made certain decisions about experiment design. These methods will help demonstrate your thought process and future potential. Interviewers will be more interested in the skills and mental acuity that an applicant can bring to a new job rather than the specific data generated in the current lab. Thus, you should speak more generally about how your current research fits into the objectives of the interviewer's work rather than focusing on the results of your work. Follow these guidelines and Scott guarantees success!

The 9 Standard Question Topics (Plus 2 tricky possibilities):

  1. Personal background
  2. Academic background
  3. Motivation to enter science
  4. Motivation to enter specific field
  5. Current work (and it fits into the greater picture)
  6. Strengths
  7. Weaknesses
  8. Why should we hire you?
  9. Future plans (where do you see yourself in x years)

Also be prepared for:

  • Explaining when you encountered something difficult or describing a challenge you overcame
  • Any hypothetical questions (looking for a thought process, not a final answer)