Advice for Good Interviews

Julie Vick, Senior Associate Director

As a Career Services advisor, I work with PhD students, postdoctoral fellows and Master’s students in several of Penn’s schools.   I work with students and postdocs who are preparing for interviews, many of whom do not have much experience with interviewing.   We have lots of information on interviewing on the Career Services website and we offer mock interviews but sometimes the thing to do is to talk to a successful job hunter.

Recently, I asked three people who had just accepted job offers this question: What is one thing a candidate should do to have a good interview?  I found their answers to be informative and contain a common thread.

From a postdoc who has a new position in consulting:

There is no question that practicing case interviews helped me tremendously in my job interviews.  Even for a non-consulting job, I would recommend that candidates read case studies (available online or in the Career Services library), practice them individually, and practice with a partner.  The skills learned during that process, including (1) being able to answer a seemingly impossible question by stating what one heard, explaining how one would go about it, and then interacting with the interviewer, and (2) being able to keep one’s cool and calmly answer a question during a stressful situation, are invaluable during the interview process and beyond.

Another postdoc who will be working in chemical research responded with this:

For me the one most important thing is to be well prepared with a list of behavioral and technical questions (for scientific background) and answers. The list helped me to understand myself better and formulate answers for unprepared questions.

And Tryan McMickens, a doctoral graduate who accepted a Visiting Assistant Professor position at Suffolk University advised:

Beyond knowing scholarship and having a solid teaching philosophy, a doctoral candidate applying to faculty positions must be aware of the needs, challenges, and future directions of the department in which she or he interviews. Being informed can lead to more thoughtful and useful discussions at various phases of the academic job interview (e.g., search committee meeting(s); job talk Q &A; student breakout sessions; and individual interviews with the dean, department chair, and other campus decision-makers).  A favorable (or unfavorable) outcome is determined by the knowledge learned about the organizational dynamics of the department.

In addition to having the appropriate qualifications (and being able to talk about them), preparation is key to having a successful interview.  It is absolutely necessary to know something about the institution or company and be able to talk specifically about what you have to offer them.  It’s crucial to think about the questions you may be asked and practice answering them.  And it’s important to be comfortable talking with one or several interviewers.  I have never had a student or postdoc say that they wished they *hadn’t* done a mock interview with me or one of my colleagues, or *hadn’t* practiced case questions with someone in the Graduate Student Consulting Group.  As you can see, the answer to the question is the answer to “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Good luck with your interviews.

Author: Julie Miller Vick

Julie Miller Vick is the Senior Associate Director in Career Services for graduate students and post docs.