Hi there!

When attending a job or PhD interview most of the time you will be given a short amount of time to introduce yourself and tell the panel what your experience is and why they should choose you among all the other candidates.

This usually happens at the beginning of the interview and it is the most important part of the whole process. Here I want to briefly share with you my experience of the PhD interview at King’s College, London, as well as some advices to make a good impression.

I have already published an article about preparing a job or PhD interview in very few days, so you may want to check it out here!

My experience

I decided to apply for a PhD position at King’s College only by chance because I did not even know that I would have had the occasion. It happened that one of my former supervisors who works at Newcastle University collaborate with the director of the Data Driven Healthcare CDT at King’s College in London and only then I knew that they were looking for some last-minute students to join their program.

This PhD program do perfectly fit in my career plans because I want to contribute to healthcare with my Data Science competences, so it was a perfect casualty. Then I decided to apply at the very last minute, the same week the professors would have planned all the interviews. In fact, I had only two days to prepare for the interview about a topic I have not even had a chance to inquire about in detail.

I had been told that the interview would have last about 30 minutes and that the panel would have given me 7 minutes for introducing myself before asking me some questions.

So:

  • 2 days to prepare for the interview.
  • 7 minutes out of 30 for introducing myself.
  • There is other 50 candidates they must interview that same week, it makes almost 4 full-time days of uninterrupted interviews for the panel……I do not want to be in their position. I want my interview to be pleasant. I want them to feel like that their time with me is well spent.

Difficult situation!

1. Be prepared

The first advice I want to share with you: always be prepared to such things.

Not only because last-minute presentations can always happen in your job, but also because you do not want to miss an important opportunity only because you were not ready even if you actually had the time.

So, if you are in that phase of your life in which is plausible that you will attend one or more interview, prepare yourself in advance for what you can, and a self-introducing presentation is definitely something you will probably asked to do.

2. Be honest

NEVER TELL LIES!

When it comes to curriculum and your experiences always be honest for two reasons:

  • if you lie sooner or later it will come out
  • if it comes out, you will probably get fired.

NEVER TELL LIES!

3. Timing is key

When it comes to first impressions, the very first aspect that comes out is timing. If you are late, the panel will definitely not have a first good impression about you, so try your best to be ready even few minutes before and to have everything you need (or may need) with you.

This will give the panel the impression that you are smart, alert, and ready to face pressure. They will also know that you are reliable and that they can trust you; this is maybe the most important thing.

4. Keep it short

I had been given 7 minutes to talk, that is a quite strange number, but it is the first test you are asked to pass. Being able to make it out in that specific timing means that you can manage the time you are given and that you put effort to be able to do so.

Another important thing is the synthesis ability. You will work with them every day and being able to synthesise important and complex concept is a key aspect of professional environments. If you cannot explain who you are in 5 minutes, you cannot do it even in 50.

If you are asked to prepare a presentation, or simply want to use one to introduce yourself, do not make more slides than the number of minutes you are given. For a 7 minutes introduction, I made a 6 slides presentation (no more, no less):

1. Title (formal, with only my name, the name of the PhD program and the date)

2. The academic title with which I am presenting myself for the PhD position

3. My recent research activity (few papers and project at university)

4. The title of the projects I was applying for (so that it is a formal expression of my intentions)

5. Other relevant personal experiences and attitudes (volunteering in medical environments, teaching experiences and other academic titles)

6. “Thank you” final page.

Do not read the presentation word by word, so do not write too much text, but use that as support for a much complete, yet simple speech. This will demonstrate that you are able to effectively present content in a public presentation, synthesise a long story (your story, of which, by the way, you are the most expert in the world) into few important milestones and create sober and professional presentations.

5. Do not waste their time!

One of the most important aspect that will impress the panel is the ability to go straight to the point of what you are talking about even if you are not extremely confident.

You are not expected to be the most expert person in the world on that subject, so it is ok not to know everything they will ask. But if you revolve around concepts wasting entire sentences without adding any value to the conversation, it will give a bad impression of you. So, think very well about the main idea they want you to talk about and do not say anything off-topic.

If you do not know something, simply be honest and say that. You may take advantage of the situation to tell them how you would fill the gap and solve that problem. Being able to learn new things, learn how to solve new problems and retrieve new information is more important than knowing by memory pre-packed solutions.

6. Be well-intentioned

If you demonstrate to be well-intentioned to learn and be a good person, a reliable student and trustworthy collaborator, they will definitely be inclined to consider positively your application among all the other candidates because this is what a supervisor or an employer want his or her guys to be.

7. Tell them why you are applying and be clear about your future expectations

Sometimes you will be asked where you see yourself in a few years (e.g., at the end of the PhD) and you want to have a good answer for that question. It will demonstrate that you are doing this with purpose and not just for trying.

If you do not know exactly wat you want to do, it is perfectly ok, but at least give them the reasons why you are applying and why they should choose you. For example, I do not know what I will be doing at the end of my PhD because I work in an environment in which really anything can happen. I want to keep all the possibilities open right now, but I told the panel that right now I see myself more working in a business environment than in academia.

This could also be taken poorly by professors who may want to train only academic researchers. But it was the truth and so I wanted to tell them. They reassured me that if this is my intention, they will try to help me find good professional connections outside the university.

So, this is the demonstration that being honest will pay more that tell what you think that they are expecting you to say.

In conclusion

Do never forget that they are looking for someone to invest in and to spend time with, so be the person you want yourself to work with and you will inevitably be accepted by the professors or employer that best suits for your personality and your inclinations.

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