Job interviews are one of the most important moment of our careers, especially when we are applying for a PhD because they will determine whether we will get the job or position we are applying for. Since PhD should be a very personal ad passionate choice, it is determinant to make the most of the little time we are give and give our best impression.
I want to start with a premise: if you are in that phase of your life in which you are transitioning from school or university to the world of work, always be prepared to attend a job interview. Sometimes they are unexpected, link my personal case, and you do not want to waste that opportunity.
I have got my master’s degree in 2019 at the university of Modena and I immediately started to work there as a research assistant with my two supervisors. Unfortunately, that workplace did not suit for me at all, so I decided to quit as soon as my one-year contract would have come to an end. I knew that I would have had to look for a PhD position somewhere else because I was still confident about this career choice, so during the summer of 2020, in the very middle of my one-year contract, I communicated to my employer that I would have quit, and at the same time I asked a few professors I was working with for help in finding a suitable PhD for me.
At the end of the summer of 2020, I had been told that there was an open PhD position in the topic I wanted to study in a very prestigious college in London, the King’s College, but I had to decide very quickly if I would have applied or not because there was no time left and it was a last-minute thing. So, I decided to apply, and I have been told that I should have attended the interview within 2 days.
It is a very small amount of time to prepare for a such important interview, for the perfect PhD for my interests, in the best city I was hoping to go to, perfectly in conjunction with the end of the job I wanted to leave. I could not fail, but I had only 2 days. So………
That is why I told you to always be prepared. You do not know when such incredible occasions will happen, and you do not want to miss them.
But, what “being prepared” means?
You do not know what you are applying for, not in detail at least, and you do not know what skills or abilities the interviewer is expecting you to have. But there is a secret awareness you really must have: if they are looking for someone you are not; you do not really want to be accepted. It is a fundamental rule to always be yourself and be prepared to talk about yourself. It is very difficult to act as someone they are looking for when you are not that person. Being yourself grant you to play in your own field, not theirs.
If you apply for a job or a PhD in computer science, and you did never study programming or data science, or whatever they ask you to know, you may have made some wrong decisions. This is obvious.
But suppose that you are applying for a position that perfectly suits your profile, how to always be prepared?
Most of the interview starts with a few minutes in which you are asked to tell the panel about yourself and why they should choose you. This is your moment, and you want to take full advantage of that.
You do not have to study anything, you must talk about the topic you know the most, and no one else know at all. It is yourself. You know why you are applying. You know what your experiences and capabilities are. You should figure out the best way to convince them that your personality will give them advantages and enrich their team. You basically must sell yourself, so do not lose time on useless things and focus on what are the most important skills that they could appreciate.
About the job
After your short introduction the panel usually takes some time to ask you questions on how you think you will handle the job, and how you will help them and their team. Here I suggest you to think big, but not to overvalue your abilities. If you already have personal experience on what they do, just tell them how you used to work and to produce results in that field. If you are applying for a PhD, you are not supposed to be the most expert person in that field, but you are required to be a good learner instead.
So besides telling how you used to work or to study, also tell them how you are going to study what you do not know yet and how do you usually integrate new knowledge in your current skillset. This will give the panel the impression that they know what you can offer, and how you can reach new knowledge. The knowledge and results themselves will come later, what matters the most is the method and the attitude to growth.
Timing and first impressions
Most of the time you will not be the only candidate to apply and the panel may have a lot of application to evaluate. This gives you disadvantage because you have to “fight” against other candidates, but it can also help you a lot.
In such context, most of the times, the panel simply cannot remember everything about everyone, so they will inevitably end up focusing on the most evident aspects of each candidate. You want to impress them in a positive way, and it will give you more advantage that being the most expert person who applied.
So, to give the best impression in every single aspect, follow these few fundamental rules:
- Be on time, always. Being late automatically gives a problem to the panel even before you begin to talk. This is the very basis of being an educated person. They will have to work with you for years and being late the first appointment do not give a first good impression.
- Be sure communications work. Especially these days in which everything runs online, always be sure that you have all software installed and working. Do not give them problems about the medium the interview will be carried on.
- Prepare an effective presentation of yourself. This will be the topic for an entire article, but the main ideas are not to waste their attention on useless graphics effects and be very short. You should always have a short, updated presentation of yourself, you never know when you will need one. So, be minimal, professional, and SHORT, SHORT, SHORT. The panel will never have enough time and memory for every detail of your life, so choose very wisely the few important things that will make the best impression for every possible interview you expect to go. We will talk about that later in another article.
- Do not revolve around concepts. Never give them the impression that you are talking only to look confident and competent. The panel is interested in facts and everything that is not a fact distract them and gives them the impression that you do not have the numbers. Go straight to the point of everything they ask you without wasting your and their time. If you do not know how to answer, just tell them, but also tell them how you plan to find the answer by yourself. It is normal that you do not know everything, but it is unacceptable that you do not know how to make up for your lack.
I hope that these aspects will help you to better deal with interview in a very short amount of time. For this is important to always be prepared and have at least a short presentation of yourself. It is normal that you are not the most expert person, especially if you did not have much time to prepare yourself, but just tell the panel and maybe they will understand. It depends on the kind of job you are applying for, but for PhD they usually are interested on the potential, not only on the current abilities and skills.
I’ll see you here and on my social network profiles for more interesting topics.