This week once Clearing was over I was able to attend a training course run by my university to prepare me for being on interview panels. This was one of those training courses that was actually very useful and I also learned a great deal about what makes a good candidate.
The part of the course devoted to selection of candidates was fascinating. We had a practical test in which we were split into three groups and each had to conduct a mock interview with a candidate (an actor who had been primed to behave in a certain way!) with all the rest of the groups watching. Just my luck, we had the waffling candidate (the others were the ‘inflexible’ and the ‘overly nervous’ candidates!).
It struck me how useful that exercise would be for many job applicants who struggle with conducting themselves in an interview. Many careers departments offer undergraduates the chance to do mock interviews, but what about postdoctoral students looking for academic jobs?
As an interviewer dealing with the waffling candidate was very difficult. Interrupting someone and repeating the same question in a different way was a key technique. So, if you’re a candidate and your interviewers are regularly butting in, you’re probably talking too much! Other non-verbal cues include interviewers stop taking notes, and even looking at their watches: so look out for those.
If you have a tendency to talk too much when nervous, practise being succinct. For example, to key questions such as what could you contribute to research/teaching at this department, prepare answers that last about a minute or so (or less). This will help you focus on what is really important.
If you’re faced with a question for which you didn’t prepare, take a few moments to consider the question: what is it that the employers are really looking for here? Try to come to the main point straight away; do not begin to tell a long, rambling story in the hope that you’ll eventually think of something interesting to say!
As an interviewer or interviewee I recommend at having a go at some mock interviews, it can be really instructive and is excellent preparation for the real thing!