The non-academic interview process varies widely, depending on the sector and size of the company to which you apply. The standard format is an initial phone screen interview, conducted by the hiring manager or by a human resources professional, followed by a half-day or full-day in-person interview.
Though an interview invitation is quite exciting, it can also be paired with apprehension. Knowing what to expect can help reduce this apprehension. Click below to learn about each stage of a non-academic interview.
An invitation for a first-round phone interview may arrive by email or by phone. If the invitation is by phone, do not agree to speak immediately. Schedule a time to speak so that you can prepare appropriately.
In an initial phone screen interview, the hiring manager or human resources professional seeks to:
- Verify the information in your application
- Determine your immigration status
- Assess your salary and relocation needs
- Explore your breadth of knowledge
- Determine your communication and interpersonal skills
Just like an in-person interview, preparation is key. Some tips are:
- Dress the part to feel confident and professional
- Have copies of your application documents available for reference
- Prepare questions for the interviewer
What to wear?
The clothes you wear to the lab on any given day should NOT be those you wear to a formal interview. The key words for appropriate interview attire are: professionally polished. Your science may speak for itself, but you need to represent yourself well because employers are looking for those who will represent them well.
Choose, or buy, professional attire in which you feel both comfortable and confident. You will be on your feet all day, so choose comfortable, but professional, shoes. Break them in if they are brand new. Beyond your clothes, bring a professional bag or laptop/tablet case.
Prepare and Practice
Do your homework! Find out as much as you can from the company, including:
- Your itinerary and travel arrangements
- The people with whom you will meet
- The format and audience for your job talk (if giving one)
- The format of your interview(s)
Research the people with whom you will meet, including their websites, LinkedIn profiles, or any articles they may have published. Come up with questions for each of them.
While there is no way to know exactly what questions you will be asked in your interview, you can make an educated prediction based on the type of position for which you are interviewing, the people with whom you meet, and the format of the interview (one-on-one or panel, or both).
Interview questions come in a few flavors:
- Informational: Asked to garner specific information
- Technical: Asked to ascertain a candidate's skills and abilities
- Behavioral: Asked to determine strengths and weaknesses and how candidates respond to specific situations
- Critical Thinking: Increasingly popular type asked to determine reaction under stress and how candidates logically approach problems
Reviewing common questions in each of these categories is a great what to begin your practice. Write answers to these questions, simply to recall the story easily, not to memorize it specifically.
To structure your answer to many of these questions, use the STAR technique:
- Describe the Situation
- Convey the Task you were assigned in that situation
- Outline the Action you performed to accomplish the task
- Describe the Result of your action
For further practice, request a mock interview session with the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Five Questions Great Candidates Ask by Jeff Haden (Inc.)
- How to Answer 64 of the Toughest Interview Questions
- How to Prepare for and Succeed at Panel Interviews by David G. Jensen (Science Careers)
- Seven Rules for Job Interview Question that Result in Great Hires by John Sullivan (Harvard Business Review)
- Ten Crash Course Tips for Interviews by Carole Martin (Biospace)
- Top 31 Common Interview Questions and Answers by Ford R. Myers (BioSpace)
- LinkedIn Learning Interview Skills Collection
- Interview Skills Guide by OHSU's CWE
- Interview Tip Sheet by OHSU's CWE
Instead of a phone screen, or in cases where travel simply isn't feasible, video-based interviews, using software like Skype, Zoom, or WebEx, are popular and convenient for both interviewer and interviewee. However, special considerations should be made.
- Background: Be aware of what is behind you
- Dress: Same rules apply as for in-person interviews. Dress for success
- Sound Quality: Choose a quiet location and use headphones or earbuds to reduce echo
- Tests: Conduct a test-run to fix any bugs to ensure smooth setup on interview day
- Video Quality: Use a wired line, rather than WiFi, for best video quality
A job talk may not be necessary for all non-academic interviews, but if you are interviewing for an industry position at a biotech or pharmaceutical company, you will most likely be asked to give a research presentation.
A research talk for an industry or other non-academic position will differ from that for an academic position.
- Audience: Non-expert, or even non-scientist, people may attend
- Self-promotion: Convey your expertise and skills more than your research. It is about what you can do for them.
- Big picture: Do not focus on detailed data, but rather the big picture of your story
After the Interview
With any luck, you were taking notes during your interviews. If not, take some time to reflect on the conversations you had with those you met.
When you return home, send a thank you each to each person you met during your interview. Make the message personal, commenting on a topic you discussed during your meeting. In the interest of time, you can send these thank you notes via e-mail. A hand-written thank you note may be posted afterward, if you desire.
Additional interview resources
- Interviewing Skills from the NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education
- Jumping Off the Ivory Tower: Preparing for Interviews Outside Academe webinar by the New York Academy of Sciences
- Beyond Academia: Interviews by the University of Washington Career Center