Preparing for interview questions

I received much help and advice from colleagues and friends about how to prepare for interviews post-doc and academic positions.  In turn others have asked for my help, so here I’m posting my best advice and potential questions.  Questions have been compiled from interviews I’ve done as applicant and panel member, lists sent by colleagues and example questions posted elsewhere online.  Questions have been generalised.

Basic general advice

1. Prepare answers to expected questions.  While the aim is not to have answers ready to read, careful advance thinking will allow accurate, concise and thoughtful responses.  Even a question such as “Why should we give you this job?” can leave an applicant stumped if they only been thinking about why they want the job, rather than why they are the best person for the job.

2. Prepare for the interview by researching and reading broadly about the project, lab group, university, department, interview panel, etc.  It can feel a waste of time for an unsuccessful applicant, but you are unlikely to be successful without preparation.

3. Show the panel your personality, who you are and what you can do, as they are also investigating what you would be like to work with.

General interview questions (both post-doc and academic)

  1. Briefly describe your career to date.
  2. Why do you want this job?
  3. Why should we give you this job?
  4. What are your strengths? Or, what unique skills/experience would you bring to this position?
  5. What are your weaknesses? And how are you working to overcome these.
  6. How would you describe the type of research you do?
  7. How do you think your co-workers would describe you?
  8. How do you find and select collaborators?
  9. What networks or groups of collaborators are you tapped into?
  10. What do you think are the qualities of a good supervisor?
  11. What do you think are the three main big questions in your/this field at the moment? Or, what do your anticipate will be the next big breakthrough in this area? Or, what do you think is the next hot topic in your field?
  12. If you were given a large amount of money to spend on research, what would you do?
  13. Tell us about the research that you are most proud of and how it contributed to your field. Or, tells us about your most significant contribution to research.
  14. What is your five year plan? Or, what are your mid-term goals?
  15. Tell us about a research paper you read recently and why you liked it.
  16. Tell us about a difficult situation you found yourself in and how you got out of it.
  17. What do you know about the city/town/location where this position is based?
  18. When can you start?
  19. What questions do you have for us?

Post-doc position questions

  1. Now that you have read our proposal for the project, how would you tackle this research? What are your plans?
  2. Tell us about your experience with the methods/statistical approaches/field sites/equipment/theory that will be used in the project.
  3. Are there any related side-questions or side-projects that you would you be interested in pursuing?
  4. How would you describe your relationship with your PhD supervisor?
  5. How would you rank your independence as a researcher?
  6. This project involves collaborating with many people, can you give an example of a difficult situation involving people that you have successfully resolved? Or, can you tell us about a successful collaborative experience?
  7. What new skills would you like to learn from this project?
  8. There are some big challenges in this project (such as remote fieldwork, complicated logistics, working in large groups as examples), how do you plan to approach these?

Academic position questions

  1. How do you balance the competing pressures of research and teaching?  How would you organise your time to do this?
  2. Tell us about your most successful collaboration and why it was successful.
  3. What is your favourite thing about teaching?
  4. Which subjects would you like to teach here?
  5. Why do you want to work here? Or, what attracts you to this Department/University? What had you heard about it before you applied for this position?
  6. What is your strategy to generate research funding here?
  7. How would you plan to build up a lab group?
  8. How would you define/describe good teaching?
  9. How do you respond to student feedback of your course content?  Give an example.
  10. Tell us about how your incorporate research-led teaching/multi-media/online tools in your teaching.
  11. How would you like too see the planning of a new, co-taught unit proceed.
  12. How would/do you deal with an unmotivated/distressed student?
  13. What are your strategies for increasing the impact of your work?
  14. Who do you think you could collaborate with in our Department?
  15. What opportunities do you see in cross- or inter-disciplinary research at this university?  What would be the benefits?
  16. Tell us about your experience with curriculum development/curriculum review/committee work etc.
  17. What do you think the big changes in tertiary education in this country will be in the next few years.

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  1. Pingback: 60+ places your environmental and biological science degree could take you. | Julia Cooke

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