Interviews: When coming 2nd is no consolation

Unlike some competitions where prizes are handed out for coming 2nd or 3rd, or in particular sports such as professional golf and tennis, where even 20thplace reaps some monetary rewards, job interviews are not so forgiving. In most cases, if you don’t come first, there is little reward other than knowing that you made the ‘final cut’. If anything, being ‘pipped at the post’ is more frustrating than coming further down the field. This has been born out recently with a postdoctoral researcher whom I’ve been coaching. Applying for tenured positions, she has succeeded in being short-listed for interview from as many as 65 – 80 initial applicants. However, as yet she still hasn’t managed to achieve first place at interview. Feedback from the interview panel has been extremely positive, encouraging her to press on as she has the potential to succeed, only that she was not the most convincing candidate on the day.
Perhaps this chimes with other researchers reading this blog, who may have found themselves in a similar position. So what can you do about it? Well, first of all you need to remain confident and positive. Your CV/resume is obviously doing its job by getting you to interview. You are clearly demonstrating ‘on paper’ that you have the expertise required in the job specification. What you need to do is extend the process one step further to demonstrate in person that you are the best person for the job. However, comparing the feelings and attitude you may experience when writing your application with those associated with the prospect of an interview are quite different. Applications are completed alone, from a distance and with time to think, re-write and perfect your words. On the contrary, interviews are up close and personal with little time to organise your thoughts and project yourself to the best of your ability. You only get one chance to give your optimum performance, so you need to be well prepared, word perfect(ish) and convincing. You have marketed yourself in your application but do you match up in person to your promotional material?
Hiring people is a risky business for employers. In the main, they put a lot of time and money into the process to try to ensure they select the right person – someone who can do the job, who can develop the project further, whilst fitting into the team and culture of the organisation.  So how can you perform well at interview to achieve the star prize of being chosen for the position? Here are some useful tips:
1.    Believe in yourself. If you don’t feel confident in yourself, how can the employer? Remember, you have been selected for interview so the employer will want you to do well so that he/she can select someone from the pool of candidates.
2.    Present yourself positively to the interviewer(s). Don’t dwell on anything negative – always end on a positive note.
3.    Body language can work in your favour and against you. Good eye contact, a firm handshake, upbeat language and tone of voice is as important (if not more so) than the content of what you say.
4.    First impressions count significantly so ensure you begin well by dressing appropriately.
5.    Prepare and practice. As with an exam or your PhD defence, you can predict many of the questions which are likely to come up. E.g. Why do you want this job? What can you bring to the organisation or research project? What has been your greatest challenge? How did you deal with it? Etc. Academic leadership interviews will ask you about your research vision and ambitions.
6.    Support your answers with evidence and examples to add weight to your testimony.
7.    Make your answers relevant to the employer or research department – try to refer to what they do and match your responses to their needs.
8.    Prepare some questions to ask at the end of the interview; although you can always say they have been answered during the interview. This is your opportunity to find out more about the employer/ research/ business so that you can also gauge if it is right for you.

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