In episode ten of “PhD Career Stories”, Tina Persson returns for a “tips & tricks”-themed episode. In this podcast, we learn more on how we can prepare ourselves for our next interview.
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Hi! This is Tina Persson, the founder of PhD Carrier Stories, the podcast for PhD students.
I’m going to talk about a subject today, that is a subject that I as a career coach get a lot of questions about: How to survive an interview. Could you please tell me how I could survive an interview? Please, could you train me on certain questions?
I also know that you can Google and you will find out that you have 100 questions to train on.
But I would put it this way. You can actually never really train for an interview because you never know the person on the other side. I will also put it this way, to train to be a kind of a robot machine won’t give you the job. A company is hiring you, they are not hiring a robot.
But I can give you some kind of background for common questions. And I’m coming back to what I have been talking about in my last podcasts. If you know who you are from a personal inventory, I mean from personality type, where you can be very choleric, you can be analytical, you can be a people person or you can be the visionary one or maybe you know, a combination of them both. You can kind of answer pretty many questions.
If you know a little bit about your strengths and your weaknesses from knowing your personality, you survive many question. It’s about being kind of honest because in the end an interview is about finding a win win situation that you actually want the job and the company wants you.
In most cases when you’re in an interview and you feel that it worked out fine, it’s usually either that you actually perfectly fitted for the job or that you actually gave perfect answers. Maybe too perfect answers.
A good exercise for you to start with is to put yourself in the corner where you are the hiring manager. If you were the manager for a person or you had a company that you were a manager for, what would be important for you when you hire another person? Are you hiring the perfect guy or are you hiring the person that’s very honest to you?
I think that question is worth thinking about. And when you plan for your interview it’s also really dependent on who you actually gonna meet. Is it a hiring manager, is it the human resource department, is it a recruiter or is it a scientist? As a scientist you’re probably very well off by them asking a lot of questions about your science. The human resource department they make sure that you know yourself, that you actually can answer the questions in a relevant way showing that you actually know yourself.
What I have learned that many PhD students come to me and say: ‘I feel like this person tried to put me on the hook. I felt very uncomfortable with certain questions.’ And I ask why? ‘Well you know I really want the job.’
So ok, coming back to, if you feel as a victim then you might not be the best of you when it comes to performing in an interview. Then it’s absolutely my best advice to go to interviews and learn from them. Adopting a what we call a growth mindset.
But coming back to what typical questions and why are they asked. I would take questions from a human resource perspective. Or maybe also a recruiter perspective. You have for example traditional questions. You can have behavioral questions. Cultural fit questions and logistical questions. And then kind of coaching questions.
If we take the traditional questions, it could be like ‘Tell me about yourself’. I mean think about it, if you give an answer of 10 seconds, what does that tell about you? On the other hand, if you give me an answer consisting of you know a 5 minutes answer, what does that say about you? Or if you just talk about your professional you, not anything about your private life or your spare time what does that tell about you?
‘How would you define success?’ It’s a very important question, it’s a pretty common and traditional question. What is success for you? Is it money, is it to be the good guy in the workplace or is it to support and help people?
That shows a lot about your personality, it’s a hidden question. Think about it. What is success for you? It’s not about what success is for the company, it is what success is for you.
Then we come to behavioral questions. Like ‘Have you ever had trouble working with your manager’? It could be your supervisor, it could actually be that you have had arguments with your manager. This is common, it’s nothing unusual. Actually, if you come up with an answer and you say I never had any problems, that’s a kind of hidden question that might reflect that you are afraid of conflicts.
Or if you say yes I had and you gave a very concrete and good example of it, ‘This was a challenge I had with the my manager and I actually disagreed’. You could get a following question like ‘How did you deal with that?’. ‘Well I dealt with it in this way’. It could be a very good answer. Actually I would say it is a very good answer. It is about how you behave in different situations.
Cultural fit question. Again we are living in a global world, people are different. But still even though we are from different countries, we still have a personality. So the more you know about your personality, the easier it is for you to talk about other people and how they are. And who you are attractive to and which people you actually find it a little bit hard to work with.
For me example, Tina the founder of this podcast, I’m very driven. I would put myself as ‘Red Jello’ in the disc personality test. That would mean I have a kind of dominating personality. Very disciplined and result driven. That means that the people I have a hard time to work with is the people that need to think a lot. Or a very analytical or actually people who are afraid of conflicts. Because I’m not afraid of conflicts myself.
That answer I would give to any person interviewing me. Showing that I know who I am and that I also have learned that I have a challenge with these people but I deal with it because I’m over 50 years old, I have learned how to deal with people not being like me. I won’t say it’s easy because dealing with people is not easy.
A logistical question could be ‘Why do you apply for this job?’ and ‘Why should we give you this job?’. That questions you can start to plan independently if you are doing a PhD now, you could imagine yourself in the future.
Why would I leave this job? Would I like to go to industry or do I prefer to stay in academia? Why do I want to leave?
A common question that I hear is that you actually say ‘I don’t like the the job that I have and I can’t agree with my manager, can I say that?’.
Of course you can but you can also try to explain the question in a different way. Transform it to an answer that you have done what you could at that job. It’s time for you to take the next step. ‘I stayed in this job for 5 years, it’s simply time to do something else.’
I’m not closing a door I’m just wanting to do something else. If you had a very short job for 6 months or something, it’s very well off saying ‘I took that job and I was a little bit too quick and I found that it was not really what I expected. And instead of sitting there not being very happy with my job, I decided to look for a new one.’
Of course you will have to answer a lot of following questions but if you know why you did it and that you learned from that experience it just shows that you take initiatives. Because who wants to hire a person that may be sitting for 5-6 years in a job that they don’t like?
Because you will of course get more question if you say: ‘You know I I worked for this job for 5 years’. Ok and why did you do that? How did you like that previous job you had? What was good what was bad? How could you use your talents in your previous job? So why do you want to leave your current position?
For PhD:s it is usual that you want to leave academia and that is obvious you can figure out a very good answer for. ‘I figured out that doing a PhD I really like doing things but what I don’t like is this and this and this. And I prefer to go to industry because of…’
And this is the time for self reflection. What in your PhD life did you like? And what did you not like? Write that down and reflect about that. And you will get your questions right. And the answers right.
Then I have some coaching questions. What is your secret talent? Common when you talk PhD students is that they get stuck to their professional life. I would say that you dear to also think about what is your gifts and talents besides academia. Is it to have fun? Is it that you like to laugh? Is it that you like to cook? Or that you make people happy? What is your secret talent and what is a talent?
My talent is that I have a lot of energy and that energy I tend to give away of a lot to my surrounding. That’s why I do and perform as a fitness instructor. I have more energy than I can take care of myself so I gladly share it with the surrounding.
More questions, well of course there are many many more and if you Google you have over 100 questions that could come up but the best ways a I said in the beginning is to train on actual interview situations. And learn from them. And learn to know who you are and start to reflect about your PhD work. So you find out your transferable skills. And your personality. Because those two together will summarize everything you are more or less as a PhD and how you can take that to perform in interviews and get your dream job. That will work.
But one question that you always probably will get is: ‘Do you have any questions for me?’. And that question you can answer. That question you can train on even though you don’t know the job you are looking for.
So what could be a good question? Well if you’re brave you could ask simply ‘Can you give me any good reason why you should not hire me?’. Would you dare to ask that question?
Then something else that comes up when I coach people or advice people it is about salary and I say you have to try to figure out where the job is. Is it in a big city or on the countryside? The salary can be very different.
But the salary is always connected to the risk you are willing to take not to get the job. And remember if you are a very hot candidate, the company usually is prepared to negotiate or if you’re in Sweden for example you can get some statistics about reasonable salaries for various positions.
But in the end it’s always about what you are willing to risk not to get the job and how much you really want the job.
So by that I say thank you for listening and good luck with your interview training. Thank you.