For many graduate students, interviewing can be the most nerve-wracking part of the nonacademic job search. What will employers ask? Will they want you to talk about your research? Will you have to deliver a job talk-style presentation? Will anyone care about your extensive teaching experience? Fortunately, there are steps you can take to lower stress and focus your preparation so that you can walk into any interview with confidence.
First, a few key points:
Interviews come in sets. Rarely, if ever, will you be hired after a single interview. Even if you already know someone at the company, you’ll need to meet with a number of different people in order for them to get to know you as a person and to assess your professional qualifications. Most employers plan to have at least three separate conversations with their top prospects (usually spread out over multiple days or weeks) before making a decision and extending an offer. In general, leadership roles require more interviews, as do roles that entail working with clients or other external stakeholders.
Successful interviews feel like conversations. Approach each interview as a conversation in which there will be back-and-forth dialogue. The onus will be on the interviewer to lead the conversation, but you should feel free to ask more detailed questions about the organization and the role.
Your interviewer will be excited to meet you. Whether you come recommended by a colleague or are the mythical purple squirrel (an HR term for a truly perfect candidate), your interviewer will probably be very excited to meet you. Human resources professionals and hiring managers often have to wade through hundreds of mediocre applications in order to find 5 or 10 strong ones, which is usually an exhausting and frustrating process. You should therefore walk into interviews feeling confidant that you’ve cleared the greatest hurdle and that your interviewers are already thinking about how you might be able to help them and their team.
Preparation is everything. You wouldn’t walk into a classroom without having prepared your lecture or discussion points in advance, and neither should you walk into an interview without having prepared your answers and main talking points. Thorough preparation for each interview will communicate your competence, eloquence, professionalism, and desire for the position.
Practice makes perfect. Interviewing is a learned skill, which means the more interviews you go on, the better at interviewing you’ll become. Even if you’re not the most gregarious person, you’ll grow accustomed to fielding questions about your professional self and qualifications. You’ll also hone your answers to difficult questions, including those about graduate school, your field of study, and why you’re on the nonacademic market.