Job interviewing is a multistage process during which you and your prospective employer get to know each other. In this process, a company’s recruiters will start by assessing your skills. In other words, can you do the job? During later stages of the interview process, they’ll focus more on your motivations and your personality; that is, will you like the job and will they enjoy working with you? In turn, you’ll want to learn about the job and the corporate culture, and that will require thorough preparation on your part.
Do Your Due Diligence. Before any interview, find out as much as possible about the prospective employer’s organization. On its website, you’ll be able to find recent press releases and current stockholder information (assuming it’s a public company), as well as information about the company’s products. Determine what sets it apart from its competitors. For example, does the company sell products at lower cost or higher quality, or do they offer personal services? You can also explore other online information sources, including news reports, recent patent filings, and financial industry reports from Google Finance (google.com/finance), Hoover’s (hoovers.com), and Standard & Poor’s Financial Services (standardandpoors.com).
If possible, research the people with whom you’ll be interviewing. Ask for their names ahead of time and look up their journal publications and other public information. Read their ACS Network and LinkedIn profiles and make notes of scientific and personal interests that you share.
Polish Your Presentation. You should also be prepared to give an oral presentation, which may be required of candidates at any degree level. In some cases, that presentation will be the single most important part of the interview. Confirm the expectations and details ahead of time, including the prescribed length of the talk, time allotted for questions, availability of audiovisual equipment, and anticipated size and scientific background of the audience.
You will be judged not only on your science but on your communication skills and ability to think on your feet. Be prepared to defend your science and the methods you used in your research. When answering questions, repeat each question confidently and then answer clearly. If you don’t know an answer, don’t bluff! Instead, get the contact information of the person who asked the question and follow up with them later.
Evaluate Your Employment Experiences. Before your interview, review your résumé to refresh your memory on your listed accomplishments. Think through specific events in your professional life that illustrate your strengths as well as your fit with the company and the position for which you are applying.
Also prepare to answer behavior-based questions, which are now used by most organizations in their interviews. Interviewers may ask you to tell them about a time you made a mistake or ask whether you have ever disagreed with your supervisor, for example. Be ready with specific stories that show how you’ve handled these types of situations.
It may be valuable for you to carry out the exercises outlined here even when you are not actively looking for a job. If you keep current with organizations and industries, practice your presentation skills, and build confidence in your professional strengths, you will be ready for a great interview whenever the opportunity arises.
Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns on the ACS Careers blog (acscareers.wordpress.com).