NEW!!! Interviews webinar – next week

Preparing for Interview

Trainer: Kate Murray

If you have understood the basic principles behind what employers are looking for, you’re half-way to being well-prepared for an interview. Join this webinar to develop this understanding and listen to some ‘poor’ and ‘better’ sample answers.

Date: Weds 28th Oct 1-2pm


Feedback from last week’s CV’s webinar: ‘Thank you for today’s webinar – I thought it was really helpful!’

Interviews: spare a thought for the recruiters

I ran a workshop about preparing for job interviews, as part of the RDP, on Monday. Feedback from one participant reminded me that it is helpful to talk about the recruiters’ role and experience during these session.  There’s so much help available for candidates (see here, for example), but how much notice do candidates take of the person on the other side of the desk?

What’s it like to be a recruiter?

Have you ever done recruitment?  Perhaps as a researcher, you had to select participants for a research projects.  Or perhaps you’ve listened to presentations from would-be lecturers.  There’s pressure involved in both those situations: you’ve got a big decision to take about who would be the right person for your project, or you’re helping to ‘sell’ your university to someone who could well go and take their research elsewhere.

Recruitment is pretty similar.  Organisations are only recruiting if they have made the big decision to spend money on someone fulfilling a need (even if you’re applying for a voluntary role, it still costs the organisation money to hire you).  The direction, prestige, standards, quality and competence of the organisation depend on having the right staff in place.  Getting rid of staff, once hired, is a tricky thing to do: recruiters have to get it right.  And at the same time, they know that candidates could go and work elsewhere.  They have to do a good job of selling the firm to the candidates (how many candidates have pulled out of the application process because they didn’t like the place or the way they were interviewed?  I know I have [I was offered a glass of water, at the end of a long day, when the panel had a full tea trolley wheeled in]).

What’s it like to recruit all day long?

You’ve been told your interview time; you’ve prepared some answers to questions you’ve figured you might be asked; you’ve pressed your dress or found a clean tie.  How long will you be in there?  Maybe one hour?  Maybe two?  Possibly longer, if it’s a whole assessment day.

Think about the recruiters’ day, though.  They’ll have been sent a timetable by their HR department: seven or eight candidates to be seen.  An hour each.  All day long.  The questions are set and prepared (they really ought to ask all the candidates the same thing).  The competencies are memorised.  Pens for frantic verbatim scribbling of answers have been found.  Does the IT work for the presentations?  What is the number for the A/V guy? It is possible that the main highlight of the day will be lunch and a coffee break, which, if they let the interviews over run, will have to be curtailed.

Not much fun.

So, how can you actually help the recruiter?

  1. Be good.  Be really really good.
  2. Be prepared, structured and confident.  Take advantage of all the advice you have on hand to help practise your answers so that you come across as someone they want to spend time with.
  3. Be enthusiastic and let your excitement about working for them really show.
  4. Have a conversation with them: don’t just appear like a rabbit in the headlights!  Reframe their questions, check that you’ve provided sufficient detail but be aware of their time pressures, make sure they know you’re trying your best to give them what they want.
  5. Do your research about the role: flatter them that you know about the organisation, its structure and strategy.  They REALLY want to know about your commitment to and motivation for working for them – demonstrating the efforts you’ve gone to to find out will impress them.
  6. Make sure that you are still keeping going at the end of the interview.  Their attention span will change through the interview, and adrenalin will start to make you tired by the end.  But keep going, ask questions and leave them knowing you want the job.

So, spare a thought for what it’s like to be the other side of the desk, and when you become a recruiter yourself, remember what it’s like for candidates.

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How listening to BBC Radio 4 might help your career

I’ve been meeting lots of researchers recently going for interviews.  Really good people, who have done successful applications and been called to meet their potential new employers.  They’ve practised their presentations, polished their competency answers and figured out how to respond to, ‘And where do you see yourself in five years’ time?’  Sadly, of course, not all of these people will get the job they’re going for.

There are so many reasons for this, and those of you who have come on the RDP courses about Interviews will know my views on some of them.  But one is the whole business of structuring your answers.  It’s your job, as a candidate, to create confidence in your abilities, in the minds of the recruiters.  Having a good logical, thought-through answer is a fantastic way to show that this is the kind of person you would be if you were working for them.  And who wouldn’t want to employ a logical, thinking person?

  • At its most basic, a thought-through answer has a beginning, middle and end.  Show them that you’ve finished your answer so they can move on to the next question.
  • An answer to a ‘Why?’ question (why do you want this job/did you come to KCL/like lecturing) might include ‘Firstly, secondly, thirdly’ in it, to show you’re thinking through a bullet-pointed list in your mind (but not every time!)
  • You could use the STAR technique (talk about Situation, Technique, Actions and Results) to frame a competency answer focussing on an example that demonstrates your transferable skills.

Or, you could listen to Radio 4 and see how those accomplished politicians smooth their way through their interviews.  No half-finished sentences, ill-defined thoughts or equivocal responses from them.  Brief, well-constructed, assertive language that shows a strong grasp of lots of issues and creates confidence (not straying into arrogance, of course!).  They’re aware of time constraints, understand what their audience wants to hear, and deal with questions they don’t want to answer superbly well.

I’m not saying candidates need to come across as oily and untrustworthy.  But confident, professional and polished may well help.  Check out the Today programme 8.10am interview, usually with a top politician, or anyone interviewed on PM from 5pm.

Another way Radio 4 could help your career?  Have you ever heard The Life Scientific?  These are great stories of amazing scientists and their careers, giving you insight, and possibly inspiration, about where you could take your academic job.  Perhaps you could persuade your lab to give it a listen once a week!

(Of course there are loads of Arts and SSPP-related programmes available too).

If you’d like to talk about your interview performance, please do get in touch.  We can even do a trial run to help.

Good luck and happy listening!

Interview skills

**This post was written over 2 years ago but still contains valuable information.**

Over the last few year I have worked with postdocs on their interview skills in respect of applications for academic posts. Here is a summary of the advice I give.


Before the interview

In the simulations it was not possible to test or observe the quality of your preparation, but obviously preparation is key.

In preparation you analyse the specific position in the specific institution. You discover the ways in which you match the stated requirements.

You identify strong matches.

You identify weaker matches.

You may identify ‘gaps’.

You will prepare a strategy.

The evidence for the strong matches must feature in your answers.

You need to prepare a ‘defence’ for the weaker matches.

So: I have no teaching experience?

But I have been a student. What is it that I want from a teacher? How do I evaluate a teacher? What would I differently to improve the learning experience of the student. Do I know some theoretical perspectives about teaching and learning?

In the words of the professor – “Offer something”


At the beginning of the Interview


Body language was discussed. Good and bad examples were cited.

You can make choices about how you sit – so it is good to observe yourself. However, body language is part of your personality – quite difficult to control.

Here is one suggestion that has helped some clients; it is about the attitude with which you enter the room.

This is an important business meeting.

I have a task to perform and that task is to persuade the panel that I meet the requirements for the job.

The persuasion will take the form of presenting the evidence, deriving from my knowledge and experience that I meet the requirements of the job.

I have a prepared position on the key questions that are likely to arise.

I will be alert to any cues in the exchange about the concerns of the panel.

The professor talked about the mixture of distance and relationship that was difficult to achieve. Another way of saying it is: formality and rapport. You start with formality and develop the rapport.

When asked about your research the temptation is to be long. Resist this temptation. Brief statements allow the opportunity for the panel to ask subsequent questions, and focus on the areas they are particularly interested in. Long answers frequently bore. Look for evidence of boredom in the panel.

During the Interview

Typically people become more relaxed during the interview. This is a natural process; you begin to reveal more of yourself. This is good. This is what interviews are for.

However, you may forget your strategy – so try to monitor whether your key messages are being delivered.

You receive a question that is not clear. Take time to clarify it – paraphrasing the question is helpful. “Just to be clear, you are asking me about the role of intellectual history in a social history curriculum?”

You receive a question you have difficulty in answering. Pause the interview. The panel will wait. “Give me a moment to think about that.”or  “Difficult question, and I am not completely clear about the answer, but let me make one or two remarks that I think are relevant.”


You are talking to each member of the panel – ‘include’ them in your gaze.

Easy questioning can be your enemy.

Tough questioning can be your friend.

Do not assume that you have friends or enemies on the panel. They are all people with whom you are ‘doing business’. This is a difficult attitude to adopt with people whom you know very well – but adopt it anyway.