For PhD students preparing for an interview, the internet is both a treasured resource and, at times, a frustratingly superficial archive. Websites like Connected Academics have lists of possible questions in non-academic job interviews, but sometimes finding examples of good answers to these questions can be tough or seem too vague. I’ve perused numerous self-help sites for interview prep, and I’ve interviewed for many jobs with varying degrees of success. My most recent interview for the Graduate Research Internship at UCHRI went quite well. So well, in fact, that I’m writing this article from my desk at UCHRI (I got the job!) So with that success fresh in my mind, I would like to offer some practical tips on how to prepare for interview questions, and also some examples of how I answered. (I’ve confirmed with my boss that my interview went well, so these responses have been vetted by a higher-up.)
Interviews can be nerve-wracking, especially if you feel like you’re interviewing for your dream job. That’s understandable, but it’s important to try to approach interviews calmly. Nerves are to be expected, and I don’t think there’s a decent boss out there who wouldn’t forgive a bit of an embarrassed blush during the interview, but if you’re inexperienced with interviewing and get really flustered, I’d recommend setting up practice before your big day. The Career Center is a great place to look for help, and you might consider your department as a resource as well. Once you’re in the interview, you want to have a series of questions pre-answered, so that you can present yourself in the best light possible. Think of this as a prelim or qualifying exams–you study as much as you can, and then prepare answers. The trick is molding the answer to fit the question.
Interviewing takes practice, and unfortunately by the time you get to the interview you don’t want that moment to be your practice moment. To prepare yourself for the big day, take advantage of your network, and ask friends who have gotten jobs to give you mock interviews. Look up the STAR and PARADE methods of responding to questions (they make you sound more accomplished). Schedule an appointment at the Career Center on campus and do personality question mock interviews. Recite your answers in your head as you commute–practice really will make perfect! And don’t forget that as humanities PhDs we are incredibly interesting–our skills and research can sometimes leave people feeling bewildered, but at the same time we have the ability to bring creative thinking and alternative problem solving to situations. You want your interview skills to reflect that worth, so tackle the Interview with the same drive and determination that you tackled grad school–you have all the know-how to succeed.