Published: March 4, 2019

With interview season upon us, getting in the right mindset can be crucial to your success in conversations with potential employers. As a grad student, you enter interviews with unique skills and experience that can help you excel at this type of interaction.

Read on for ways to not just show up but to stand out during an interview.

Interview tips for non-academic careers

Two business people shaking handsShow you’re ready to contribute

When seeking work in industry, it is easy to feel like you don’t have any “real experience.” That isn’t true. You have been training and producing in a rigorous, exacting environment for a number of years at this point. Think about your job search as a career transition rather than trying to break into “real work.” 

Just like any other professional who is changing fields, see yourself as a person who has been working elsewhere and would now like to use their skills in a new context. Come to your interview ready to engage with your potential new colleagues as someone immediately ready and willing to contribute meaningfully.

Talk about your skills in concrete terms

In the non-academic world, it’s important to explain how you’d use a skillset gained in your academic pursuits to contribute to the position you’re interviewing for. Building that conceptual “bridge” for your interviewer will help them see you in that role.

As you do this, make sure you are asking about how others in the office would be working toward the effort as well to show your readiness to collaborate and consider the team as a whole.

Apply your research skills to ask meaningful questions

When you are given the opportunity to ask questions during the interview, do so as you would approach a project: Who will you collaborate with most closely? What deliverables are expected in what period of time? How does your work fit into the larger picture of what is happening at the company?

Asking solid questions will showcase your ability to think holistically and discern if the position is right for you.

Interview tips for academic careers

Be the candidate they need

In order to show yourself as the most qualified candidate, you must do your research. Find gaps the program or department has and think about how you can fill them. What are the concerns of the department, and what niche have they carved out in your field? Frame your research project in those terms.

Also, do some research on the search committee. What do they work on? What have they published recently? Consider how your work intersects with the work of current faculty—and be ready to talk about those connections.

Show you can get tenure

Do some research on the people who have recently received tenure. View their CVs and look at what they’ve done to achieve it. Prepare a five-year plan for your research specific to the institution you are interviewing at and include specific research and publication milestones.

This shows you’ve thought deeply about your trajectory and you’re really interested in conducting research at that particular institution. It will also show you know what it takes to get tenure, and search committees want to see this.

Be confident in your value

Present yourself as a colleague, not a student. This means that you are matter-of-fact about your work, talking about it neither tentatively nor with arrogance. You should demonstrate that you value yourself and your contributions appropriately. Show that you know you are going to be a valuable addition to the department and an important contributor to the work it does.

As you prepare for an interview, remember you bring a lot to the table. Thinking like a partner and clearly demonstrating your willingness to collaborate and contribute will have your hiring manager or search committee taking note.

Questions? Set up a meeting with a graduate career advisor in Career Services to talk about your academic interview.