how to apply for a job

7 ‘P’s to a Successful Interview

Following their talk at EGU 2013, Helen Goulding and Sarah Blackford have put together their top tips for finding a job, whether you’re looking to stay in science or use your skills elsewhere. Sarah shares her secrets in the second post in this short series…

“Congratulations! You have been invited for interview.” These are the words everyone wants to see following the submission of a job application. But the initial flush of pleasure and excitement can soon give way to feelings of trepidation and apprehension. So how can you reduce your anxiety and ensure you give yourself the best possible chance of succeeding at interview? The 7 ‘Ps’ can help to put you on the right career track:

Purpose – Keep in mind the purpose of an interview, which is for the employer to find out more about you and vice versa. Meeting you in person will allow him/her to see how well you communicate and whether you will fit into the team/organisation.

Plan – Review the job description, company/research group and personal requirements. Find out the details of the interview location and set-up. This should have been specified in your interview letter but, if not, contact the organisation to ask how long the interview will be and who will be on the interview panel. If there is a presentation, who will be in the audience? This will help you to make the content of your answers and/or presentation relevant.

Prepare – You are bound to be asked to clarify or expand on much of the content of your application/CV so make sure you can give examples relevant to the employer and bring the content to life. Think of one or two brief questions to ask the interviewer (but don’t ask about salary until you’ve been offered the job!).

Predict – As with an exam you can probably predict many of the questions you are likely to be asked. Put yourself in the shoes of the employer and imagine what you would want to know from the applicant. As well as detailed technical questions (depending on the job), they are likely to ask you open-ended questions. For example:

  • Why do you want this job?
  • What can you bring to the organisation?
  • Tell me about any challenges you encountered during your PhD/research? How did you deal with them? What was the outcome?
  • If you had a grant of €5million, what would you want to spend it on? (In other words, what big ideas do you have in your mind in terms of this research area).

Practice – Try to set up a mock interview or just practice saying some of your predicted answers out loud to yourself. This will help you to familiarise yourself with your evidence and identify any gaps or weak areas in your performance which you can work on a bit more.

Perform Good body language and eye contact is essential to make a good impression. Dress to impress (at the same level of formality as the interview panel) and don’t forget that how you say what you say – the tone and assuredness of your voice – is as important as what you say.

Persist  Using these ‘rules’ you should be able to optimise your chances for a successful outcome to your interview. However, if you are turned down don’t take it personally. Ask for feedback, review your performance, move on and persist with your applications – imagine and believe in your ultimate success!

By Sarah Blackford

Sarah Blackford is a qualified careers consultant and author of ‘Career planning for research bioscientists’. For more information on interview technique see:

Making Every Word Count: How to Write a Good Job Application

Finding a job can be a daunting task, whether you’re looking to stay in science or use your skills elsewhere. Helen Goulding and Sarah Blackford have put together a short series on how to make a great application and excel in an interview, sharing top tips from their talk at EGU 2013. Here are Helen’s highlights…    

Imagine for a moment that you are an employer and that you need to fill a vacancy. You carefully craft an advertisement and send it out to the world. You wait impatiently for the responses to come in. The deadline arrives and you are happy to see a large folder of applications.

You open the first application and scan it for 20-30 seconds. It is densely written, in tiny font and mentions none of the key skills from the advert. Not a good start. You pick up the second application and read a vague description of the applicant’s research interests and one limply enthusiastic sentence about working with you. You sigh and add it to the “No” pile. You pick up the third application and discover that the candidate likes reading, basketball and is PADI qualified. You are unsure how this relates to your vacancy or what he has been doing since he finished his PhD. You sigh; this is going to be a long day…

As an applicant there are simple but effective things you can do to increase the chance of your application / CV going into the “Yes” pile. Here are some brief tips:

  1. Make your application easy to read. Most recruiters will spend less than one minute reading it initially. So use a minimum font size of 11 and use subheadings, bullet points, white space and bold font to increase readability. Spell- and grammar check your applications carefully.
  2. Make your text match the skills and experience requested in the advert and make sure you provide all the information they ask for. Yes, this does mean you should be writing a different CV / application for every single job you apply for!
  3. For an academic job, highlight your research experience, projects delivered, publication record, funding gained and experience of collaboration, teaching and staff management.
  4. For an industry job, unless it is a technical science job, take all the science jargon out of your CV. Include your science degree and PhD but never list modules taken or thesis titles – these are irrelevant and off-putting to the non-technical recruiter.
  5. If you don’t have much relevant work experience, create a section on skills, with headings to match the skills requested in the advert. Under each heading give a couple of bullet point examples of that skill, saying what you did and the outcome.
  6. Edit your draft application brutally and remove all unnecessary information. To maximise the space available for relevant information: a) Use bullet points  b) Put all your contact details on one line c) Delete information on your hobbies, it is irrelevant  d) Write “References available on request” rather than listing full contact details.

Following these steps carefully should significantly increase your chances of being called for interview. Good luck with your job search!

By Helen Goulding

Helen Goulding is Director of Quercus Training, a company that trains scientists and engineers in transferable skills.