October 17, 2021
5 min read
Congratulations on landing a job interview. As a PhD, acing a job interview can be just as nerve-wracking as it is for people who are not in academia. There is often a lot of concern as to whether you will do enough to sell yourself and impress the interviewer to the point of being hired.
While this is natural, you can improve your chances of success by telling a compelling story. Everyone aims to be on their best game for the interview, but not all are able to weave a convincing narrative. In your case, preparing a strong PhD career story can set you apart from the other candidates and allow you to have the edge in getting hired. But how exactly do you go about standing out from the competition by telling your career story? Read on for tips on how to tell your PhD career story in a job interview.
You can also listen to me on my podcast How to stand out in any interview Where I share my best tips & Trick on how to stand out, and what you need to prepare to stand out.
All good stories tend to have an interesting origin that sets up the rest of the narrative. In a job interview, the interviewer will likely be interested in what got you started in your field and why you have continued on that path. Whether it was fixing your first radio at the age of 11 or becoming interested in the human body after a close family member died of brain surgery, you should work on creating a convincing story that grabs the attention of the interviewer and makes them want to know more about you. Be sure to adapt the story to where you are in your career. For example, if you made a career switch after quitting academia, you need to start the narrative with what prompted such a move.
Now that you have pulled in the interviewer with your unique origin story, it’s time to get to the nitty-gritty – starting with your relevant experience. This involves talking about the different roles you have been involved in, whether in or outside of academia, your respective responsibilities, achievements in these positions, and how those tie in with the role you are now after. With this part of your career story, you want to be careful not to just re-state what is on your resume. Instead, you want to fill in the blanks, so the interviewer learns new information about your career journey. You also want to show a logical pathway in the transitions between your different roles. If you are coming straight from academia and pursuing your first industry role, your narrative should add insight as to why that route was selected. This leads to the next point…
In the article How to use your transferable skills during an interview, you will learn how you can help the interviewer to understand the value you can offer your future employer.
What was it about the position that piqued your interest to the point of applying? Having spoken about your experience, it is time to explain why you are interested in the particular position you are applying for, and what is it about the company that makes you feel you belong there. For this part of your career story, you will need to have done your homework on the company’s track record and the main purpose of the position. In addition, you need to match your skills, experience, and academic qualifications against the main details of the job. This means going through the job post and making a note of all the requirements and comparing them to what you have done and achieved. This tells the interviewer that you have done your research, shows you are bringing what’s required to the table, and most importantly, explains why you are an ideal candidate for the job.
In a bid to impress the interviewer, it can be tempting to harp on about your PhD work. Unless you are interviewing for a professorship or other post in academia, this can work against you. For firms outside of academia, interviewers generally are most likely interested in hearing what skills you have to offer the company rather than about your achievements in school. They want to know about your problem-solving skills, technical skills, soft skills, and ability to work well with others. That’s not to say you should not mention your PhD. But talking about it should be more of a complementing aspect rather than the central focus.
When interviewing for non-academic positions, you will likely face assumptions and misconceptions from interviewers due to PhD stereotypes. For example, you may be asked why you are applying for a non-academic role. This question is often a front for the assumption that you are leaving academia because you don’t have what it takes or that you are only settling for a private-sector job until the right academic position comes along. In telling your PhD career story, make it clear that your choice is a conscious one simply aimed at meeting your career goals. Point out that your interests and training align with the industry and organization culture and you believe your skills will be an asset to the company’s overall strategy and mission. By confronting any assumption or misconception, you will be able to reassure the interviewer that you are a highly suitable candidate for the job.
Stories are made more compelling when you use facts instead of making general statements. Be sure your narrative includes solid facts, whether it is key accomplishments in your previous roles or relevant achievements relating to acquiring your PhD. For instance, if you managed to increase newsletter signups in a past role, state the percentage increase (50% growth, for example). This is more valuable to the interviewer than just saying “I increased newsletter signups significantly.”
Your career narrative needs to be compelling but do not make the mistake of going into unnecessary details. Rambling on, especially about your academic background, may cause the interviewer to think you are self-absorbed or trying to add fluff to your presentation. To avoid rambling, answer what is asked by only providing details that are necessary to make your point. If you are unclear about something, ask the interviewer to clarify. Also, if you need time to gather your thoughts, go ahead and ask for a minute to think.
The main part of being successful in a job interview is the preparation stage. You need to practice your career story so that you can speak confidently in the interview session without sounding rehearsed. Remember, you are sharing a story based on questions that will be asked in the interview, so it still needs to sound like you are having a conversation. The more you practice, the more natural it will seem and the more believable you will be.
For many candidates, getting selected for an interview is a victory in itself after having sent out numerous resumes. You now have one foot in the door – make it count by standing out in your job interview telling your career story. Creating a strong career story using the above tips will make you stand out and get hired.
Get yourself ready for the Job Search and that includes your mental fitness. Mental fitness can be the difference between nailing a job and be rejected How imposter syndrome can sabotage your job search
Tina Persson, PhD, Career & Leadership Coach
Global ICF Coach | Coaching and training high-performing professionals to unlock and maximize their potential for guaranteed business success
You can contact me at email@example.com
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