So, tell me a little bit about yourself

 In networking, PhD/Postdoc Blog, professional development

The PhD/Postdoc blog series features scientists at different stages of career development as they explore and plan for their next steps. Over the course of six months, Edward van Opstal, Ruchi Masand, Corina White, and Darcie Cook will give monthly updates on their progress. Check back every Wednesday for new blog posts!

Current position: 5th year PhD candidate in Biomedical Engineering
Program start date: 2012
Institution: Rutgers University

Almost everyone I know dreads interviews. They can be so nerve-racking and intense, easy and conversational, technical or non-technical, and often times you don’t know what to expect. They come in all shapes, sizes, formats, and lengths. This means that you can’t prepare for different interviews in the same way, even different interviews, phone, individual, group, on-site, within the same company should be prepared for individually.


My past blogs have detailed the processes I have gone through, setting priorities and networking, for my job search. These strategies have resulted in interviews with five different companies in the past three months. The companies have been in a variety of fields from medical writing to market consulting to pharmaceutical companies. This blog will outline how I prepare for these different interviews and I’m happy to share that these strategies have been successful for me and I’ll be starting an industry position next week. I’m really excited to share the details of my transition into industry through this blog in the coming months! But first, let’s talk about interviews…

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There are so many formats to interviews: phone, in-person, one-on-one, group. I had many, many phone interviews, even within the same company I had up to 4 phone interviews before I was brought on-site. I also had a group interview with eight candidates and two interviewers. I had interviews that required me to present a slide deck I was provided and allowed to study for ten minutes before presenting. I had interviews where I felt like I just listened to the interviewer tell me about the company and job for 30 minutes and I barely had to say anything (my favorite kind of interview). No matter what kind of interview it is, you need to be prepared. Here are some strategies I used for the different types of interviews I experienced:

  1. HR Phone Screen Interview – For this type of interview, you should know as much information about the company and the job posting as possible. During the phone call, I like to have my computer in front of me open to the job posting and the company’s website. These interviews are usually non-technical, generally testing your knowledge about the company and your ability to ask thoughtful questions. Some things you should be prepared to answer are what is your timeline for graduation and an ideal start-date and what is your desired salary. It is important to be upfront and honest when you answer these questions, particularly about salary. In order to be realistic about your salary expectations, you can look on and find salaries for the specific company you are interviewing for, as well as that position at comparable companies. It is also a good idea, if you are comfortable doing so, to ask friends and program alumni about their starting salaries. This will give you a range of appropriate salaries for you to provide your interviewer. In addition, as you start interviewing, make sure you advisor is on-board with this process and you are open with him/her about what is going on during your job search. For example, my timeline for defending has been August 2017 for a long time now. When I started actively seeking jobs and interviewing, I let my advisor know and, as I got into more in-depth conversations with my future employer, it became clear that they were looking for a candidate to start in June. Being open with my advisor and with the company allowed me to discuss the feasibility of me starting this job while wrapping up my thesis with all parties. In the end, we came to the agreement that it was feasible, with hard work on my part and flexibility on my employer’s part. Being open and honest with everyone allowed me to embrace this opportunity, rather than dismiss it for not fitting within my ideal timeline.


  1. Group Interview – This type of interview is tricky. It takes a balance to standout in a group without coming off too harsh or overpowering. In this type of interview, it is especially important to know the company well. Find press releases, read the company’s mission statement, know about the founding of the company and any business transitions or growth they have made. Having this type of information and basing your questions around it will make you stand out beyond the typical “What is your average day like?” question that you find on all the Best Questions to Ask at an Interview lists. That list of questions can be helpful but I think they are more suited for a one-on-one interview. For a group interview you could ask something like, “Based on the therapies you have in the pipeline, it looks like you are trying to break into new markets in terms of the treatment of different diseases than your current portfolio. What are some of the challenges that are being faced right now trying to get these products to market?” This type of question shows that you did research on the company, that you know what their products are and what diseases the company treats, and that you are interested in the future of the company and the products in the pipeline. While that is good for a pharma company, for a less technical role such as writing, it is good to understand the mission of the company. You can base your questions around that. For example, “I know that the founders of Company Y have made growth a pillar of the company. How do you think this pillar affects you in terms of individual growth and business growth?” Again, this shows that you did research and want to understand the company culture. These questions will make you standout amongst the other candidates as thoughtful and proactive in your desire to understand the company.


  1. On-site Interview – When a company brings you on-site, it usually means they are very interested in you for the position. It takes a lot of time and coordination to organize an on-site interview with several of their employees and it’s not something they are willing to do for every candidate. An on-site interview is minimum a half day but many times a full-day of interviews, including lunch with many employees. The interview day will usually consist of an HR interview, interviews with the hiring manager and other team members, and a facility tour.  For all of my on-site interviews, I was provided a schedule ahead of time. If you are provided this schedule with the names of interviewers, you can look them up and write down their title, background, and any questions you have for them.Depending on the role you are interviewing for, you may be asked to do a formal presentation of your research or a case study.If you know you will be giving a formal presentation, even though you are intimately familiar with your work, you should practice the presentation and make sure you are not using jargon. If you are required to do a case study, review key terms, strategies, and processes used in that particular field. In a case study, the interviewer does not expect you to know everything but wants to see your thought process and problem solving. You should write down steps that might be helpful in the case study so that you do not become flustered during the interview.


In any form of interview there are a standard questions you should be prepared to answer. These include:

  • Why do you want to work for this company? What interests you about this role in particular?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are you strategies for time management and managing longterm projects?
  • When you hit a roadblock during a project, what are your strategies to move past it?
  • Describe a time you disagreed with your boss about the path forward for a project. What were the results?


Other tips that I’ve found useful is to write down information, questions, and notes on one page in the portfolio or notepad that you bring to the interview. You should try to confine these notes to one page so that they are all readily visible. In addition, you should bring extra copies of your resume. I also brought with me a slide deck about my research. While I was never asked to give a formal presentation about my research, I was asked about it often. Having the slide deck with me, allowed me to use visuals to explain the research more fully. If your institution offers mock interviews or you have friends that could conduct a mock interview with you, that would also be very helpful to get some of your jitters out.


The most important thing to remember when interviewing is to be yourself and be honest. If you do not know software the company uses, if you aren’t familiar with a term they are using in the interview, if they ask you about specific technique or experience you have, always be honest. Sometimes interviewers are so close to their work, they forget what they knew before they started at the company and use terms and abbreviations that are unfamiliar. It is okay to ask what they mean. Interviewers are all human and, from my experiences, they are all very nice. Being able to say in an interview, “Well I never used that specific software but I have used software Z and I believe they are similar,” is respected much more than if you were to fumble through descriptions of software or protocols that you really don’t know. In the end, an interview is just a conversation so it is important to be conversational, ask questions, be honest, and show your sincere interest in the interviewer and company. In doing this, your demeanor and answers to the questions will compliment and highlight all of the skills and accomplishments on your resume, making you a more desirable candidate.

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