Any type of interview can be nerve-wracking and post-doctoral interviews are no exception. While they typically include the traditional interview where you allow the interviewer(s) to get to know you and answer the questions that they have, it may be conducted in a variety of formats. It may be a traditional one-on-one interview with the PI or it may be organized as a group interview with multiple interviews and multiple candidates being interviewed. The postdoctoral interview also generally includes a talk portion, where you have the opportunity to present your thesis to the department. Being prepared for the entirety of your interview can be a great way to stand out from the rest of the candidates. Review our tips below for steps you can take before, during, and after the interview to put your best foot forward along this part of your journey to a post-doctoral position.

Before the Interview

1. Apply to the Right Positions

When you are deciding where to apply for your post-doc fellowship, there are a few things you need to take into consideration. You want to apply for positions that genuinely fit your interests and that are a good fit for you as a scientist. If the researcher you are applying to work with is not doing research in your field of study, you may want to consider looking for other options. Additionally, you want to be sure to apply to positions that are looking for someone with your experience and skill level. A general rule of thumb to use is to apply to safety positions, target positions, and stretch positions. You can read more about these categories of post-doc fellowships and more tips on choosing where to submit applications and find a detailed timeline and guide to applying for postdoctoral positions in our article “A Detailed Guide to your Postdoc Application.”

2. Do Your Research

Once you apply for positions and start scheduling interviews, you need to do your research. This entails learning as much as you can about the PI that you will be working with and the research the lab is currently doing. You should also find information on the people who are working in the PI’s lab with him or her already and the department as a whole. Having an idea of what research is currently being conducted will allow you to better discern how you are a good fit and to advocate for yourself during the interview. This will also give you some great talking points to bring up and questions to ask during the interview day, but I will discuss more on this below.

During the Interview

3. Dress the Part

The first impression you give to your interviewer and the department you wish to work in will make a large impact on whether or not you are offered a position in their lab as a postdoctoral fellow. While researchers do not generally dress professional when working in the lab, it is essential to wear business professional attire on your interview day. This will not only show that you are serious about the position, but will also boost your confidence throughout the interview process. However, dressing the part does not only refer to what you wear, but also refers to the demeanor you have during your talk and interview. As you know, a post-doc position is just one part of the pathway to becoming an academic scientist and teaching will be expected of you. You want to show your interviewers and audience that you will be an effective educator, which requires you carry yourself in a way that ensures your students you are confident in the material you are teaching. You can read more about effectively delivering talks in our article Public Speaking Dos and Don’ts – A Life Scientist’s How-To Guide.

4. Prepare to Answer Questions

While this might seem like an obvious preparation strategy, there are quite a few resources out there that you can use to help you prepare to answer the questions you are asked during your interview. There are a lot of online resources with typical interview questions. Here is a list of sample questions and answers provided by BitesizeBio specific for students doing post-doctoral interviews.

One question that is bound to be asked during the first moments of your interview is “tell me about yourself.” Having an idea of what you will say if and when this is asked can ease your nerves about the interview and ensure it starts off on a good note. Start by giving a brief introduction about yourself, where you are from, and by where you currently are in your career. Are you currently finishing your graduate degree or are you in another position? After you give a brief introduction, tell the interviewer(s) where you see your career going in the future and what goals you have for your career as a whole.

5. Ask Questions

What many post-doctoral position candidates fail to realize is that the interview process is not only about the lab determining if you are a good fit to work with them, but it is also about you figuring out if the PI and lab is a good fit for you and your career. What this means is that while you will be doing most of the question answering during the interview, you should also be asking questions to find out more about the lab, department, and people you will potentially be working with. Many times, questions will arise throughout the conversation and it is important that you feel comfortable to ask them. Sometimes, however, you may find yourself not knowing what questions and this may be partially due to your nerves. One strategy is to have an idea of questions that you can ask before you begin the interview. If you come up with other questions along the way, you don’t necessarily have to use your prepared questions, but you will have them in the back of your mind if you do need them.

Here are two sources you can use that provide a list of questions that may be important to you as you make your decision on where to complete your postdoctoral fellowship. This LinkedIn article provides a list of questions as well as some ideas on how to come up with questions on your own based on what you value in a position. Another source is this article from Nature Jobs that provides you with questions to ask that will help you narrow down the best-fit position for you and your career.

6. Give Your Best Talk

If you’re going to be giving a talk during your interview, you need to be amply prepared. According to one Reddit user who answered my question on best ways to prepare for your talk, you should be prepared to give it in any combination of circumstances—if you’re sleep-deprived, dehydrated, or anything else.

As part of your preparation, you should make sure your talk is well-organized. You will typically be presenting your current research project and will want to present it in a similar way as you would write a journal submission. Begin by stating the questions or problem your research sought to answer—what are your objectives? Then discuss background information and methods. You can follow it up with results, discussion, and conclusion. Be sure to address the significance of your research within your field. You can follow other outlines as well. For example, some people like to begin with the conclusions and then discuss how they got there. How you organize it is up to you, but make sure that it is organized in some way and that leaves you time for your audience to ask questions as the end.

Another Reddit user suggested making sure you have time to meet with the PI and lab members before giving your talk. This can help ease your nerves and get to know more about expectations and moods before you begin presenting your research.

7. Practice

Practicing for your interview is a great way to help calm your nerves and prepare yourself to make a great impression. A great resource you can look into for interview practice is mock interviewing. A lot of universities will have a career or employment center on campus that allows students to schedule free practice interviews where someone who has been trained in interviewing will interview you and provide you with feedback on how you did and ways you can improve before your actual interview comes around.

If your school does not offer this, partner up with someone else from your program who is also going through the interview process and take turns asking each other questions and providing each other with constructive criticism. You could also do this with a family member or friend if they are more accessible to you.

8. Get to Know the Department

While you are at your interview day, you will likely have a few opportunities to meet others who are working in the lab you are interested and in other labs in the department. Whether it is before or after your talk or during lunch, put in effort to get to know the people you may be working with in the future. While it isn’t a formal part of the interview, the PI will want to know that you can get along with the rest of his team and other colleagues you may end up working with during your postdoc fellowship. He may even ask their opinion of you after the interview is finished. Beginning to form a relationship with them by showing interest in their work and backgrounds can give you the extra boost you need to be offered the position that you want.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to make friends with others early. If you end up choosing to work at that university, you may need some advice on living in a new city and finding housing. The other team members can be a great resource.

After the Interview

9. Don’t Forget to Follow-Up

Following up with a thank you email after your interview is important. It gives you an opportunity to thank the PI for your chance to interview as well as let him or her know how you are a great fit for the position now that you have learned more about it. If there was something you thought of after the interview that you wish you had mentioned, you can include it in the thank you letter as well. This email should be sent to the PI as well as anyone else who interviewed you within 24 hours.

10. Be Patient

After the interview is over and you have sent a thank you letter, be patient. The amount of time it takes for a lab to get back to you can vary depending on where they are in the interview process. If you were the first person they interviewed, it may be quite some time until you hear back, and if you were one of the last interviewees, you may hear sooner. Instead of worrying about when you will hear from the PI, focus on preparing for your next interview. Start researching the next lab and PI so that you can give each position your best impression.

Having a successful postdoctoral interview process is very important and following these tips will help you to paint yourself in the best light. Scheduling your interviews can also play a role in how you do at each one. If you’re really hoping to get a certain position, try not to make that your very first interview because you will be more comfortable and have more practice after you have one under your belt. Good luck!

Rebecca Talley
GoldBio Staff Writer

Rebecca is a medical student at the University of Missouri.
She previously worked as a lab technician while studying
biology at Truman State University. As an aspiring
reproductive endocrinologist with an interest in global
health, Rebecca has traveled across Central America on
medical mission trips. With a passion for the life sciences,
she enjoys writing for GoldBio.

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