I'm having a postdoc interview coming up, which is not in my doctoral topic or not so closely related to my previous postdoc research. While applying for it, I thought I'd not called for an interview, but luckily enough, I did. The reason I didn't think I'd get called for an interview, as I can see that I'd need learn quite a few things that'd take me easily a minimum of three months to get the hang of.

So will it be rude to ask my interviewer her/his motivation to interview me or what (s)he thinks I can do for her/him, or if not, then what's the best way to formulate my question, without sounding like I'm trying to hear some good words about myself from the interviewer? I guess one of the option might be "What part of my backgrounds can be useful to your project?" but I'm looking for a sincere, honest and a genuine reformulation of this. I'm interested in the project but my concern is it might take me at least 3 months to get myself up to speed to start to solve the problems.

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    This is really asking for opinions, so I won't answer. But it might be better to ask what you need to work on in the short term to "hit the ground running". The question you suggest doesn't have an "action" component.
    – Buffy
    Commented Dec 13, 2020 at 10:59

2 Answers 2


I found that in my professional life being honest, clear, and direct have served me very well. So once all the probing is over, I would say:

I have an additional question: Even though I am very interested in this position, I was doubtful I would be invited for an interview since my background doesn't seem to match perfectly. Would you mind telling me why you think I would make a good candidate for this position?

Of course adjust the wording to your style and take the details with a grain of salt as I am a non-native English speaker.

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    Your example is fine English. I edited it a touch to be grammatical. I left it, but "Would you mind telling me why you think ..." is probably too much prevaricating. "Why do you think ..." would be fine Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 18:59
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    Thanks Azor. It's a permanent struggle for me to read my emails/comments and edit out useless filler words and phrases. Commented Dec 14, 2020 at 21:50

I'd bring it up as wanting to optimally contribute your skills to the project and understanding the vision/goals of the project. "I know you are an expert on X. I'm good at Y which isn't exactly the same thing. What were your goals for using Y to accomplish X?"

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