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I recently applied for several permanent research positions. The interview were all similar: a talk on your past, present and planned research and some time for questions. I prepared well for the talk and got feedback from several colleagues.

My problem is to prepare for the question part. I think my project is well thought through but when comes the time to anwsering questions, I completely loose my confidence. The type of feedback I got the most was that I'm not able to 'advertise' myself and my project.

So I have two questions:

  1. How do you usually prepare for questions ?

  2. Do you know any good training courses that could help building up my confidence to answer these type of questions in an efficient way ?

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    Were you anticipating these specific questions or were they unexpected? The best preparation is to have (the content of) answers prepared already.
    – user9482
    May 17, 2022 at 7:24
  • I did anticipate some of the questions and prepared them but I never know if the answer is satisfactory to the people asking. How do you typically prepare for questions? May 17, 2022 at 8:00
  • Consider getting feedback to your prepared answers from colleagues. Personally, I don't really prepare for questions. I'm best when thinking on my feet. My advice is based on what seems to help our PhD students.
    – user9482
    May 17, 2022 at 8:04
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    That's a good question. I can't answer it unfortunately except recommending lots of practice. That includes practice with asking questions. I'm the type of person who always asks questions in our institute seminar. If you are well acquainted with the other side, you become less concerned about how your answer might be perceived. Usually, you have way more opportunities to practice asking questions than to practice answering them (in a public setting).
    – user9482
    May 17, 2022 at 9:08
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    You might be able to put together a mock interview. You can give (even laypeople) a list of questions and have them rattle them off. Professors may be willing to help also. May 17, 2022 at 13:56

3 Answers 3

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The type of feedback I got the most was that I'm not able to 'advertise' myself and my project.

Every interview is a sales pitch. The famous book, studied widely at military academies around the world, The art of war, by Sun Tzu, states that if you know your enemy and you know yourself, then in a thousand battles you need not lose once.

When applied to sales or job interviews, it requires one to thoroughly investigate who is being pitched to and clearly articulating the value you are proposing in a short period of time.

Therefore, I recommend studying how you can refine your pitch from a well rehearsed academic presentation at great length down to a two minute pitch and even better to an elevator pitch.

By focusing on the most important value proposition your skill in "advertising" yourself and your project will improve.

I hope that answers your first question about how to best prepare for your interviews. I believe that if you start with a good pitch, The questions of the interviewers will then naturally go deeper into the content, instead of the other way around. My guess is that you are providing too many details, The interviewers are getting lost in the details and not seeing the bigger picture value of your work.

To answer question number two regarding training. I would start by familiarizing myself with the work of Steve Blank, The creator of NSF Innovation Corps. He has excellent presentations and videos, but this blog post seems to address but I believe is your issue directly. https://steveblank.com/2010/04/22/turning-on-your-reality-distortion-field/

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There is no generic answer. Depends on the area, the place, etc. The main thing is to understand what do they want from you. Strong research? Team work? Leadership? Something else? Then search for, say, "how to show that you are a team worker?" . It should give you a clue.

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Without context of the position level (e.g., post doc, research support staff, faculty, etc.) my suggestions will be vague.

How do you usually prepare for questions?

Do research on the position, research group, and institution as well as the type of person they are looking for. Then think about how your research fits into these.

For example, let's say you are a biologist who studies pesticide effects on song bird ecology using field studies and computer modeling. Depending upon the position you might several different angels:

  • Ecotoxicology who uses avian case studies for an ecotox department
  • Computer modeler who uses ecological examples for a modeling position
  • Ornithologist for a biology department looking for a person to teach ornithology
  • Field ecologist for a biology department looking for field ecologist

Ideally, you can learn these details ahead of time. If not, ask them at the start of your interview and ask about the position more.

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  • Thanks, I am relatively well prepared in terms of the content of my answers, I rather thinking of ways to improve how I deliver them. Any thoughts ? I have practiced with a few different researchers. What I missing is not content, it's form. May 19, 2022 at 7:02

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