Mit Bhavsar runs through some simple tips he learnt in his quest for an academic position.
Staying and working in academia is a good career choice but finding the right position in academia is still a tricky thing. Blanket-applying to as many positions as you can find and crossing your fingers isn’t going to cut it. Recently, I managed to crack some of my own postdoc interviews. Here’s what I learnt.
Step 1: The application
First, fairly obviously, you need to find an academic position to apply to. The best way, in my view, is to establish some strong connections during your current work, and work with them to find a suitable academic position, either in their lab or elsewhere. The harder way is to find a position online. I’ll concentrate on the difficult road.
Applying for a position really needs time, investment, and concentration. Although it can be tempting, avoid blitz-applying to any position you find, especially if they’re not in your areas of interest (if you aren’t passionate about the subject, you’re not gonna get the job anyway). Once you find an interesting position, go through their website and learn about their research. Prepare your CV and cover letter, and make sure to tailor it to their research interests.
Put yourself in your employer’s shoes – read up about their lab, their research, and double-check the job posting – what skills are they looking for? Try to also include some immediate, glowing references in links in your CV if you can, rather than just allowing them on request.
And never, ever, ever take a cover letter for granted. My personal suggestion would be to concentrate more on the cover letter than your CV (though you should, of course, work maniacally on both). Hopefully this will all count towards being selected in the next round, which will – most likely – be an interview over Skype.
Step 2: The Skype call
This is, obviously, a relatively new way of interviewing people. Here, the key is to plan everything carefully – so many Skype interviews go badly because of extra stuff like background noise, a bad internet connection, or other non-academic interferences.
Start off by ensuring a stable internet connection and – of course – a faultless version of Skype. Avoid noisy rooms and choose a light background for the interview. To cover all of this, booking a seminar room might be a good idea. Before starting the interview, keep your relevant papers and a CV nearby.
Skype interviews are on average about a half-hour long but can go longer so it might be sensible to have a glass of water nearby. Always make a test call beforehand to check if everything is fine and give yourself enough time to fix any issues. Use earphones for the conversation and always wait for them to call you.
During the interview, try to look at the camera and not at the screen for better ‘eye’ contact. This was the part I found the most difficult, as we’re all used to staring at our screens. So remember to practice this (on top of everything else) in your mock interviews with friends, family, or friendly colleagues. After the conversation, wait for them to end the call and never forget the ‘thank you; nice talking to you’ email after they hang up.
Step 3: The final interview
Once you’re asked to visit the lab in person for an interview, always offer more than one date and time and let them choose. On the big day, make sure you’re dressed smartly and arrive nice and early (but not too early – nobody wants to stop what they’re working on for no good reason) at the venue. If asked, be ready with a strong, simple presentation of your previous work. During the questions period of your presentation, try to initiate a discussion – this isn’t a thesis defense – and don’t just give yes/no answers. Have a clear idea about your preferred starting date. Avoid bringing up the topic of salary unless they ask you – this should come later. After getting back home, another ‘thank you’ email is not a bad idea.
Of course, there‘s many ways and a lot more advice you could read to help crack an academic interview. But start with these basic tips and work your way up from there. Once you’ve got these down, all of the good stuff will follow.
Mit Bhavsar is a researcher living and working at Frankfurt Initiative for Regenerative Medicine (FIRM) Frankfurt, Germany. You can contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org