It may seem obvious that you should bring the best version of yourself and be on top of your game at any job interview, but this concept doesn’t just apply to the CEO or your potential future boss. It applies to everyone you meet because, believe it or not, EVERYONE could have a say in whether or not you get hired.
On any job interview, you’ll meet with several people throughout the day. These individuals may be your future coworkers, your immediate boss, your higher-ups, your subordinates, etc. You’ll likely meet with a smattering of people throughout the ranks on your interview, and it’s important to bring your A-game (your best self!) to each of these meetings.
Why? Because it’s very possible that the person who has to make the final judgment call on whether or not to hire you will ask everyone for their thoughts and opinions.
So even if the boss thought you would be perfect for the job, if your potential colleagues thought you came across as a difficult person to work with, or if your future subordinates thought you’d be unpleasant to work for, you may not get the job after the boss asks those individuals’ for their input.
Impressing the boss isn’t enough. You have to demonstrate that you’re a good fit for the whole team.
The best example of this idea is the academic job interview.
On an academic job interview, you’ll probably start your day by meeting with the Department Chair. Afterwards, you’ll likely meet with a number of other PIs, both junior and senior PIs. At most institutions, you’ll have lunch with graduate students and postdocs. Later on, you’ll give your job talk and respond to questions from students, postdocs, PIs, and other scientists at the institution. Finally, you’ll probably have dinner with another group of PIs and/or the Department Chair.
It’s best to treat everyone you meet with the same respect.
Obviously, you’ll want to put your best foot forward when you meet the Department Chair. This is one part of the interview that everyone knows is very important. But what about the other meetings throughout the day? They are equally important!!
The Department Chair is just one person – a person who likely won’t have a great deal of interaction with you on a daily basis if you’re hired – so even though they may have the final say, it’s the opinions of other PIs and other individuals that will make or break your chances of getting the job.
Other PIs will have the greatest amount of interaction with you, whether it be on departmental or thesis committees, co-teaching a course, organizing seminars and retreats, or helping to run some aspect of the graduate program at your institution. Thus, the PIs that you meet with will want to know if they can work with you, if your values align with theirs and the department’s, if your work would complement theirs, etc. You have to highlight your strong suits in these meetings and demonstrate that you can work with your future colleagues in a productive manner to better the department.
And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the senior PIs’ opinions are more important than the junior PIs’ opinions. Of course, it’s possible that the senior PIs’ opinions may be weighed more heavily at the end of the day, but don’t discount the junior PIs. Keep in mind that they were in your shoes not too long ago, and the department thought well enough of them to higher them, so although they’re younger, they are still valued members of the department. Furthermore, your tenure at the institution will overlap more closely with those of the junior PIs as more senior PIs begin to retire, so make sure that you relate well to the junior PIs.
Also, don’t just view these meetings as a test or an inquisition. Meeting with other PIs gives you a chance to learn more about the research going on at the institution, and to ask questions about the department that you may not be comfortable asking the Department Chair. Use this time to understand what life will be like if you were to join this group to help you make an informed decision later should you be offered the position. An added benefit here is that asking these types of questions shows genuine interest in the department and the institution, which can leave a good impression on your interviewer.
As you move into the lunch hour, you’ll probably endure more light-hearted discussions with graduate students and postdocs. Many candidates see this time as a “break” in their day, but this is not the proper mentality to maintain. Keep your A-game mentality! Bring your best self to these lunches!
In some cases, the Department Chair and the interviewing PIs will ask the graduate students what they thought of the candidate. The idea here is that the students may receive lectures and classroom instruction from the candidate should he/she get hired. If the students felt that the candidate was unable to describe their work clearly, the students may have a tainted opinion of the candidate’s ability to speak to an audience that is less educated than him/herself. This translates to a presumed inability to teach well, which might sway the opinion of the individual(s) who make the final decision on whether or not to offer you the job.
Additionally, if candidates do nothing but express their frustrations with the application process, their current institution/boss, the job market, he interviewing institution, etc., it makes everyone in the room feel uncomfortable. Thus, the students’ opinion of the candidate will not be a pleasant one, and they may assume that any advice offered from the candidate as a future advisor/PI in the department will be negative. No one wants that…
During these lunches, stay on your A-game and don’t assume that the students’ opinions don’t matter. They very well could play into the decision-making process, so put your best foot forward in this – and every other – situation.
This same concept carries over into your job talk/presentation. The audience will not only have PIs and the Department Chair, but students and postdocs will also be in attendance, and everyone is welcome to ask questions. You should respond to each question as if it came from the Chairperson himself. The way you address each person tells a lot about yourself. Do you talk down to students? Do you suck up to the more senior PIs? These subtle tendencies will shine through, and they can make you look bad.
Thus, treat everyone with the same level of respect.
Finally, at dinner (or possibly a happy hour of sorts), you may be inclined to let go and decompress a little. Don’t! This is still a time to ask and answer questions as if you are still interviewing.
The last thing you want to do is have a stellar day but then blow it on one comment you make when you think the “test” is over. It’s not over until you are alone in your hotel room. That’s where you can decompress and call your loved ones to discuss the pros and cons of the day. Don’t do it at dinner.
View dinner as your last chance to impress those in attendance. Take advantage of every opportunity you get to make a good impression – and dinner is no exception. Bring your A-game!
The approach described above for the academic job interview applies to EVERY job interview. Of course, at an industry firm, you likely won’t run into graduate students, but you may meet people who you technically outrank. Despite your advanced qualifications, these individuals deserve the same level of respect as the boss or the CEO of the company.
Remember that you have to be a good fit for the WHOLE team. Thus, everyone – whether they would be above or below you in the company hierarchy – could potentially have a say in whether or not you get hired.
So when interviewing, Bring Your A-Game With EVERYONE You Meet!
** Adopt this mentality and share your interviewing experiences with us! **
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