Interviewing

  1. Why was I asked for an interview? Since interviewing takes time and costs money, it is only done for candidates who look so good on paper that the persons doing the hiring want to make sure that the person in the flesh resembles the one described in the vita and letters of recommendation. In the case of postdoc job, often the best candidate is brought in; if the candidate checks out well on the interview, an offer will be made. If not, they will go on to the second candidate. In the case of a faculty or industrial position, a few candidates will be brought in; the one making the best impression will usually be hired.

    Is there any reason not to accept all interview trips? If you already have offers from places you prefer over the one now inviting you, decline the trip honestly and graciously. If information you have learned since you applied strongly suggests that this place is inappropriate for you, decline honestly and graciously. The reason for the honesty is that this gives the place a chance to say: we think we are better or more appropriate than you believe; we want to prove this on your visit.

  2. What are they looking for? They are looking for someone who is alive! -- that is, someone who gives a talk full of physics and enthusiasm for the subject; someone who can relate to others, both personally and in terms of their work; someone who wants the job at their institution The talk is very important. Many who will not meet you during the trip will judge you on this alone. A weak talk has killed many a job prospect.

  3. How should I prepare for the interview? First, you should have prepared a good talk (see onepagers on `talk' and `talk-grit') that has been adapted for this particular audience. When you are invited, ask at what level your talk should be and who will be in the audience. Second, you should do advance work before the one-on-one interviews. Look up the faculty; when you call to arrange your visit, ask whom you will meet when you are there. Then find out about those individuals (e.g., ask your adviser about them), and look up their most recent papers.

  4. What should I wear? Be conservative. Women should wear a suit or dress. Men should wear a suit or sport coat and color-coordinated pants (plus plain shirt and simple tie). If you don't have a suit or sport coat, replace jacket with a good sweater. Don't wear sport shirt and blue jeans.

  5. What should I talk about in the interviews with individuals? First, you should listen, not talk. This is your opportunity to find out what that person is like. Let each one tell you about their work and interests. Second, be responsive, not only to direct questions but also to what they are talking about. If you have had a chance to read one of individual's papers or preprints, bring up the paper in the conversation. Almost all scientists are proud of their papers and like to talk about them. Often it isn't necessary that you have read the paper, only that you have an idea what it is about.

  6. Should I negotiate on the first interview trip? No! The image you want to convey is that physics is all important and your only concern is whether this is a good place for you to do physics -- so what matters are the range/quality of colleagues and the availability of appropriate equipment/computing. Do not bring up salary questions. The exception to this rule concerns only candidates for faculty and permanent staff jobs. You should be prepared to discuss what kinds of equipment you need in order to succeed. Also if you have other offers, you need to tell the chairman/director (and perhaps one other faculty/staff if one has carried the ball in bringing you there) about them and any time constraints connected with them.

  7. One again: Why interviews matter.

  8. If you are not too tense? Some humor.

Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.
[Previous] [Wilkins Home Page]
[OSU Physics] [OSU Chemical Physics] [Center for Materials Research]
[College of Mathematical & Physical Sciences] [Ohio State University]
Edited by: wilkins@mps.ohio-state.edu [September 1997]