One of the things I tend to do a fair bit of is recruitment/hiring, usually for seasonal or short (<2 year) contracts. In the last two years, I’ve been involved in well over a dozen competitions as part of the interview or selection panel for what would be termed alt-ac or field tech science jobs.
Recently, several friends have asked for my advice on what to expect from an interview, so I thought it would be worth posting here. I’ve already written a bit geared towards applying for field jobs.
I’ll heavily caveat this, though – my take isn’t everyone’s take, and practices likely vary among (and even within!) organizations. Always remember to consider the albatross. And I’ll assume that you’ve already passed the hurdle of the paper application.
My general take is that if you’re being interviewed, chances are you tick all the basic boxes and the organization is at least considering hiring you. Basically, you meet all the technical requirements; the interview will be about how you approach problems, and other things that can’t be easily assessed on paper.
I always advise folks to think of the sorts of questions the interview panel is likely to ask, and how you might answer them.
Usually, there is some sort of fact-based questions pertinent to the job. For a recent post about marine protected areas (MPAs), we asked which international agreements/treaties were important for MPA designation. The purpose here is to see that you know your stuff (or at least where to look for it). The interview panel will likely have various keywords that they’re looking for here (or their general gists), so there can be a right/wrong answer.
There is often a problem solving part of the interview. “How would you do X”? These are almost always technical in nature, and interview panels will probably be looking for broad grasp of how you approach a problem. This could be analysis, data manipulation, supervision, … the content depends on what the job specification includes. No right/wrong answers here, but trying to understand how you might do in the work environment.
And there are usually a couple of more personal questions. Why did you apply for this job? What is your greatest strength? What is your greatest weakness? We ask these, or similar variations, almost every time. In these cases, there are no right or wrong answers, but are about seeing how your self-assessment might match up against what your referees might say about you (we often ask referees similar questions). Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so the “I can’t think of any” cop-out isn’t advisable.
In all cases, look for “added value” – moving beyond the question to the next logical step. And if at all possible, use concrete examples of how you’ve done X (or similar to X) in the past successfully, e.g., “We did something similar in a recent paper…”. And in all cases, specific, tangible examples are to be encouraged (yay evidence!).
Lastly, we always give candidates an opportunity to ask questions of the panel, so it’s always good to prepare a few queries in a couple of areas – technical specifications about the job like start/decision dates, questions about resources available, like computing, employment policies and benefits, scope of the job and possibility of branching out, details about the ultimate goals or deliverables, etc.
As I said, these are highly directed towards those looking for work in the non-academic conservation sector, but some of the themes are likely to be broadly applicable based on my experiences in academia as well. And feel free to add your 2¢ in the comments below!