UK job interview etiquette
September 9, 2015 10:53 AM   Subscribe

I'm a US citizen applying for jobs in London. I've excited to have been shortlisted and offered a couple of interviews. What should I expect? What should I wear? More below the fold.

I'm a healthcare professional in the US. I don't have my UK credentials yet, and may never get them, so I'm applying in related fields. The jobs I've applied for are "Research Assistant" positions at universities, generally Band 5/6. They are some combination of clinical research and patient care (administering surveys for study drugs, some data entry, doing EKGs, etc.). They are not purely academic jobs nor clinical jobs requiring medical licensure. I am, on paper, qualified for these jobs and because of my experience and credentials in the US, have more advanced training and education than requested in the job descriptions.

I have a few questions about job interviews in the UK, and I'm hoping you can help:
- Are there standard UK interview questions, especially any that might be a curveball for someone from the US? I have looked online and found guides saying one should always ask about the employee evaluation system, grading, and prospects for advancement--these are not things I would think to ask in the US.
- It seems that many posts hold all interviews on the same day--will applicants be noted immediately whether they've been accepted? Is this standard for all UK positions? Are thank you notes sent?
- What should I wear to such an interview? In the US, I would wear a suit--is that overdressed? Is a dress or skirt suit preferable? Heels or flats? If I don't wear makeup, is that very unusual? (I never do, but the UK standard seems to be to wear a bit). I've seen this question: http://ask.metafilter.com/221608/Interview-attire-UK-academic-edition but wonder if the same applies for women. I am somewhat frumpy and imagine everyone in London to be very glamorous!

Any other hints or tips would be greatly appreciated, whether about interview questions/styles, or etiquette/norms/expectations.

Thanks so much.
posted by pocksuppeteer to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
They often aim to tell the preferred candidate on the same day however this may not always be possible. Even where it is possible if the preferred candidate did not choose to accept on the spot, for example, where they ask for time to consider the offer, the other candidates may be left in limbo until the preferred candidate has made a decision on the basis that they may say no. The process can also be delayed were some candidates are unable to make themselves available on the initial date.

Regarding clothing, I would tend to err on the smart side since this will be the preferred dress code for formal events within most academic departments. There is some variation from this however, I have for example heard members of the bio Sciences department at my institution complain the people have been too smart when turning up in suits. Generally however the suit will be preferred and the decision is more likely to lie with those who are not bothered either way.

In terms of the interview process I would expect you to be interviewed by at least three members of staff one of whom is likely to be your line manager, one another senior member of the department and the other from human resources. More may be possible this is less likely at junior levels. The general format will typically be for them to have a question sheet with around 10 Questions. Each panel member will have questions assigned to them and they will be asked in order to try to achieve some coherence in approaching the interview. You should certainly not receive any questions concerning your age, gender, family status, plans for a family, childcare arrangements, etc.
posted by biffa at 12:02 PM on September 9, 2015


- Are there standard UK interview questions, especially any that might be a curveball for someone from the US? I have looked online and found guides saying one should always ask about the employee evaluation system, grading, and prospects for advancement--these are not things I would think to ask in the US.

Depending on the organisation, you may be asked competency-based questions of the kind 'Tell me about a time when you resolved a conflict with a co-worker' and the like. Google 'competency based interview' for sample questions and have a look through the person spec/job ad for keywords about what particular competencies they might have.

Be prepared for a less formal interview than you might expect in the US. People may swear lightly or do things you wouldn't expect, again depending on the workplace.

Try not to do the very American 'I'm super positive about everything and absolutely everything I've ever done must be spun and discussed in the absolute most positive way' thing. To your average Brit interviewer, it comes across as evasive and insincere. There's absolutely nothing wrong with responding to questions about challenges and issues in previous jobs with a bit of honest, constructive analysis. Don't call your old boss a dick or anything, but don't be a Pollyanna.

- It seems that many posts hold all interviews on the same day--will applicants be noted immediately whether they've been accepted? Is this standard for all UK positions? Are thank you notes sent?

I've been offered a job on the spot before, but it was usually after 2 or 3 interviews with different people in the company. In general you'll be notified a few days afterwards, but it depends who has to sign off on hiring you. Thank you notes are usually appreciated, but less common than in the US. If you have their contact details a very brief, not overly-effusive thank you note wouldn't go amiss.

- What should I wear to such an interview? In the US, I would wear a suit--is that overdressed? Is a dress or skirt suit preferable? Heels or flats? If I don't wear makeup, is that very unusual? (I never do, but the UK standard seems to be to wear a bit). I've seen this question: http://ask.metafilter.com/221608/Interview-attire-UK-academic-edition but wonder if the same applies for women. I am somewhat frumpy and imagine everyone in London to be very glamorous!

Try to balance what you would feel comfortable in at interview vs what you would normally wear vs what you think the organisation you're going in to interview with sees as acceptable. Skirt suit and heels is probably a safe bet, but don't wear anything that makes you uncomfortable or that will distract you when you're trying to focus on the interview.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:04 PM on September 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think there are any standard questions. For a research assistant they will want to know about relevant skills, so maybe clinical skills regarding assessment or interviewing, your research experience, analytical skills, data management, statistics etc. There are no questions you should always ask. Be familiar with the research the lab had published recently and maybe ask about the projects you'd be working on and how they link to published research.

In the NHS my experience is that applicants are told on the day if they are successful, but if you are not successful it can take a couple of weeks, if they let you know at all.

In my research lab, dress was very informal. A formal skirt and smart top would be fine, a suit would be fine but would have looked unusual. Frankly you'd be lucky if you turned up to my lab and found that everyone was wearing shoes. Definitely don't wear anything too revealing.
posted by kadia_a at 12:08 PM on September 9, 2015


For the record, I have been offered her an academic job on the spot before. One thing that you might be asked regardless of whether they plan to make you an offer or not, is whether you would accept the job if it were offered.

One thing you are very likely to be asked is about your publication record. You should emphasise the refereed journal articles you already have published, those you plan to publish on those you'd like to work on the future. Consider which journals you would be looking to submit to. Essentially, you are trying to send a message that you are aware of the importance of publications pretty your own career and within the context of the UK's research excellence framework. If you have a suitable number of publications then you may have extra value to your institution come 2020. It would also not hurt if you're in a position to identify a number of small grants that you might be a to lead on with the support of your line manager. Consider which funding bodies you would apply to. Doing this again demonstrates your understanding of good academic practice as it is seen by UK institutions and shows your potential to add value to your department.
posted by biffa at 12:22 PM on September 9, 2015


I am an American and used to live in London, so I've had numerous job interviews on both sides of the Atlantic. In my experience, there was no difference - I mean there was variation from company to company, of course, but nothing I could point to and say "this is a UK interviewer thing that I never experienced in America." I think it will be much more helpful to look for advice specific to your industry, on UK-based websites.

The only difference I can think of is the payscale system (all of my experience is in arts / nonprofits), meaning you know what the salary range will be before interviewing.
posted by cpatterson at 4:00 PM on September 9, 2015


My friend went to a job interview (academia) in England. All of the candidates were interviewed on the same day, twice for brief periods of time and a group dinner. She didn't expect to get the job whatsoever and got offered it VERY quickly. So maybe they're much faster in England than here?
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:36 PM on September 9, 2015


You say band 5/6, so presumably this is an NHS job. In which case, the questions in the interview are basically given to you in the job description. Here's a post which seems similar to what you're looking at, and here's the job description. Those 25ish criteria they mention in pages 6-8 of the job description are the criteria they'll be marking you against. So there will be about 10 different questions which they'll ask to discover those things, then they'll mark you up against those criteria and the person with the best match gets the offer, normally within 24 hours. That's the entire story.

There's not normally a huge amount of scope for negotiating salaries: if you're new to the NHS you're start at the bottom of the scale. All your employment terms and conditions are fixed.

As for what to wear, a suit (or jacket and skirt) is probably the best. No need for them to be anything particularly special though. Makeup probably is a good idea, but probably should be subtle. No need for heels.
posted by ambrosen at 11:35 AM on September 10, 2015


My friend went to a job interview (academia) in England. All of the candidates were interviewed on the same day, twice for brief periods of time and a group dinner.

This is more what I would expect to happen for a lectureship, rather than an RA job. For an RA I would expect just the straight up interview with 3 or so interviewers. If they are going down the more complex route they will let you know ahead of time. Likewise if they want a presentation, again, this is more common for lecturer and above.
posted by biffa at 12:54 PM on September 11, 2015


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