How to answer job interview Qs for academics
April 27, 2021 6:53 PM   Subscribe

I seem to recall there being a site about how to answer job interview questions for people coming out of academia. I find that many of these "give an example of a time" are really hard to come up with examples for former academics. And I seem to recall somebody coming to the rescue with suggestions. Can you either A) POint me to some resources or B) Give suggestions/examples, particularly for questions about leadership, teamwork, conflict, judgment, and taking initiative and problem-solving.

I know there are a million sites out there on how to answer these kinds of questions in general, and I know the STAR thing. The problem is the examples given on all the sites are from a world so far removed from academia that it's hard to use those to brainstorm anything for myself. I would love to see lots of drawn-from-academia responses just so I can think about what experiences of my own might be applicable.
posted by If only I had a penguin... to Work & Money (6 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I think it matters A) what role you had in academia and B) what role you're hoping to transition to outside of academia. A lot of times you might want to use less academia-specific language to discuss a situation.

In general, coming from academia answers might pertain to committee work, assessments, teaching and/or annual evaluations (either received or given to others), academic advising and mentorship, admissions/recruitment, supervision of co- or extracurriculars, student interactions and/or student complaints, interdisciplinary and community projects, fundraising, grant writing, strategic plans, and professional development including research, conferences, and publications.
posted by vegartanipla at 9:32 PM on April 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I am an academic librarian, but my go-to resource for the kind of interview questions you are inquiring about is the VA (as in the United States Department of Veterans Affairs). The VA loves performance based interview questions. The website tells you all about they and has lists of samples: I had so many interviews like this with VA, every other interview I've been on since that is not with the VA has been a cakewalk, including my interview to be an academic librarian. Yes, you read that right, I interviewed for one academic librarian job and got it.

The advice I was given when I was going through my multitude of VA interviews was plan the stories you want to tell before the interview and figure out how they fit into the questions that are being asked. For example, if I was asked "Tell us about a time you worked on a project as a member of a team. What was your role on the team? What was the outcome of the project?" I would talk about the time I was a member of a working group to write a recommendation paper to create a faculty affairs website for my department. I reviewed XYZ about the project and compared to the websites at other institutions. I brought my findings to our monthly group meetings and contributed to the written paper about our findings and then helped present them at the next faculty meeting after we finished. The project is currently on hold waiting for a faculty affairs website to actually be created. I walk into the interview knowing I want to talk about my experience on that working group. You listed a lot of the topics that interviewers like to hit on, so have a story about conflict ready, have a story about leadership, have a story about taking initiative or problem solving. If you practice the questions from the link I attached, you will be prepared for interviews.

One other thing I learned to do at the VA was bring notes to the interview - just like the list of the things I want to talk about in case I freeze in the middle of the interview. You should be bringing a notebook to jot down the questions anyway, since you need to make sure you are answering all parts of the questions. Honestly, the only way to get good at interviewing is to practice. Accept that getting a job is difficult and you will need to do multiple interviews to land the job you want. Every interview is a learning experience, even if you don't get hired.
posted by DEiBnL13 at 9:42 PM on April 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also to address the most obvious one if you are faculty: teaching, full stop. Did you take on new preps or develop entirely new courses, take on overloads, teach in a new modality, take over a class partially through for a sick colleague, co-teach a course, teach required sections of gen eds to satisfy departmental staffing standards, guest lecture in others' courses, teach at an inconvenient time for the good of the students/institution...?
posted by vegartanipla at 9:45 PM on April 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm currently helping a friend move from academia to the nonprofit advocacy world. I'm encouraging them to draw a lot on their experiences outside of research. So things like committee work, community volunteering (especially where they had leadership roles) and teaching experience.

It's hard to give super-specific advice without knowing what kinds of roles you're looking for or what your academic field is. But generally, the two biggest areas we've been focusing on are: 1. talk about experiences you've had with other people, since that covers a lot of what these questions try to get at and 2. Do a LOT less explaining about ... well, everything. I'm realizing one big difference between the academic world and the professional (either non-profit or corporate) world is that in the academic world it's important to be able to explain/defend/back things up, whereas in the professional non-academic world, it's best to just get to the point and explain things only if asked.
posted by lunasol at 11:49 PM on April 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think it's going to depend a lot on the kind of department you're in and your current position. I'm assuming grad student or postdoc in comments below. Apologies if that's untrue or insulting.

I recently, slightly helped a student get a non-academic job, with great enthusiasm on all sides, and have been a reference for several others. My advice, which may be terrible since I've never applied for a real job, was to spend time explaining why the skills you have are the same even if the way people talk about them is different. You may have never made a management decision, but you've steered a paper through a collaboration review or you've dealt with unreasonable student requests as a TA or you've mentored new students. You may have never lead a project, but you assembled a team for a group assignment or helped run a public event. Explain why the roles they talk about are actually the same a skills you already have. Assume they have no idea what academia is like. If you've been on committees, done outreach, hosted speakers, participated in conferences, mentored others, that all counts. It probably counts more than your technical work. Problem-solving should hopefully be easy. The hard part is convincing the interviewer that your problems are similar to theirs in some way.

Based on the second-hand experience of friends who've gone from physical science PhDs to industry jobs, you may have to work to convince them that you really do want the job and it isn't just a temporary thing or a whim. One of my best friends spent most of his interview trying to convince them that he wouldn't quit in two years. Have a good story ready.

Best of luck!
posted by eotvos at 7:59 AM on April 28, 2021

Response by poster: For added info for those who have asked, I am coming from a decade+ of experience as faculty and looking at jobs in governments/non-profits/hospitals/think tanks or things like that. I did very little committee work as a faculty member and what I did do was very atomized and non-contentious. Lots of research and teaching.

I'm interested in sample answers that are based on academic experience more than sample questions (though more sample questions never hurt, so thanks for those who have provided those), and I could have sworn I once saw mention of a web site that did exactly that, but possibly I am wrong.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:26 AM on April 28, 2021

« Older Bandaging/Dressing a Small Incision Near My Lower...   |   Another laryngitis question Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.