The Training Page: From the Fellows Committee

The Prescription for Acing an Interview Is Preparation and Practice

You’ve spent years of your life in higher education, honed professional and research skills, and pushed to publish your research. Now, after feeling like applying for jobs was a part-time job in itself, your hard work has paid off and you’ve been offered an interview. While this interview might be the gateway to continued success, all too often, not enough time is spent preparing for these potentially life-changing meetings with employers. Fortunately, you don’t need to look far to find the resources that will help you to ace your interview.

For intramural fellows, the natural go-to resource is the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE). Its frequent workshops on how to interview for positions in industry and academia and for graduate, medical, or professional schools are an excellent place to start.

“My best advice for preparing for an interview is to learn about the typical interview format—be it industry, academia, or a graduate program—well in advance,” said John Taborn, a career counselor at the OITE.

Importantly, the structure of interviews also varies dramatically across disciplines, geographical areas, and institutions. For this reason, trainees can schedule tailored mock interviews with OITE career counselors or pre-med advisors that appropriately prepare them for the type of interview that they will experience. But practicing your interview skills shouldn’t stop at a mock interview. Have family or friends ask you questions, use flashcards of common questions, and record yourself—because as we all know, practice makes perfect.

“Learn and practice the STAR interview format—Situation, Task, Actions, and Results—in order to answer behavioral interview questions,” advised Taborn. “This approach is very useful when employers and admissions committees ask applicants to describe how they utilized ‘soft skills’ when they handled past challenges in leadership, collaborations, problem solving, and [or] failures. They want to predict how a candidate will behave in similar situations in the future.”

A quick internet search on how to interview brings up seemingly endless advice. Some of the more consistent tips included in these lists: Wear something that gives you confidence; bring questions to ask them; be authentic; try to stay calm; follow up with a “thank you”; and do your research ahead of time. This last tip is often one of the most important. Be sure to find out everything you can about that specific organization—through their website and every social media platform. Being familiar with whom you will be meeting and the organization’s mission, strengths, and culture will help to demonstrate your interest and preparedness.

“Staying calm” may seem easier said than done, but OITE can help with that, too. “Trainees who participate in OITE’s various wellness workshops and programs often incorporate wellness strategies into the interview process,” Taborn noted. “These [strategies] help fellows to manage stress and anxiety and interview with more confidence.”

If an interview is on the horizon, check out the OITE website. It has information about upcoming workshops (including sessions on the STAR interviewing technique), a link to the OITE Careers Blog (which includes information on interviewing), and archived workshops and programs related to interview preparation. For those applying to positions in industry and academia, additional useful resources can be found in places such as Science magazine and the Chronicle of Higher Education website.

For postbaccalaureate fellows who are applying to professional schools, be sure to visit the websites of professional associations (such as the Association of American Medical Colleges; American Dental Education Association; American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine; American Public Health Association; and the American Psychological Association), where you can find strategies and resources for interviews.

For some visiting fellows, interviewing in English can be an added challenge. Taborn offered a few suggestions: 1) attend relevant workshops including “English Communication for Visiting Scientists” and “Career Planning for International Scientists” offered by the OITE; 2) participate in OITE discussion groups for building resilience for international scholars; and 3) join the Visiting Fellows committee.


For more information, go to OITE’s home page at https://www.training.nih.gov.