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While the written application stage of the recruitment process enables an employer to assess whether you have the skills and experience to carry out the role, the interview stage of the recruitment process is where they are more likely to assess your soft skills, your transferable skills and general fit for the organisation. Crucially, an interview is also an opportunity for you to determine whether the role and organisation is the right fit for you.

We have worked with our employer and postdoc stakeholders to bring together some important tips and advice for navigating interviews both beyond, and in academia. 

Preparing for interview

It is important to prepare for a job interview in order to give yourself the best chance of coming across well to interviewers and securing the role. Below are some of the most common interview prep tips from our employer stakeholders.

Researching an organisation

“If you’re going to apply to a company, you should at least know something about it. It’s quite easy now to find out a lot about a company online. The killer question really is ‘what do you think you bring to this organisation? or ‘why did you apply for this job?. If you don’t have answers to those fundamental questions, you’ll struggle.

Martyn Spink, ex Programme Director, IBM UK Research Team

Hear from some of our employer stakeholders on the importance of researching the company:

Every employer stakeholder we spoke to highlighted the importance of researching an organisation in advance of interview:

  • Identify the organisation’s mission statement, purpose, key activities, products or services – consider how this relates to the role you are applying for. 
  • Try to understand the structure of the organisation and how you might fit in. 
  • Read their most recent annual report, blog posts, Twitter – identify any key challenges or opportunities you think the organisation or the sector is facing. 
  • Define some potential questions which show you have researched the organisation and have identified any challenges or opportunities for the role, and broader organisation.

Talk to people who work for the organisation

It’s good for applicants to talk to people who […] work in a similar role to the one they’ve applied for to get their perspective. It’s really important for the applicants to be able to talk to people who may become their future peers, who’ll they be working alongside and will be coaching them and mentoring them and making sure they have a good induction at the company if they get offered the job.”

Joe de Sousa, Senior Leader, Melhor Consulting

Ideally, you should speak to someone who works at the organisation in advance in order to learn more about the role, the department, the organisational culture and any “insider information” that may help you. Maybe you know someone who works there already, perhaps a colleague or your PI does. Alternatively, try identifying a contact on LinkedIn and conducting an informational interview

Preparing for common interview questions

It’s highly recommended to have some examples of when you have demonstrated the skills and competencies mentioned in the job description, or additional skills which you think will be important to the role.

Visit our Interview Questions resource for examples of some of the most common interview questions and tips on how to prepare for them.

“Whenever somebody asks you, ‘give me an example of’, use your STAR approach to respond to it, and that way you’ll be guaranteed that you’ve covered off all the areas. You don’t need to have many of those STAR examples in an interview to really cover the breadth of what you’re about. Five or six different examples usually covers most things. It covers things like communication skills, teamwork, laboratory experience, leadership skills, those five or six examples should pull on all of those different elements that are specific to the role.”

Jane Theaker, CEO, Kinomica Ltd

Fully understand and prepare for every task

You may be asked to give a presentation or perform a task at the start/end of the interview. If so, make sure you use this opportunity to demonstrate all the knowledge you’ve gained about the organisation and where your skills might fit. If you’re being employed specifically for your research or technical ability, employers will want to see that you’ve considered how this might be applied in other contexts that might be relevant for their business.

Watch our recruitment panel clip on preparing for and presenting at interview:

The main interview

A postdoc interview is likely to privilege the assessment of your knowledge, technical and/or intellectual skills and academic track record above all else. By contrast, beyond academia, interviews more likely assess your transferable skills and competencies, your mindset and approach to work, and whether you would be a good fit for the organisation.

Hear from Craig Robinson,  Team Leader - Life Sciences, VRS Recruitment on interviews

Lindsey Fryer, Head of Learning at Tate Liverpool shares her top tips for performing well at interview:

  • Be well prepared and well presented (not necessarily suited and booted but you are going to an interview) 
  • Be attentive and pleasant 
  • Consider questions carefully rather than just say the first thing that comes into your head. If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification, or ask to take a little bit of time to think about your answer 
  • Listen to the questions we ask – if there are 2 parts to a question, try to answer both parts and try to make sure that you answer what has been asked for 
  • Good time management - If we ask for a five-minute presentation, don’t make it ten! 

Important tip – prepare and ask questions! 

At the end of an interview, you will be invited to ask any questions of the interviewer or interview panel. Ideally, your knowledge of the organisation and consideration of the role will have generated some points that you are keen to know more about, and any questions you ask will naturally reflect the preparation and reflection you have done about the role. 

You can also ask any questions about the team and how it fits with the broader organisation. 

Watch our recruitment panel clip asking questions at interview:

“I look for people that ask a good question. I think you can never expect people to know everything about a business. I think that’s an unreasonable ask but certainly the candidates that stand out are the ones […] who’ve […] gone and had a look around stores and they’ve gone, ‘Well why are the fish tanks over there? Why is the dog food there?  It’s people who’ve thought that. They won’t know the answer, but if they’re coming in and asking questions about, ‘What do you do and why?’ It’s those people who really stand out.”

Martin Squires, Director of Advanced Analytics, Pets at Home


Asking for feedback after an interview is an important part of the process. Ideally, the interview goes well for both parties, and you are offered a role. 

If you are not offered a role, then most organisations will offer to provide feedback on your interview. Always take this opportunity. It’s also perfectly reasonable, and good practice, to request feedback even if it is not specifically offered. This demonstrates your professionalism and that you are keen to learn and improve. 

The best feedback tells you what went well, and what could have gone better. Compare the interviewer’s perception with your own perception of how it went. What can you learn from this? 

Sometimes, an interview can go really well, but it’s just not the right fit, or the right role, or the right time. 

“Ask people, phone them up, cold call them […] You would be amazed at how much time people are willing to give you if you show an interest. I did this for my job interview with one particular company. I didn’t get that job but I asked for a lot of feedback and I showed interest in what they were doing […] three months later I got a phone call from [them] saying, ‘Oh, there’s a new opening; would you be interested?’ So it’s always, always worth calling and being brave and making that first contact.”

Georgina Key, Environment Scientist and Research, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board

Example interviews

We have asked many ex-postdocs about their experiences of interviewing beyond academia, see below for a few examples.

“My interview session consisted of resolving a brief practical task (about 20 min) and immediately after, I was interviewed by a panel of members of the Directorate of Research and Business Engagement.  
I had prepared for the interview, writing down potential questions with concise and clear answers, where I could relate specific examples of my previous experience. I felt quite confident and comfortable during the whole interview. This is usually a good sign.

Christina Melero, Business Engagement Officer, University of Manchester

“I got an interview, and it was a full day process. It was quite informal: you meet everyone in the teams. There were no aptitude tests. I did a talk about my work. It was an intense day, but it was an informal day – it wasn’t the horror that you fear! They knew I was an academic – there was no hiding that! – but what they wanted to know in that interview was if I was open to learning new skills, because I would need to. I was very open at the interview. I told them my skill-set and said ‘I don’t do any AI – you’re going to have to train me. They were really supportive and really happy to have me, which was a big surprise. The number one thing was ‘are you willing to learn? and I thought ‘of course I am! I’m a postdoc!’.

Laura-Jayne Gardiner, Research Staff Member, IBM Research

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