Job interviews

I'm now a month into my new job and thoroughly enjoying it.  There has been a lot to learn, from people's names to ongoing research projects to acronyms to door codes and passwords but so far, so good.  I am genuinely enjoying going to work each day.

The road to employment for me has been quite long - I was having a chat with my PhD supervisor just yesterday and he was saying he knows of quite a few people who have been in my situation.

Over the last year or so I've been invited to seven interviews - some good, some not so good.  Here's a brief overview: whilst there are some things I'd rather forget, I think this might be useful to look back on!

My first interview was at a university in the south, the day before my viva when I was at a conference in the north east.  Could they reschedule, or perhaps interview me by phone?  Sadly not.  

My second interview was also at a university in the south.  I had an assessed task to do, writing an email based on some information I was given and to plan a course of action based on a second sheet of information.  In the interview I had to present this course of action and justify my decisions.  I thought the interview went well and they said they would contact me to let me know and give me feedback if I was unsuccessful.  Almost a fortnight later I contacted HR saying I'm pretty certain I haven't got the job as I haven't heard anything, but I would like to officially be told.  HR said they would find out what had happened, as yes, I hadn't got the job.  A day or two later I was emailed by one of the interviewers apologising for not getting in touch.  My feedback?  They didn't think I could work in an office environment.  What does that even mean?!  How is that possibly constructive feedback?  

Third interview was at yet another university, for a research position.  I had the research skills required but not the specific subject knowledge.  I had to do a five minute presentation outlining my research skills and experience.  Interview went well (although in a really small room with five people round a table designed for four), but I didn't get the job as there was another candidate with better subject knowledge.  Fair enough.

Fourth interview was at yet another university (there are a lot in the south!).  It was for a research position and reading through the checklist, I had both the skills and subject knowledge required.  I put a lot of effort into preparing for this interview, reading previous research done by the central academics, finding out what their current projects are, reading about the partner organisations and charities in the research.  However, it was not a good day.  The questions were hard, no breaking me in gently, a technical question to begin with and I felt out of my depth continuously.  I ended up almost crying into my cup of tea when I was back at the train station and I did cry when I got home.  I wasn't surprised to hear I hadn't got the job - it had gone to someone with more experience.  At this point, I felt very much as though I'd never be employed: if I couldn't get a job when I did have subject specific knowledge and skills, how was I going to get a job anywhere else?  The whole experience of this interview really knocked me.

Interview five was a part time maternity cover admin position - I knew I was overqualified and was surprised to get an interview, I applied to it predominantly because it was so local.  In the interview, they called me 'Dr Amy'.  If you want to be formal and use my title, then use my surname too.  If you want to be informal, just use my first name.  (Ben tends to call me 'Dr Amy' when I've said or done something stupid!)  I'd done my research and knew a lot about the charity, but the interviewers kept mentioning my PhD.  I left thinking it had gone well from a being interviewed point of view, but I didn't think they would offer it to me.  I got a phone call the following day saying they felt I was overqualified and there were other candidates who were more appropriately experienced.  Fair enough, but this annoyed me.  They knew I was overqualified right from the beginning - my title is at the top of my CV and the application form, my doctorate is listed as my last employment and is at the top of my list of educational qualifications.  What could I have done differently in the interview to make them want to give me the job?  Or were they just curious as to why I wanted a part time, relatively low paid job? For experience!  Experience!

Interview six was for a company based just a ten minute walk from my flat.  For this assessed task I had to write an email and then input data into Excel and find out if there had been a profit.  I'd been told I'd have an 'Excel test' and had spent the weekend improving my knowledge of Excel and all the things it can do.  I was slightly disappointed when I came to the interview and found some of the maths involved in the data was so easy I could do it in my head!  I didn't need to use a single pivot table.  At the end of the interview they said they would let me know within a fortnight.  A fortnight? How long does it take to decide which candidate you want?!  In the end, I sent them an email withdrawing my application as I'd got another job.  There was no acknowledgement to this and a few days later I got a generic email saying I wasn't successful.  Part of me wonders if I was unsuccessful because I'd withdrawn, or if I had been unsuccessful anyway.  Did I get any feedback?  No.

Interview seven was at a university again, but based at a building not at the main campus.  I went to the city the day before the interview to ensure I knew where I was going, to work out how long it would take me to get there and also, I admit, to do a bit of shopping.  I'd done a lot of prep for this interview as I felt very enthusiastic about the role - it matched my experience, my subject specific skills and also my research interests.  Basically, it ticked a lot of boxes.  I researched the academics involved, reading about their work as well as research produced by the department more generally.  I hate being late and on the day left home two and a half hours before the interview (the train journey is just under an hour and a short walk either side).  I thought I'd have plenty of time, especially as I'd already tried it the day before and had spotted a bench nearby where I could sit and wait before my interview as I'd inevitably arrive far too early.

Just as well I had left lots of time as pretty much everything went wrong.  The train I aimed to catch was delayed by a few minutes, but then cancelled.  There was a train about 15 minutes later, which was also delayed.  Because it was delayed, it ended up behind a slow stopping train so even though I was on the 'fast' train it definitely wasn't fast as it couldn't overtake the stopping train, so we stopped as much as the one in front did.  This was all massively eating into my time.

I knew as I arrived at the station that I was going to arrive at the interview location either right on time or a few minutes late. I phoned the reception and said I was going to be late - I knew this sounded bad (late for an interview!) but I'd rather let them know.

I made it to the building with a minute to spare - only to find the main entrance isn't the entrance I needed and I had to go round the back.  The building is a large square, I couldn't find a shortcut so had to go all the way round to reach the back and by this time I was hot and out of breath.

The receptionist led me in and explained the interviews were running later than I was - thankfully!  I was given a task to do (analysing some data which I felt I did well at) and then I had a few minutes to sit and gather my breath (and try to make my face less pink and control my breathing) before I went into the interview room.

The interview I thought went well - I'd anticipated most of the questions and had answers ready, the surprise questions were engaging and I thought I answered them well.  Coming out of the interview I knew I'd done well in terms of presenting myself, I knew I had the right skills, but I had a feeling it would come down to experience and what the other candidates could offer.

A couple of days later, I had a phone call explaining their first choice candidate had accepted the role but only part time - was I interested in a jobshare on a part time basis? Yes! They couldn't decide between me and another candidate so asked us both to go in for an 'informal chat' the following week.

An 'informal chat' - what does that mean?!  The lady stressed it wasn't an interview, more a chat to see how I might fit in with the department.  I asked a friend who works in HR, and my mum asked a colleague who works in HR what this means - both agreed it's a chat and will come down to personality.  Clearly, by being second choice candidates, they already thought each of us could do the role.

What to wear?  I'd always worn a black suit, smart top and heels for interviews, but I thought this might be too smart for an informal chat.  In the end I went with a smartish top and black trousers and heels but left the jacket.

It really was an informal chat - there was discussion about the role and what it would entail (especially now being a jobshare) as well as my impressions of the job and department so far, what I wanted from the job as well as what I could offer, and also more questions about my research.  We were sitting on comfy chairs in an office, no table between us, so it felt much more informal and more relaxed.  Time went quickly.

I thought it went well - I said the job sounded good, great experience for me as well as there being a strong support system in place for early career researchers which I knew I'd appreciate as this would be my first proper post-PhD job.

I'd only been on the train home for about 15 minutes before I had a phone call saying they'd love to offer me the job and they thought I'd make 'an excellent addition to the team'.  I was so, so excited, and so pleased!  I accepted there and then, agreeing to phone back when I was home to avoid signal cutting out on the train!

I think overall I've had positive interview experiences - only one was truly awful and made me cry, and I've learned something from each one.  What has annoyed me, though, about the majority of them, is the lack of constructive feedback.  I appreciate that HR departments and members of staff are busy, but I would like some feedback.  Was my presentation okay, did it cover what you wanted, did I talk too fast, did I answer the questions well, should I have said more about this and less about that, did I need to show more understanding of the company or was I not dressed appropriately?  The interviewers, without exception, all made notes as they went along, could they not have put two or three lines together in an email?  I am confident that all candidates would have found this useful.

Hopefully, though, it will be quite a while before I need to go for a job interview again!


  1. I am glad you did find something you liked and an employer who was keen to employ you at last. The lack of feedback is maddening and it frustrates me. I can tell that the reasons why I didn't get some jobs were just randomly put together and didn't actually have anything to do with my interviews. There were so many times I had to hold my tongue when I really just wanted to tell them how stupid those reasons were. It's still frustrating now.

    1. I feel the frustration! What did they mean they didn't think I could work in an office?! Do I come across as that socially unaware, or did I not make it clear that I could use a photocopier? If you tell me you're going to give me feedback, at least make it something I can learn from.

  2. I once didn't get a job selling tickets in a small theatre's box office because another candidate had 'more live theatre management experience' (there was I thinking I would be selling tickets, not managing the theatre!). And I once travelled 2 hours on the train for an interview for a full time job at the RSC in Stratford upon Avon, only to get there and be told the job had changed to 18 hours a week!
    I'm gad you've found something that you like, I was unemployed for 14 months when I finished uni, so I know how you feel :)

    1. Again, not helpful feedback!! Or forms/job descriptions need to be more accurate in terms of what they want/expect from the candidate. And ridiculous that the job had changed hours and no one had thought to inform you, that's just a waste of everyone's time. Grr.

  3. My daughter was asked to go to an interview in Paris with a major Telecoms company. She had already had an on-line test and a HR phone interview. She was very pleased as there were only 10 candidates invited to Paris from the original 250 applicants! The interview was over the whole day, involving group tasks and individual interviews with different managers. They provided lunch but no other contribution to interview costs.
    It cost over 200€ for this short-notice trip (train fares plus overnight accomodation each side of the interview day) only to be told what she had already worked out from chatting to the other candidates that she didn't have any technical experience of the telecoms industry!

    1. Argh! So annoying! Surely the company knew she didn't have the right expertise? Unless she was very good in other area which they thought might compensate? And annoying about the cost as well. I think about half my interviews had travel costs paid, but always the closest ones where it didn't matter. Two hundred euros is a lot!

  4. This was such an interesting post! Nobody likes interviews, and I went home and cried so much about the job interview which gave me the job I'm in at the minute. I thought I'd done abysmal but in fact I was first choice for the job. Just goes to show you can never judge it. I've never got interview feedback though from any interview. It's so frustrating, especially when they could just email it to you in a few minutes.

    Also - what on earth did they mean by you not being able to work in an office?! Unless you're the Hulk so wouldn't fit in an office I can't understand how anyone wouldn't be able to work in ANY office. They can be so different!

    Rachel x
    The Inelegant Wench

    1. I have no idea what they meant...that hadn't demonstrated my ability to answer a phone? Or learn how to use a photocopier? Or make a round of tea and not steal other people's pens?! Pointless feedback if you can't be specific.

  5. I've been applying for jobs recently and it's such a frustrating process. The time it takes to fill in application forms and write personal statement-type things is RIDICULOUS. I had two interviews and although I didn't get the jobs they did at least give me helpful feedback. I've put the job hunt on hold for a bit and am doing some voluntary work (in the offices of a charity) alongside my current job... Trying to gain the dreaded 'office experience'!

    Liz x
    Distract Me Now Please

    1. I feel your frustration! To fill in an application form well, and write a good cover letter, is very time-consuming, especially as they need to be specific for the role. Well done on getting interviews and feedback, though!


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