Job-Interview Tips for Academics


Sooner or later, most academics wonder whether they should leave the university and join the commercial world. That decision is an extremely personal one: While the university system offers the chance to do cutting-edge research and interact freely with your peers, working for a tech company can offer significant benefits—and cash.

For those who decide to make the transition, the first step is compiling a résumé that translates your academic accomplishments into skill sets that employers will find useful. This means arranging things to highlight your collaboration and management aptitudes, as well as your ability to see projects to completion. (Having a non-academic scan your résumé and give you pointers for revisions is an excellent idea.)

The next step, once you start actually applying for positions at tech firms, is the job interview. For those who’ve spent their whole career in a teaching or research position, the prospect of sitting down with a series of people to discuss qualifications can seem intimidating, and that’s okay: A little bit of nervousness can sharpen your mind.

Here are some tips for handling the interview process:

Schedule Early

Interviewing is an exhausting process; by scheduling it earlier in the day, you guarantee that your energy levels are higher. In addition, studies show that interviewers spend more time considering candidates they interview in the morning as opposed to the afternoon.

Show Your Utility

You have to make the pitch for why your abilities will benefit this particular tech firm. With that in mind, spend some time before the job interview preparing an explanation for why you’re a good fit. In contrast to universities, tech firms are all about your potential utility to them; adjust your mindset accordingly.

Don’t Ramble

When asked to describe your experience and skill sets, it might be tempting to give an in-depth answer, especially if you work in a cool and cutting-edge field such as artificial intelligence. Save it for later in the process, when you’re face-to-face with the person who may eventually become your manager (and likely has the same knowledge as you); for any initial interviews with HR staffers or recruiters, keep things as concise as possible, while still giving complete answers. Which brings us to the next point…

Keep the Jargon to a Minimum

Academics and researchers often use highly specialized terms to describe what they do. Especially in the initial interviews, take things down a notch; think over your potential responses to questions, and see how you can frame your answers in ways that are understandable to pretty much anyone, even if they don’t have an extensive tech background.