During the last decade I have interviewed hundreds of candidates applying for positions as PhD students, lab technicians, administrative staff, postdocs, young professors with tenure track or full professors.

Most of them made the same costly mistake – and as a result, did not get the job!

So what is the most costly mistake?

I learned this profound lesson when I applied for my first professorship position in a famous university in London. I was convinced I was a bit too young for this position but nevertheless very well qualified. I was applying for similar positions for over two years without success. Thus, I prepared a powerful PowerPoint presentation to convince the commission. However, soon after the interview the chairman of the commission called me to inform me that I did not convince the jury.

Why? Because I did not get in contact with anybody in the department or university where I had applied. I did not know how the department was organized, what the current political and financial situation was. I even did not know the most important legal challenges in the domain where I had applied for the new job. I was therefore not well prepared and had not made enough effort to get to know the needs of my potential new employer.

I felt so stupid.

Interestingly, this mistake is made by the large majority of all job applicants we see!

In most cases the best candidate has contacted a handful of people in the new job environment and tried to get as much information as possible about the new work place.

Therefore, what should you ask BEFORE applying?

  • What are the working conditions?
  • What are your tasks?
  • What are the expectations of the employer?
  • How do they define success?
  • What are the most obvious problems and challenges for you and the organisation/institution/company?
  • What are the upcoming organisational changes?
  • Who are the most important colleagues?
  • Who are the troublemakers? (ask carefully :))
  • How did the department/institute/company develop during the last years?
  • What is special about this work environment?

You may wonder why I am giving this secret away? Because I am wholeheartedly convinced that applying for a job you do not know is a waste of both your and the employers time. If you are not well informed the interviewer will either not rank you at all or – for sure – not as the best candidate.

Maybe this is your dream job – but you should know this BEFORE you apply.

Maybe you are not the best candidate for the job – what will happen? You will be unhappy and probably not superproductive – and both, you and your employer, will develop endless conflicts. Do not do this to yourself and your employer. Go for your dream job.

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