job interview for a science career

The most costly job interview mistake during your science career

During the last decade, I have interviewed hundreds of candidates applying for positions as PhD students, postdocs, or professors. Most of them made the same costly job interview mistake – and, as a result, did not get the job!

What is the most costly job interview mistake in your scientific career?

I learned this profound lesson when I applied for my first professorship position at a famous university in London. I was convinced I was too young for this position but very well qualified.

I have been 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 commission’s chairman told me I did not convince the jury.


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 or the current political and financial situation. I did not even 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 job interview mistake is made by the majority of 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 workplace.

For a successful career in science, ask critical questions BEFORE applying

Find below essential questions you must be able to answer *before* you apply and before you go into the job interview.

  • 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 organization/institution/company?
  • What are the upcoming organizational 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 unique about this work environment?

Please be aware that these are not questions about your personal chances to develop your academic career, such as “What are the transferable skills courses the HR department offers?” or „How will I be supported with personnel or money for consumables?“ These are questions to understand how the department works.

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 employer’s 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 applying.

Maybe you are not the best candidate for the job. What will happen?

You will be unhappy and probably not super-productive, and you and your employer will develop endless conflicts. This is not a good starting point for a scientific career. Do not do this to yourself and your employer.

Thus, avoid this classical job interview mistake, and only apply for a position after carefully investigating the conditions. This attitude will be interpreted as proactive behavior of a very interested candidate.

Recommended reading

The following articles may also interest you:

  1. Job interview outfits in science – what to wear?
  2. The 8 best tips to find your dream job in science
  3. The most intelligent strategy to get hired in science
  4. How to choose the best postdoc position?
  5. Is being a professor worth it?
  6. Am I good enough for a career in science?
  7. Am I doing enough for my scientific career?
  8. Will I find a job as a scientist?
  9. I have no idea where I will be in two years
  10. Should I upload my CV on multiple science job websites?

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