Prepare for interviews beyond academia
Job interviews for jobs outside the academic environment can take different formats.
Competency interviews are the most commonly used but you may encounter other formats including strengths based, case study and technical interviews.
Types of interviews
In a competency interview you will be asked questions based on the skills and qualities required for the job. You will be expected to give examples of when you have demonstrated these competencies. The employer will want you to draw examples from your academic studies, work experience and any other activities you've been involved in.
Examples of competency questions include:
Describe a situation when you have had to persuade an individual or a group to take a particular course of action. What did you do and what was the outcome?
Give me an example of when you led a team. How did you lead and motivate this group effectively? On reflection, how could you have improved your performance?
Tell me about a time when you have used your creativity to solve a complex problem.
For more information on different types of interviews and more examples of questions see the Interviews section of our website:
What other selection methods may be used?
In addition to individual interviews a range of different selection methods may be used. Most employers will tell you what to expect when they invite you to interview. If they don’t, contact them and ask. Other selection activities can include:
- Aptitude tests – these assess your ability in, for example, verbal or numerical reasoning
Group exercises - these assess how you interact with others, and your communication skills
In-tray exercises - these assess your skill in organising, planning and prioritising your work
Presentations - you may be asked to prepare a presentation on a specific topic in advance, or be asked to present on the day as part of another exercise
Find out more about assessment centres here:
Good preparation is key to ensuring you deliver your best performance. Start your preparation by addressing the following questions:
- Why do you want the job?
- Can you do the job?
- What selection methods will be used?
Why do you want the job?
A non-academic employer will be interested in your motivation in applying to them. Many employers assume a PhD or other research degree is training for an academic career and may question your motivation for applying for the job.
Research the job and employer thoroughly so you can show your enthusiasm for the job and convince them that this is a positive choice for you. In addition, you should be able to show that you have thought about and understand the potential differences between an academic environment and the industry sector you are applying to as this is sometimes a concern for employers.
Your research should include reading the job description and employer information carefully, exploring the employer website, and finding out more about both the company and industry sector.
Can you do the job?
There can be a perception amongst employers outside higher education that PhDs are too specialised (this applies less to Research Masters graduates). Think about how your PhD has prepared you to do this job. What skills and expertise have you developed that will be of use?
If the job is unrelated to the subject of your research degree you should think about the approach you took towards your research and the skills that enabled you to successfully complete your studies.
In an academic interview one might say, “The rhetorician Kenneth Burke talked about using identification to connect with people and that’s what I do. I create enthymemes to involve my audience and create a didactic.” A preferable statement in a non-academic interview would be: “I’m very skilled at adapting my message to the person in front of me. For example, I know how to explain my dissertation to people who have a lot of knowledge about my topic and to those who know nothing about it in a way that’s understandable to them.”
When you’re considering how to present evidence that you can do the job, follow our advice on assessing your skills and strengths: