Gaining research experience as an undergraduate student can be extremely important for a variety of reasons such as building a stronger resume for graduate school, figuring out what areas of science, various fields and sub-fields you might be interested in, and just seeing what does it mean to work in a research lab.
Let's say that you've done your research and have applied to various research assistant positions. Now it's interview time and it's important to know what to do in order to make a good impression. In this blog post, we will discuss how college students can best prepare for a research assistant interview by doing some simple things beforehand. This includes: knowing your strengths and weaknesses, preparing answers for tough questions, and making sure your body language is in tune with the overall message you're trying to convey!
Knowing Your Strengths and Weaknesses
When it comes to interviewing it is extremely important to know your strengths and weaknesses! This way, you can focus on highlighting your strengths and downplaying your weaknesses. Furthermore, if asked about your weaknesses you can be prepared with a response that does not involve bashing yourself but also one that doesn't turn your greatest strength in your greatest weakness or the other way around. For example, if you say "My greatest weakness is that I'm a hard worker and a perfectionist" there is a strong chance that the interviewer will think you are not manageable and you risk coming across as not genuine. On the other hand, if you say something along the lines of "I am always looking to improve my skills so I can be the best candidate possible. I do have some areas that I would like to work on but I am confident that with time and effort I will be able to overcome them. Such areas include [list here one or two]." These areas of improvement will vary from person to person, of course, but common ones include interpersonal skills - being shy, cultural intelligence, a tendency to overcommitment, too much focus on details, lack of confidence, and so on.
Preparing Answers for Tough Questions
Another important aspect of interview preparation is preparing for tough questions! This includes questions such as "Tell me about yourself," "Why are you interested in this position?", or "Can you explain, in your own words, what's Peto's paradox?" It is important to have thoughtful responses ready for these types of questions so you do not seem unprepared. You don't want to show your interviewer that you are not confident in what you've done, but at the same time if you go overboard and feel like bragging they might get annoyed. Find a nice balance of talking about yourself without sounding arrogant. And if you don't know the answer to a question, say so! interviewers will respect your honesty and candor.
Preparing answers for tough questions can be a daunting task. However, if you take the time to reflect on your experiences and come up with a solid game plan, you'll be in good shape to tackle any question that comes your way. Remember, interviewers, are just people too. They want to get to know you as well as they can so they can make an informed decision about whether or not you might be a good fit for their team and vice-versa. Preparing answers for tough questions is something that I wish someone would have told me before my first interview. Here are a few examples of questions that the interviewer might ask you:
- tell me about your background, interests, and why do you think this would be a good place for you
- tell me about a time when you had to deal with difficult team dynamics and how you handled that
- give me an example of when you had to be a leader in the workplace
- tell me about a time when you failed at something
- tell me about a time when you received feedback you disagreed with
What do they all have in common? They're all open-ended questions which means that there isn't just one right answer. The best way to prepare for these kinds of questions is to think about real examples from work or school that illustrate your key characteristics.
In addition to knowing yourself, it is essential that you know about the lab and team you are interviewing with! This means doing your research on their website, reading recent research articles, or watching a video or two of their various publicly available talks. Unprepared candidates who don't know much or anything about the work that's being done in the lab/setting they're interviewing for definitely don't make the best impression.
A lot of what goes into these interviews has to do with your body language, both in-person and online if you're interviewing via video conference. Are you sitting up straight with good posture? Are you making eye contact? Are you subtly smiling while chatting with the interviewers? All of these things communicate to the interviewers that you're interested in the conversation and that you're taking the interview seriously. It's also important to be aware of your surroundings and who else is in the room with you. Don't have any loud noises or people walking by in the background, and make sure that your computer isn't going to glitch and that it has enough battery. Your cellphone should be muted and ideally not connected to your laptop as background notifications might transfer from your phone to your laptop in real-time (yep, those incoming messages that ding, we can hear those).
So, if you're a college student who is preparing for an interview for a research assistant position, remember to do your homework on the lab/research team and have some real-life examples of times when you demonstrated key qualities that they might be looking for. Stay calm, confident, honest, and distraction-free during the interview, and you'll definitely impress the interviewers.