Cheeky Logo
Ready To Get Hired?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

6 Colossal Interview Blunders That PhDs Routinely Make

When I started my industry job search, I thought interviews were merely a formality. Walking in the door, I was sure I already had the job.

But so many times, I walked into an interview full of confidence and walked out feeling hopeless and confused.

I was clearly botching my interviews, but I had no way of knowing where I was going wrong.

When I aired my frustration to a friend of mine in talent acquisition, she told me what hiring managers really care about. It was then that I realized my blunders.

It wasn’t that I was unqualified or not experienced enough. I wasn’t offered the job because of the way I acted in the interview itself.

Evidently, my body language was all wrong. I also failed to understand the importance of doing my research on the company ahead of time.

After making a few small tweaks to how I presented myself and how I answered questions, I started seeing results. I was finally getting job offers!

Another Cheeky Scientist member recently shared how their preparedness got them through a stressful interview situation:

“In one interview, I was hit with a ton of technical questions that I had not prepared for. But I had done my research on the company and their product.

After I received a job offer, the interviewer told me that my knowledge about the company is what set me apart from the other candidates. It was a really good to feel so prepared! It gave me the confidence under a pretty stressful situation.

Thank you Cheekies! I can hands-down say this was because of your teachings!”

In An Industry Interview, You Have Exactly 90 Seconds To Make A Good Impression

The average industry interview is 40 minutes long; however, a survey conducted by Undercover Recruiter found that one-third of recruiters know within the first 90 seconds whether they will recommend someone for a job.

Some studies have even found that hiring managers make up their mind in less than 10 seconds!

This means you have mere seconds to convince someone that you’re the best person for the job – so you better be well-prepared!

But what could possibly go so wrong in so little time?

There are many reasons recruiters and hiring managers reject a job candidate.

In fact, 67% of job candidates get rejected due to lack of eye contact; 55% because they had little or no knowledge of the company; 47% due to a lack of confidence or smile; and 33% because of bad posture or a weak handshake.

With so many companies struggling to find talent, there isn’t any reason why you – a highly-educated and highly-qualified individual – can’t get hired into industry.

6 Avoidable Interview Mistakes That Hold You Back From Your Ideal Industry Job (And What To Do Instead)

If you’ve been offered an industry interview, you should be ecstatic – filled with both anticipation and excitement…right?

But, if instead, you’re filled with dread and worry, think about why this is.

Are you nervous because you don’t know what questions they’ll ask? Are you losing sleep at night because you don’t feel like you’re qualified for the job?

At the heart of most interview dread is a lack of preparedness.

The good news is you can hone your interviewing skills and improve your preparedness through practice.

This starts with addressing your blunders.

Today, I’ll discuss 6 very avoidable blunders that PhDs make that keep them from landing their dream job in industry.

Blunder #1: Not understanding the hiring funnel.

Do you know what happens after you submit a job application? Probably not.

After hitting the send button, all you can do is wait.

But what’s happening behind the scenes? 

The ways by which companies find quality job candidates can vary considerably; however, what remains consistent, no matter the company, is the overall hiring and interview process.

A process better known as the hiring funnel.

There are four stages of the hiring funnel.

The first stage is resume acquisition. After posting an open position – whether it be on their website, LinkedIn, or another online portal – companies are inundated with resumes.

In fact, the average company receives over 500 resumes for every open position. And for corporate giants like Pfizer, Google, and Dow Chemical, this number can reach up to 2000.

For one single job!

Companies certainly aren’t going to interview hundreds – or thousands – of job applicants. So, to reduce the pool of candidates, companies employ a variety of screening methods.

Some use automated Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), some have in-house talent acquisition teams, while others may outsource their hiring to recruiting companies.

No matter the method, what remains consistent is the number of applicants companies move forward with to the next stage of the hiring process: the phone interview.

Out of hundreds of applicants, only 12 to 15 candidates are invited for a phone screen. On a good day, that’s still less than 10% of the applicant pool!

So, if you get a phone interview you’ve already beaten substantial odds.

From there, the funnel narrows even more.

Once all remaining candidates have been through a phone screen, hiring managers then determine which candidates they want to invite for a video interview.

Typically, only 4 to 5 people make it to this stage. So again, if you’re called for a video interview, recognize that you’re one of only a handful of candidates to make it this far.  

Don’t take it for granted.

Also realize that companies frequently conduct several rounds of video interviews before finalizing their list of top candidates.

So you’re not off the hook after one video interview.

The final stage of the hiring funnel is typically the on-site visit. A standard on-site visit lasts the entire day and consists of numerous interviews – sometimes, upwards of 5 to 6.

Only 1 or 2 candidates are invited for an on-site visit. That’s because on-site interviews are expensive and time consuming.

If you get an on-site interview, a company is seriously considering you – don’t botch the opportunity.

To get hired in industry, you must see the hiring funnel from the employer’s point of view. The more you understand about the interview process, the more prepared you can be for those critical moments that catch so many PhDs off guard.

Blunder #2: Making a bad first impression

Like I mentioned earlier, the typical interview lasts around 40 minutes. But, the first 90 seconds of the interview are the most critical.

That’s because it only takes many hiring managers 90 seconds to determine if they are going to recommend you for the job.

This doesn’t seem fair – but fair or not, it’s something you should be aware of and be prepared for.

So, what can you do to impress your interviewer within the first few moments of your interview?

For one, make sure you dress appropriately and professionally. If your clothing is sloppy, disheveled, or too casual, it sends the message that you’re also sloppy, disheveled, and unprofessional in your work.

A firm handshake accompanied by a smile also goes a long way. Always ensure to make eye contact with the interviewer as well.

These may seem obvious, but you would be amazed at how many people fail their interview because they dressed poorly, didn’t make eye contact, or had a weak handshake.

You also want to show your potential employer that you’re confident. Avoid any body language that conveys self-doubt or nervousness such as crossing your arms, putting your hands in your pockets, touching your face, or fidgeting.

Within the first 90 seconds there’s only one or two questions that are frequently asked:

How are you today? And Can you tell me a little about yourself?

These seemingly innocuous questions open the lines of communication and can also tell the interviewer a lot about you as a person.

To answer the question ‘How are you?’, keep it simple. You can just say ‘Perfect!’ or ‘I’m perfect, thank you. How are you?’.

For the question ‘Can you tell me a little about yourself?’, you should always use your elevator pitch. Many PhDs make the mistake of rambling on because they don’t know how to answer such an open-ended question.

So, come prepared with a concise 5- to 10-second-long pitch about who you are. It is sure to impress your interviewers.

Overall, first impressions are everything – appropriate attire, a good handshake, voice, tonality and positive body language will set you up for success.

Blunder #3: Not preparing an elevator pitch

Many PhDs tend to overthink their response when asked to share something about themselves. A million thoughts enter their mind.

Where do I start? Do they want to know about me professionally? Should I say anything about me personally?

To avoid rambling on about your love of French cooking or providing your life story, prepare an elevator pitch and perfect it through practice – convey who you are and why they should care.

Share something about you professionally. Provide a touch of humanity by also describing something about you personally – like a hobby or an interest.  

You should also demonstrate your interest in the role and describe what your ultimate goals are. It should be about something outside or larger than yourself.

For example, you could say: I’m an immunologist and I love camping on the weekends. I want to be a project manager (or whatever the role is) because I’d really like to see my scientific knowledge translated into products that help people.

Write out your elevator pitch and practice it out loud. Over time, it will become second nature.

Master this and you’ll not only leave a good first impression, but you’ll set up the rest of your interview for success.

Blunder #4: Not doing the homework.

Another all-too-common reason many people, PhDs included, fail an interview is because they don’t know anything about the company.

During an interview, many employers will ask some version of ‘What do you know about our company?’

If you walk into an interview having no clue about what the company does, the job description, or your reasons for applying (other than you need a job), then you haven’t done your homework.

Before an interview, find out everything you can about the company. Identify their mission, their values, and their goals. Learn about any recent mergers or acquisitions.

This information not only helps you answer questions pertaining to the company, but it also helps you determine if a company is a good cultural fit for you.

Maintaining a good company culture is vital to the success of a business, therefore, it’s critical they hire the right people.

That means companies will be vetting you – your goals and your values – throughout the interview process to ensure it’s a good match.

If you can show that you’re knowledgeable about the company, understand what’s important to them, and can describe how you’ll provide further value to their mission, then you’re bound to leave a good impression.

Blunder #5: Neglecting the STAR method

Before an interview, there is only so much you can prepare. That’s because there’s no way of knowing what kind of questions you’ll be asked.

Like the Cheeky Scientist member above, you can prepare to answer all the standard behavioral questions, only to be thrown a curve ball – one that includes a long list of highly technical questions.

But, like this Cheeky member, if you have a solid understanding of the company along with a standard method of answering tough questions, you will stand out amongst the applicants.

One of the most tried and true methods for answering interview questions is the STAR method.

STAR stands for situation, task, action, and results.

When asked a question, you want to set up your answer in this order. Start by describing a previous work situation that pertains to the question.

Then, talk about what you were tasked with in this particular situation along with the specific actions you took.

And lastly, discuss the end result. When doing so, it’s best to mention quantifiable results – money obtained, number of projects completed, etc.

For example: ‘In my current role as a project manager , I am responsible for managing 3 cutting-edge early-concept projects where I lead a team of 30 people, ensuring that deadlines are met and quality is retained. As a result, my company recently received a $500,000 innovation grant based on their contribution to the field of cancer research’.

No matter what question is thrown at you, you can effectively answer by using this format and ensuring to emphasize not just your technical know-how but also your transferable skills.

Blunder #6: Disengaging and not asking questions

I get it – interviews are exhausting. Especially if they’re an all-day event.

But the fastest way to land yourself on the rejection list is to disengage and/or fail to show interest during an interview.

People feed off your energy. If you’re upbeat, enthusiastic, and genuinely happy to be there, the interviewer will likely reciprocate these feelings.

They then, in turn, will be enthusiastic about you.

So, during your interview, remain engaged. Smile, nod when they speak, ensure to face towards them at all times and maintain eye contact (in a not-so-creepy way).

Also, make sure you’re asking questions of them. This redirects the focus towards them and gives you a moment to breath while showing them your interest in the company.

It’s also the best way to learn more about the company and the role.

Ask about their current role, how they got there, what the culture at the company is like, how teams are structured – and the list goes on.

An interview is not just a way of assessing your skills – it’s also to see what it’s like to work alongside you.

If you’re disengaged, uninterested, and have one foot out the door the whole interview, no one will want to work with you.

Concluding Remarks

Interviewing is tough. I don’t know anyone that enjoys it. But interviewing well is the only way to land your ideal job in industry. An effective interview starts with a great first impression. Oftentimes, your fate is decided within the first few seconds of the interview. You have to put your best foot forward. So, make sure you dress and carry yourself professionally. Ensure to remain engaged, open, and enthusiastic. You also have to come prepared. Perfect your elevator pitch and practice the STAR method until all of it becomes second nature. Interviewing is not a talent; it’s a skill. One that can be mastered and result in a long and successful career in industry.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly



Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by millions of PhDs and other professionals in hundreds of different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published 3X bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Similar Articles

5 Interview Questions PhDs Always Get (and 5 Questions They Should Ask Employers)

5 Interview Questions PhDs Always Get (and 5 Questions They Should Ask Employers)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

By the time I started my industry job search, I was desperate. I was nearing the end of my PhD and my proverbial plate had never felt so full. Between final experiments, last drafts, and defense presentations, I had dedicated virtually no time to my job search. The little effort and time I was able put into it felt very arbitrary and unfocused I wasn’t even sure what job I wanted. All I knew was that I needed a job – and fast. Needless to say, when I finally did find myself seated in front of a hiring manager, I…

How PhDs Can Avoid The Overqualified Label To Get Hired

How PhDs Can Avoid The Overqualified Label To Get Hired

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“We regret to inform you that we will not be moving forward with your application due to concerns that your qualifications exceed those required for the role.  We feel it would not be a good fit. Thank you for applying.”  Oof, that’s part of a rejection email a PhD sent me. An employer had sent it to them after the first interview.  Another PhD told me this recently… “I feel like I’m both overqualified and underqualified for the jobs I apply to Isaiah.”  Which do you feel is more of a problem for you? I asked.  “At first I thought…

How To Answer “Why Are You Leaving Academia?” (& 4 Scientific Ways To Convince Employers To Hire You) 

How To Answer “Why Are You Leaving Academia?” (& 4 Scientific Ways To Convince Employers To Hire You) 

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“‘Why do you want to work here more than anywhere else? And why are you leaving academia?’ Those are the questions I got stuck on, Isaiah.  I told them why I liked their company, mainly because it was aligned with my values, but I also wanted to be fair and ethical so I told them that I was considering other companies. Then I explained that academia was no longer a good fit because I wanted to do more than write grants all day.”  “Okay, I replied, anything else? What did you say after that?” “I asked them a few clarifying…

Should You Apply To More Than One Job At A Company? (& 3 Other Tough Job Search Questions Answered)

Should You Apply To More Than One Job At A Company? (& 3 Other Tough Job Search Questions Answered)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Isaiah, I applied to ThermoFisher two weeks ago and a hiring manager got in touch with me and I had my first interview…. But then a second hiring manager reached out to me about another job I applied to there.  I started talking to this second manager and they asked if I applied to any other positions there.  I couldn’t lie so I told them about the other job and the other hiring manager.  Now, neither of the hiring managers will get back to me.  What should I do?”  This is what a PhD told me over the phone last…

How LinkedIn Ranks Job Seekers With PhDs, EdDs & Other Degrees

How LinkedIn Ranks Job Seekers With PhDs, EdDs & Other Degrees

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“Be real Isaiah, there’s not a government bureau keeping track of how our resumes perform.”  This is what a frustrated job seeker said to me recently.  “What do you mean I have a reputation score?” they asked.  “Of course there’s not a bureau dedicated to this, at least not yet” I said.  “But you absolutely are being scored and ranked” I went on, “and your ranking is used to indicate how reputable you are as a job seeker.”  This is what I’ve explained to countless people looking for a job in today’s job market, most of whom were getting initial…

How The Academic PhD Job Market Was Destroyed

How The Academic PhD Job Market Was Destroyed

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I spent over a year looking for a job in academia and flew to multiple interviews. I didn’t get one offer.” A PhD told me this recently and many other PhDs have told me similar stories.  Of course, the stories involve more than just looking for a job for a year.  They involve living on a meager academic budget, trying to support themselves and their families, often in very expensive cities where many of the biggest universities are located.  They involve decisions to never go on a vacation, to feed their kids cheaper, less healthy food, and to work all…

Give Yourself The Gift Of Leaving Academia Forever

Give Yourself The Gift Of Leaving Academia Forever

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

My last year in academia, I didn’t have enough money to fly home for Christmas. So I spent it in Iowa City, mostly alone.  I was broke (of course) so I decided to shovel snow out of driveways for $10 per driveway. I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to be a PhD shoveling snow for money. “What I wouldn’t give to have a better job”, I thought.  That was the gift I wanted for Christmas and the holidays.  A better job.  Not to be a student or a postdoc or an academic PhD getting paid less than I was…

The Ideal Keyword Density For Targeting Your PhD Resume To An Industry Job Posting

The Ideal Keyword Density For Targeting Your PhD Resume To An Industry Job Posting

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Writing a resume for an industry job is one of the biggest sticking points I see with PhDs entering the job market.  What worked even a year ago is not working today due to recent and rapidly accelerating advances in Applicant Tracking Systems.  These systems, called ATS or just AI today, are software tools used by companies to filter resumes.  They scan for specific keywords related to the job role, abilities, credentials, and qualities desired in a candidate.  As a PhD seeking very competitive roles, including relevant keywords in your resume is essential to pass through these systems and get…

AI Is Replacing Recruiters. Here’s How PhD Job Seekers Should Adapt

AI Is Replacing Recruiters. Here’s How PhD Job Seekers Should Adapt

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I had a recruiter reach out to me, Isaiah, and after I gave them my resume and answered their questions, they never got back to me. What should I do?”  I hear this a lot.  I also hear, “Isaiah, I was on the phone with a recruiter and as soon as they heard that I needed a visa, they hung up” …”or as soon as they heard I had no industry experience, they hung up.”  Man, I personally hate this. What a waste of time. The recruitment industry is broken.  The good news is its being devoured by Artificial Intelligence,…

Here's What Others Are Saying

"I picked the Planet job! It ended up being the better fit for me... Thanks for all of your help!"

Emily Martin

Emily Martin

Hardware Systems Engineer

at Planet

"I just accepted an offer to be a Clinical Researcher Coordinator for a pain clinic near me. I'll be helping them run their clinical trial that uses a device to stimulate nerves to relieve patients pain. I start next Wednesday. So excited! I wanted to say thanks to Isaiah and all the members of the Cheeky team for your help! I really appreciate it!"

Natasha Fowler

Natasha Fowler

Clinical Research Coordinator

at Columbia Pain Management, P.C

"I am THRILLED to share that I am starting a new position... my sincerest thanks and gratitude to all the inspirational people who've I met along the way in my journey as an aspiring MSL, who helped make this happen."

Leandra Mangieri

Leandra Mangieri

Medical Science Liaison

at Allergan Aesthetics

"Hi Isaiah, I got hired yesterday!....Thanks for all of your encouragement provided by way of your presentations."

Beverly Brereton

Beverly Brereton

Compliance Manager

at Enel North America

"Aside from all the technical pieces, the comradery, I really had an excellent time at the symposium that I was in Florida, that was super helpful...having a community that takes a part in your wins and also helps you pick yourself up and dusts yourself off when you don't get those wins and that you're not alone."

Christine Lo Bue-Estes

Christine Lo Bue-Estes

Medical Communications

at NBA

"I’m excited to share that i am starting my new job as a technical support engineer at lumencor, inc. the ultimate goal is to grow potatoes on mars by 2050 and make other advaces for mankind."

 Andrii Repula

Andrii Repula

Technical Support Engineer

at Lumencor, Inc.

"Thank you for your support. I greatly benefited from your DD talks on the importance of networking on LinkedIn and resume-building tips. Your team member Meera was very helpful in building my LinkedIn Profile and resume. Thank you!"

 Taranum Sultana

Taranum Sultana

Research Administration

"I landed a dream job as a revenue management analyst at british airways."

James Washak

James Washak

Revenue Management Analyst

at British Airways

"I am happy to share I am starting a new position!"

Mary Hidde

Mary Hidde

Clinical trial manager

at Medspace

"Thank you so much for all the help. I got so much help and inspiration by joining Cheeky!"

Hasala Lokupitiya

Hasala Lokupitiya

Senior Polymer Scientist

at Lyten

"The decision is final - it is Cormetech!"

Carlos Vargas Garcia

Carlos Vargas Garcia

at Cormetech

"I'm happy to share that I’m starting a new position as an associate computational scientist at md anderson cancer center!"

James Jennings

James Jennings

Associate Computation Scientist

at MD Anderson Cancer Center

"You will not believe it..... I got them up another 60K and they changed my title!"

Ryan Hendricks

Ryan Hendricks

Project Manager, Rapid Industry Solutions: On-Set Virtual Production


"I'm happy to share that I'm starting a new position as Scientist in Pharma Division at NeoGenomics Laboratories! After all the trainings and advice I could get a 25% increase in my salary! So I’m very happy for that."

Maribel Donoso

Maribel Donoso

Scientist in Pharma Division

at NeoGenomics Laboratories

"I'm happy to share that I'm stating a new position as Medical Science Liaison at Celltrion Healthcare Co, Ltd.!"

Tammy Virdi

Tammy Virdi


at Celltrion Healthcare Co, Ltd

Top Industry Career eBooks

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.

AI & ATS Resume Filters

AI & ATS Resume Filters

Isaiah Hankel

In today's competitive job market, understanding the impact of AI is crucial for career success. This involves ensuring your resume stands out in the digital realm, mastering your online presence, and being aware of how AI assigns reputation scores. Discovering how to leverage AI to your advantage is essential, as it plays a pivotal role in shaping professional opportunities.

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.