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5 Ways PhDs Sabotage Interviews & Lose Out On Job Opportunities


Contributing Author: Aditya Sharma Ph.D.

I was a perfect fit for the position.

It felt like the role had been made just for me.

Putting together my resume was easy because my skills, both transferable and technical, lined up really well with the job description.

I even had a referral at the company so I knew my resume would be seen by the hiring manager.

I submitted my resume with confidence.

This was going to be a great role for me where I could leverage the things I learned in my PhD and move in the career direction I wanted.

It was my dream position.

I wasn’t surprised when 2 weeks later I was called in for an interview.

But, the same day as I was invited to the interview I received a job offer for a different position!

This position sounded great too and the salary they offered was good.

I told the company who gave me an offer that I needed a few days to think it over, in the meantime, I went to the interview for my dream position.

The interview was long, nearly 6 hours.

I wasn’t prepared for this and I think that my tiredness showed a little near the end of the day.

They also asked me if I was pursuing other jobs and I told them yes, I had an offer from another company that I was considering.

Overall the conversation at the interview was good and I thought it went well.

But the next morning, in my email, there is was the rejection letter.

They decided to move forward with someone else.

What happened?

I had all the qualifications and interacted with the team well.

I asked for feedback and the hiring manager said that they were looking for someone who was really excited to join their team.

They wanted someone who was committed to their company and they didn’t feel like I was that person.


This was a big lesson.

In the end, I wasn’t the only one they thought would be a good fit and there was someone else who showed more enthusiasm for the role than me so they got the job.

Your Industry Interview Is Your Last Chance To Shine

In the current market, hiring is way up.

The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been for 50 years and according to Execu-Search 55% of candidates were interviewing for more than one position at a time.

It is a candidate driven market.

But, those hiring managers are still making the choice about whether or not to hire you.

Once you are at the interview it’s your chance to prove that you are a great person to work with.

They know you are qualified, that’s why you are at the interview, what the don’t know is whether you will be a good fit for the company.

A Jobvite survey found that 49% hiring managers rated conversational skills as most likely to influence hiring decision at an in person interview, reported by Devskiller.

Hiring managers are placing your ability to have a conversation and communicate as a key factor in whether or not they hire you.

The employer is thinking well beyond your technical skills once you are at an interview and you need to realize this.

How are you preparing to shine at your next interview?

Avoid These 5 Interviewing Ruining Mistakes

At the interview stage the employer already knows you are qualified.

They have seen your resume.

What they want to learn is whether or not you will fit with the team.

Can you communicate clearly?

Are you enjoyable to be around?

More than anything the interview is where the employer creates space for you to screw up.

Whether the interview is long or just an hour, in that time they will be looking for any red flags in your answers and behavior.

And there are a few key mistakes that PhDs make over and over again.

Don’t make these 5 interview ruining mistakes at your next industry interview…

1. Wavering in your commitment to the role.

No matter what.

The number one thing employers are looking for is whether or not you waiver in your commitment to working for them or accepting the job offer.

You need to convey that you want this job more than anything else.

You have to convince the people sitting across from you that you want this job more than any other.

Now, every job has pros and cons.

Sure there might be some things about a role that you don’t like and you might be interviewing for other positions.

Stop thinking so literally.

You applied for this job for a reason and during an interview you need to keep this in your mind.

When you are in the interview you need to focus on the positives of this role, the pros.

Forget about the cons, they don’t matter during an interview.

By focusing on those positives you will be able to create the perception that you want this job more than any other job.

Don’t lie, just focusing in on the reasons why you do want this job so that you can persuade the interviewer that you want the position.

Additionally, showing your commitment to the position will show confidence.

You need to go all in.

If you are only half committed the interviewers will be able to tell and you will not get hired.

Show conviction in your abilities by stating clearly that yes, you want this job and that you will do an excellent job.

Employers might try to test you on this by asking about other roles at the company.

They might say, “Would you be interested in xyz position as well?”

Don’t say yes.

This will show them you are not decisive and that you don’t actually have a passion for the position you are interviewing for.

Instead, show your commitment to the current position.

A great way to answer that is to say something like, “Of course, once at a company I would love to help out wherever is needed and wear many hats. But I am here to interview for this position because I am a perfect fit for it because of xyz reasons.”

The interviewers might ask if you are interviewing for other positions.

It’s okay to say yes if this is true, BUT you need to follow that by saying, “This role is my number on choice, for xyz reasons.”

2. Focusing on your ‘prestigious’ accomplishments.

Your pragmatic side just wants to get things done.

It’s the researcher in you, driven by data and asking questions. You want to get to the result.

Your other side, your prestigious side, wants to ‘look good’ and gives extra value to things that it sees as ‘better’.

A great example of this is a professor who thinks that the only worthwhile research is done in academia.

The thing to know about this dichotomy is that in industry they only care about your pragmatic side.

In industry they only care about whether you can get the job done or not.

So, when the interviewer asks you tell them about you, or they ask about your research, don’t launch into some prestigious explanation.

They don’t care if you’ve been published in xyz journal or worked for xyz professor, they care about results.

This means that you need to tie everything back to a result.

Be pragmatic.

Show them that you know how to get things done.

If you did go to a prestigious school, it’s written down on your resume, bringing it up will only make you look arrogant.

Leave your prestigious side at the door, it will get in the way of your job search progress.

3. Lacking excitement & enthusiasm.

If you are at an on site interview you need to be enthusiastic the entire time.

Yes, a site visit might be an entire day long.

You might meet with 20 people.

No matter how much is going on, be enthusiastic the whole time.

An interview is your ONE chance to make an impression, so, go all in and give it everything you’ve got.

Even if you are introverted and you find it hard to be ‘on’ for the whole day you need to figure out a way to do this.

If you can’t do this for just one day, how will you do it for months and years at that company?

They need to know that you will make a great employee who is excited about coming to work.

It’s not really possible to be too enthusiastic.

They want to know that you are eager to get into this position, that you are listening and engaged.

You might be asked the same question more than once, answer it thoughtfully each time.

Show your communication skills, show your energy, show your patience.

You want to show up to this interview as the very best version of yourself.

If you think that maintaining your energy will be difficult for a full day interview, take the steps to prepare yourself before hand.

Get a good night’s rest.

Drink lots of water.

Meditate, do yoga, go for a walk – whatever it is that calms and energizes you – do it so that you can be at your best.

4. Being way too literal.

If someone asks you a question, realize that the way you answer is open to interpretation.

You need to address the question, but many PhDs think too literally in the way that they answer.

A great example of this, is when you are asked what did you accomplish.

The literal PhD answer is that you alone accomplished nothing, you don’t want to take credit for the projects you worked on.

This isn’t going to help you get hired.

You need to change this way of thinking.

Even if you played a small role in a project or result you can talk about that as something you accomplished.

Of course don’t lie and say you did it all alone, but take credit for your role in the project.

When an employer asks a question like this, they are trying to see that you understand what a result is and that you can communicate clearly what you have done.

This is not a peer review session.

Stop thinking about everything in black and white and find the shades of grey that will allow you to answer a question meaningfully.

Take off your publication hat and instead be open minded and conversational.

They are not trying to catch you in saying something wrong, they just want to learn about you and decide if you are a good fit for the role.

5. Not relating your skills to the questions they ask.

It is highly unlikely that you will find a role where you are an expert in every single skill that the employer wants you to have.

Employers know this.

But, you need to show they that you are capable of learning the specific skills they want or that you know how to do something similar.

This is where relevancy comes in.

It is essential that you are able to talk about the skills you have in a way that is relevant to the job.

If you just list or describe the tasks that you have done, this does not give the employers confidence that you can do the job.

You need to talk about a skill you have and then relate back to something that you know they want in a new hire.

For example, if you have some experience managing projects (which you do as a PhD) don’t just say “I was responsible for my own project.”

Instead, say “As a PhD student I was responsible for managing my entire project, including timelines and resources. I used my skills in project management to finish my PhD on time and with x number of publications. I would apply this same rigour to the way I manage projects in xyz role.”

Always circle back to how you will be a good fit for the position you are applying for.

If you’ve been selected for an interview the employer knows you have the skills to do the job. They are interviewing you to see if they want to work with you. To see if you fit in and if you can communicate in person. It’s the last step for them to weed out the candidates they don’t want and it’s your last chance to shine. Don’t screw it up by wavering in your commitment to the role, focusing on your ‘prestigious’ accomplishments, lacking excitement & enthusiasm, being way too literal, and not relating your skills to the questions they ask.

To learn more about the 5 Ways PhDs Sabotage Interviews & Lose Out On Job Opportunities, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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Aditya Sharma, PhD


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