7 tips for Success in Academic or Non-academic Interview

Oliver Drake

Oliver is recruitment specialist who specialise in recruiting to academic, research and university administration roles. Oliver has gained, over 20 year resourcing for the higher education in the UK and worldwide.

Competition for academic and professional support positions are fierce, so careful preparation is crucial if you are to excel in an interview and get that job.

Attending an interview for a position in Higher Education can be nerve-wracking but if you are going to succeed, you have to show yourself in the best light and preparation is key to that. Follow our seven tips to give yourself the best chance of success in an interview.

  1. Review the departmental website: It is critical to understand the institution and department within it that you have applied to if you are to convince the interview panel that you are the person for the job. As the National Institutes of Health’s note, you should look to get information on the department’s core offerings, its institutional mission, the research/teaching ratio, student population and faculty interests so you know as much as you can about them, including exactly what they are working on, who is in the department and how you could stand out or add skills to the team. Ensure you elaborate on your findings at interview, and explain how you resonate and can help them achieve their mission.
  • Organise a mock interview: Practice really does makes perfect and going through various scenarios in a mock interview, such as what questions could be asked, can really help. If possible, try and do a mock interview with someone who is looking for a similar sort of job or has experience of these sorts of interviews. Likewise, if you know someone who has been through interviews for academic or professional support staff talk to them about the sorts of questions you can expect to be asked.
  • Prepare great examples and articulate them clearly: Candidates for academic and professional roles can be asked to make a short presentation, and there are some golden rules here. Firstly, check before the interview what your audience is so you can pitch it at the right level. Then, put together a new presentation – don’t be tempted to use parts of old ones you may have used before. Within that, do some research to ensure that you include compelling examples, such as famous cases or the latest thinking or research in your chosen topic. But just as important is making sure that you articulate your points clearly. Again, practicing out loud before the interview can pay dividends, especially if you have a set duration for the presentation and exceeding the time limit could see you marked down. If you can, have someone to practice too, who can give advice on how you come across. Also, check before the interview what technology you will have at your disposal in the interview room and remember to bring a back-up in case your primary memory stick fails. Bringing some form of physical handouts is also recommended.
  • Check the job description/person specification: It worth re-reading the job description or person specification when you are preparing for your interview, as then you can make sure that you have evidence – such as relevant experience or research – to show your suitability for the position and any claims you made in your initial application are reinforced. Also think about your future plans – what you want to achieve professionally in the next five years, for example.
  • Read recent papers in your academic or professional area: Vitae, an organisation that supports the professional development of researchers, recommends candidates read recent papers in their research area so you are completely up to date with the latest thinking in the field. This includes reading any papers that have come out of the department you are applying to – the interview panel will be looking to see you have taken an interest in what the department does. This goes for if you are interviewing for a professional role too.
  • Ask questions: At the end of the interview you will usually be asked if you have any questions for the interview panel. This is a chance to show your interest in the department, so take the opportunity ask about the research being conducted or the expertise they have. Don’t be tempted to ask about pay and conditions – that can wait until you get a job offer from the department.
  • Get a good night’s sleep: Tempting thought it might be, don’t sit up until late trying to cram in extra information the night before your interview. Instead to try relax – maybe watch a movie or have a long, hot bath – but make sure you get an early night in order to wake up fresh the next morning and ready for the day. Likewise, have something to eat and drink before the interview so you aren’t distracted by hunger when you are in the interview room.


Office of Intramural Training & Education, National Institute of Healths. Preparing for Academic Interviews. Available at: www.training.nih.gov/assets/Preparing_for_Academic_Interviews_Handout.pdf. Last accessed: 19/10/20.

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