The day of the interview

If you are a graduate student or postdoc interviewing for non-academic jobs, here is what you need to know about how non-academic job interviews are conducted.

Before you start interviewing, make sure you can answer all these questions.

When you are invited to an interview, you may be given the name of the hiring manager, if it is not already on the job description, and the people who will interview you.  If you are, look them up on LinkedIn and Google for basic information about them and the company.  You should not yet invite them to connect on LinkedIn.

The recruiter, Human Resources (HR) staff member, or hiring manager may indicate the ordinary standard of dress for interviews.  If you are not told and believe you do not know, you may ask.  If you forget to ask, do not call the day before or, worse, the day of the interview.

Before the interview, find out if you know anyone there already through your LinkedIn contacts.  You can also ask at your university’s career center if they know of alumni who work there or who have worked there in the past; the career center’s staff may also know the organization.  You may get some information about how that organization runs its interviews.

What to bring to the interview.  Even if you submitted your résumé online, bring a few hard copies with you to the interview, but wait to be asked to hand them over.  Bring a hard-copy list of the names and contact details of your references, but wait to be asked to hand them over (their contact info does not belong on your résumé).  Even if you usually take notes on a device, bring paper and pen, as note-taking that way makes it easier to maintain eye contact with your interviewer and not get your eyes stuck on the device.

The day of the interview, show up on time.  If you are travelling to the interview, try to arrive the day before rather than the day of the interview to allow you to focus and reduce the risk of travel delays.  Make sure you know where the organization is and how to get there, and leave plenty of extra time.  Don’t arrive with takeout coffee in your hand.

Be polite and professional to everyone you encounter, including receptionist staff and security guards, who may be asked how you treated them after you leave.  If you have business cards at your current place of work, bring enough for everyone you meet.  If you do not have business cards, you do not need to have them made for the interview.

Here are some guidelines to specific questions you should and should not ask.  Typically salary and benefits, including relocation funds, are not negotiated or discussed at the interview, though your interviewer, or an HR staff member, may give a general summary (“we offer strongly competitive salary and benefits”).  In exceptional cases, you may be offered the job at the end of the interview and given a salary and benefits package.  If you are, do not accept it on the spot, however relieved you may feel to be offered an Actual Paying Job™.  Express pleasure and gratitude and ask when they would like their answer from you; take the information home and think it over and talk it over with your spouse or partner.  Then be sure to let them know via their preferred method (phone, email, signed letter) before the deadline.

At the end of the interview day, you will normally meet with a recruiter, HR staff member, or the hiring manager and will be told when you can expect to hear back; if you are not told, you may ask.  You will also normally be instructed how to apply for travel reimbursement, if any, or such smaller expenses as having your parking stub validated.  Not all firms will reimburse such smaller expenses, particularly if you are interviewing where or near where you live.  If you have been told your expenses will be reimbursed but not yet instructed how to submit reimbursement requests, you may ask.

After the interview, send a thank-you note to the hiring manager, your recruiting contact, and anyone with whom you interviewed whose contact information you have.  Email is fine; a handwritten note (blue or black ink on plain stationery) is better if your handwriting is legible.  Your tone should be professional, not fulsome.  Submit documentation for any expenses to be reimbursed promptly.

If you had good conversations with any of the people who interviewed you, you may invite them to connect on LinkedIn after the interviews .

If you do not hear from the organization by the time they told you to expect to hear back, wait until the next business day and inquire by email to the recruiting contact.  If you do not get an answer to that email, wait until a week after the deadline and email again.  If you receive another job offer and want to know where you stand with the organization that has not gotten back to you, you should call.

If you receive a job offer, review the terms carefully, especially any employment agreements concerning confidentiality and ownership of intellectual property.  If you are in any doubt about what the terms mean either legally or practically, consult an attorney.  Your institution’s career center may be able to help you review these documents as well.

Good luck!