How to Prepare for a Non-Academic Interview

In “How to Prepare for a Non-Academic Interview” L. Maren Wood, PhD identifies the goals of a non-academic interview and strategies for how PhDs can build their own professional narrative. Maren is co-founder of Beyond the Professoriate.

The Difference in a Non-academic Interview

If you’re transitioning from an academic career to an industry career, the first thing you want to think about is what makes the interview processes different. “In academia,” begins Maren, “you are often being evaluated on your research and expertise . . . there’s a lot of opportunity for you to talk about yourself.”

The non-academic interview process, however, focuses on your skills, competencies, and overall value to the company’s goals. As such, the non-academic interview in not an opportunity for you to talk about yourself. “As the interviewee,” confirms Maren, “you need to make a case about how you can make [the organization] more awesome.”

The struggle most PhDs face is how to actually do this – how do we show we’re awesome in an entirely new scenario?

Showing Your Value as a PhD

Because non-academic careers are so diverse, it’s important to pinpoint the needs of your audience. “Start by researching the company,” Maren suggests. What is the company’s vision? How big is the company? Who are some of its competitors? Questions like these can help you “find the pieces that make you relevant to the next employer.”

Another tricky nuance about non-academic interviews, says Maren, is that “employers assume your past behavior is the best prediction for your present behavior.” The best way to navigate this reality is to control your professional narrative. Use STAR stories to help you make the connection between your past experience and current capabilities. In other words, don’t wait for employers to make a connection between your past experience and current skills themselves; you’ll need to do this work for them. STAR stands for situations, tasks, actions, and results. Use the STAR framework to highlight specific situations, the tasks they entailed, the actions you took, and the results of what you did. These STAR stories should show how your skills can translate to the current job opening and will help highlight your unique expertise.

STAR stories are also useful for sticky situations. While applying for jobs, or during an interview, you will likely run into a task or job description that falls outside of your strengths. Use these questions as opportunities to show that you can still handle the task. Maren suggests re-thinking the way you answer. You don’t want to say, “No, I’ve never done that before.” Instead, the goal is to respond in a way that highlights your ability and resourcefulness in learning new information. Be positive and proactive by using your STAR stories to emphasize tangible and relevant examples of you in action.

Be Confident in Your Abilities

Finally, before you go into your next non-academic interview, keep this important tip in mind: be you. Although the emphasis for non-academic interviews seems to be solely focused on the company’s needs, you also want to stay focused on your competencies and skills.

The STAR method is just one way you can find a happy balance between your expertise and the employer’s needs in order to showcase your unique talents.

To hear more professional tips from Jennifer and Maren, feel free to rent the video below.

Beyond the Professoriate Community Members attend events like this for free each month and access replays free for two weeks. Ready to launch your next great career? Join the Online Career Hub for PhDs.

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