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The Job Interview – An Obstacle Race!

Bérénice Kimpe

Let’s take a step back in time, to your high school days. It’s Friday 2 pm, PE. Athletics is on the schedule. Among the activities – the hurdling.

Did you think it was over once you started your professional life? If so, you were wrong because it’s back now in the form of job interviews, which can be akin to an obstacle course.
Get off to a good start

First, find your position in the starting blocks. They are necessary for how you manage the race, since they are what give you the first boost forward. For the interview, your preparation is the starting blocks. That means that you must have a firm grasp on your own career and personality, but also that you know the position for which you are applying on your five fingers (its assignments and required skill set), as well as the company you’re targeting. By fully knowing and understanding these elements, you’ll be more comfortable in your interactions with the recruiter.

Once the blocks are adjusted, the starter gives the go-ahead. A word of caution: don’t make a false start, neither get behind. Show up at the starting line on time, even a bit early, for a calm reconnaissance of the premises. If you need to travel, anticipate the possibility of unexpected events, such as a transportation strike, a road accident or a technical hitch.

Getting off to a good start is also to make a good first impression: control of your stress, a honest smile, a firm handshake, eye contact … Without forgetting how you intend to introduce yourself, when the recruiter puts the infamous question: “Talk to me about yourself”. Bring out the guiding thread of your career, speak only of those experiences that are relevant for the position at hand, and conclude by showing how this position fits into your career plan.


Manage your race!


In order to pass over the hurdles efficiently, it’s important to arrive in front with the weight on the take-off foot, the one which will give you the necessary strength to jump. That implies that you foresee the right number of steps before the hurdle; adding a step at the last minute makes you fall out of pace. The landing is equally important, the winning or losing of the race depends on it.

In the case of the interview, the main consideration is to anticipate the questions a recruiter is likely to ask. These questions will concern:

  • how your profile fits the sought-for profile: “Can you tell me about a situation, where you’ve already used such or such skill?”
  • your motivation and capacity to see yourself in the position: “In the case of a development of activities, which kind of action plan would you like to implement?”
  • your will to invest in the company: “For how long do you plan to stay with us?”

By preparing for these questions, and training for how to answer them, you’ll feel more at ease. Ensure that you retain a tone of spontaneity in your reactions; the interview is also based on the interpersonal relationship!

Finally, don’t forget that the quality of your answers is crucial. Answer to the point, and only what you have been asked. If they ask about which other applications you have sent? No need to go into details and tell the names of the other companies.


Crossing the finish line


“Never ease up in your effort before having crossed the line”, your sports teacher surely hammered into you. He was entirely right; it’s possible to lose the race for relaxing a tenth of a second!

The same goes for the job interview. Even if you feel a relaxed atmosphere, that the most difficult has been passed, don’t let your guard down until you’ve left the company premises. Just as the first impression is important, the last one also marks and can reverse a positive trend. Doubts can intermingle with the previously favourable opinion the recruiter had of you. Extra advice: avoid commenting (e.g. on the phone) your interview within or close to the company; the walls might have ears!

After high level competitions, the athletes are interviewed by journalists about their performance. It’s an opportunity for them to relive the race, express their impressions, their feelings, their joys and dissatisfactions, what they need to improve for the next time …

The same goes for you. Make it a habit to go through after your interviews:

  • how did it go? Which are the good points to remember? Were there any surprising questions?  Answers you need to work on? …
  • how did you experience the interview: were you at ease or did you feel stressed? What provoked your state of mind? …

This will help you prepare for upcoming interviews more efficiently and to gain momentum.


Ready, set, GO!




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  • To facilitate the transition of PhDs (whatever their field and seniority) from academia to the private sector;
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