A postdoc interview allows a PI to determine if you’re a good fit for the project and the lab. While you cannot predict the exact questions they will ask you, certain topics are almost inevitable. Here’s an idea of the kinds of questions you can expect and how to prepare for them.
1. Tell us about yourself
This is a popular opener for just about any type of interview. It’s meant to be an easy icebreaker, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a wrong answer. Make sure that your response is relevant to the context of a postdoc interview. Talk about your PhD research or current position and briefly mention the common areas of interest between your past work and this postdoc. You don’t have to get into the details at this point, just give an overview.
2. Why are you interested in this postdoc position?
Explain what drew you to this position. Was it the project, the PI, the lab or something else? Was it on a personal recommendation from one of the PI’s past collaborators? Whatever your reason, be ready to discuss it in detail. For example, if you applied to this postdoc because it’s in a great lab you should also mention some of the lab’s previous work or publications that you are interested in.
3. What areas of our research are you most interested in and why?
Your answer to this question will help the PU determine whether you just want a job or whether you actually want this job. Research the lab beforehand and practice your answer. How does what they do align with your past work or with what you want to work on now?
4. What skills and experience can you bring to this project?
Yes, the PI has read your CV and cover letter, but this question allows you to draw their attention to specific qualifications or skills that might not be obvious. Talk about techniques, skills, and protocols you have used in your past research and how they will be applicable to the postdoc project. This question also allows you to show the PI that you understand the project and what it entails.
5. How would you seek funding for your work?
Even if the position is fully funded, postdocs are still encouraged to apply for external grants and fellowships. Winning grants will add to your CV, reduce your cost to the lab, and set you up to earn bigger grants as a PI. Your answer to this question should show that you are aware of the major funding bodies of the field and region and also mention any past grants you have won.
6. What difficulties would you expect to encounter during this project?
This is another opportunity to show that you understand the proposed project and have given thought to what you would do if you got the job. Be honest about where you see potential difficulties, but more importantly discuss how you would work through them.
7. Describe a situation where you input made a difference.
As a postdoc, you will be in a more senior position in the lab and will be expected to actively contribute your expertise. Choose an example where your opinion changed the outcome of a project or experiment. Explain how you were able to back up your opinion and how exactly it led to a positive result.
8. Tell us about a time you experienced a setback.
No matter how carefully you plan, no project goes off without a hitch. The PI wants to know that you are a capable problem solver and won’t give up when something goes wrong. Use an example from your PhD research that shows that you have the resourcefulness to overcome setbacks on your own.
9. Why do you hope to gain from the postdoc experience?
This is another way to suss out your motivations for doing a postdoc and understand your career plans. The PI is going to spend years mentoring and training you so they want to know how you will benefit from their guidance. Someone with a clear goal in mind is likely to be more committed to the postdoc project. Explain how the specific skill you will gain in this particular position will help you get your next position.
10. Do you have any questions about the postdoc?
Remember that this interview goes both ways. It is important that you have some questions to ask the PI to show your engagement and the serious consideration you are giving the position. A postdoc is a multiyear position. Think about what is important to you and what would make or break your decision to work with this PI. If you’re not sure what to ask, take a look at our list of 10 questions to ask during a postdoc interview.
The interview is your time to shine, and being prepared will allow you to do just that.