May 012014

I found Skype interviews (with videos) to be very effective in screening applicants. An hour of Skype investment can save whole day processes. Through these interviews, I found some common issues with candidates that I would like to discuss in this blog. Hopefully it will help future candidates to better prepare a Skype interview.

    The day before or a few hours before the Skype meeting, the candidate should send an email with his/her CV and presentation slides. The presentation slides should summarize the candidate’s previous research work, and present one good study in more details. The total time of the presentation should be about 20 min.
    The meeting starts with the candidate checking with the faculty that s/he has received all the application material and reference letters. If there are any letters missing, s/he should follow up with his references after the meeting to get those letters sent.
    The first 20-25 min will be spent on the candidate going through the presentation on his/her previous work. This will show case the candidate’s technical and communication skills.
    The next 20 min is often on discussing the current research in the faculty’s lab. This includes discussion on the faculty’s published work, for which the candidate can ask for clarifications or questions. The candidate should do his due diligence, and shows that s/he has a good mastery of the faculty’s published work. The discussion also includes the faculty explaining the recent unpublished results in the lab, which will show case some of the most exciting projects and opportunities in the lab.
    The last 15 min will be about an area or a project that the postdoc plans to do in the faculty’s lab during his/her postdoc period. It should be an area of great interest to both the candidate and the faculty, can use the candidate / faculty’s existing expertise, but allow both (especially the postdoc) to expand his expertise, learn new things, and make an impact. It is very likely that depending on new technology development, resources or other opportunities, the postdoc might end up doing something different from the one he proposed initially. However, having this discussion during the interview demonstrate the candidate’s ability for independent and critical thinking, and the ability to identify good problems to solve.

In summary, candidates should not treat a Skype interview as an hour of free chat. Instead should read, think, and prepare well, to allow the candidate and faculty to learn most about each other in a short time. This not only allows the faculty to better evaluate a candidate, but also should be a beneficial experience for the candidate in learning and planning his future work.