How to Make Your Team Stand Out When Interviewing Prospective Students
It’s student interview season, which likely means your Fridays will be filled with 30-minute sessions with bright eyed young scholars hoping to secure a slot in your program and maybe with your research team. What can you do to help your lab and your institution stand out to prospective candidates in just 30 minutes?
Having served on admissions committees galore, I’ve assembled a few ideas to help new faculty (and perhaps remind more senior faculty) how to get the most out of your time.
- Set up a timer on your computer to go off 5 minutes before the interviewee arrives and use this time to take your bag off your interviewees chair, check your teeth for residual poppy seeds from your bagel, and run to the restroom as needed. Psychologists who study such things claim that you make lasting impression on people within the first millisecond of meeting them. Okay, I’m making that up. But really, think about it. How many interviewees come into your office as you are frantically trying to get another sentence crammed into your grant or running into the interview from another meeting? These things give the impression you are too busy and may not be available for trainees. Let’s not be those mentors.
- Firm handshake, eye contact and preparation . Unless you are the Queen of England, stand up, smile, greet your candidate by name, give a firm handshake and thank the person who dropped them off. Before you let their escort take off, make sure that there is a plan to pick up or transport the student to their next appointment.
- Don’t sit down….yet! Once you’ve established yourself as someone who is actually going to be intellectually present for the interview, make sure your prospective student is also comfortable. Before anyone sits down, I always ask folks if they need to a restroom or would like a water or a coffee. It’s uncomfortable enough to interview, but having to interview with a full bladder is one of Dante’s circles of hell.
- Jump into talking about your science or clinical practice. I am a fan of minimizing chit chat and getting into science. By the time interviewees get to your door, they have researched who you are and what you do. Not talking about your work is a wasted opportunity. I try to spend at least half of my interview time talking to applicants about what we are doing.
Prepare your pitch. Every January, I put about 30 packets of information together for prospective trainees. I buy some bedazzled cat themed folders (see cool one on the right) and include
- A recent review from our group
- Our most recent publication
- A print out of the first page of our lab’s website
- My business card
- The awesome graphic below (or something like it)
My go-to person (Evan Hartmann, you’re the best) to tame my mental mayhem made this for my last grant. Look at how dang pretty this workflow is! Don’t you want to study chaperone mediated neuroprotection? Who wouldn’t! You better believe this snazzy thing is in applicants folders.
- Listen up and take notes. Most students won’t redirect to their application or experience, but I try hard to pull out parts of their record, statement and letters of recommendation and pivot the conversation back to them. While they are talking, I take notes. Nothing says you are interested in what someone is talking about like taking notes. It also helps when you are getting up in years and your can’t remember all the things anymore.
- Close like a champ. Handing off students to the next faculty member, I make sure to ask candidates to reach out to me if they have follow up questions and keep me in the loop on their decision. (Sidenote: Everyone loves a student who drops a thank you email post interview).
There are lots of support staff who are running around planning these student visits and making them work harder by hunting you down is no fun. Be nice to them and get your evals in fast. Protip: Whenever possible, I build another 15 minutes into my calendar to fill out their evaluations right after they leave.
Have fun, get your cat folders ready, and be kind. Interviewing is sort of nerve wracking for our soon to be scientists and clinicians and your hospitality and interest goes a long way in a hypercompetitive landscape!
Any other protips to make the most of interviews? Do tell!!