Technical Interviews for Scientists

Scientists working in a chemical lab.What is a technical interview?

The employer knows you have a scientific brain. They wouldn’t be interviewing you otherwise.

A technical interview is conducted just to confirm your scientific knowledge as well as your logical and analytical approach to work. Every organisation will have its own technical interview structure but with strong preparation, there is nothing to fear.

What questions are asked at a technical interview?

Academic

It is highly likely that they will ask you about specific university projects or modules connected to the role so it would be a good idea to go over all your related research, assignments and groupwork.

Knowing the competencies they are looking for is also useful here. If, for example, they are looking for someone with attention-to-detail skills, then ensure you highlight this while talking about a module or assignment.

When discussing a piece of academic work, ensure that you demonstrate a logical and analytical approach with a defined result. Try not to use jargon as not all of your audience may necessarily be specialists- this will also show your communication skills. It would help if you could find out the background of your interviewer(s) so that you can tailor your approach.

Examples:

  • How would you transfer your academic knowledge into a company setting?
  • What transferable skills can you bring to the role from your project about XXXXXX?
  • How did you organise your time during the XXXXXX project?
  • What scientific considerations did you take into account when undertaking the XXXXXXX project?

 

Scientific knowledge

Make sure you are aware of any specific techniques or processes related to the position. If you have never used some of the processes or equipment for the position, you could certainly still research these areas to show your understanding and desire to learn.

They may also provide you with a scientific project related to the role and asks you to talk about it. As a result, it would be useful to familiarise yourself as much as possible with the company’s operations.

Example questions:

  • How would you learn about a process/technique related to the role which you may never have encountered before?
  • How do you continuously improve your area of scientific knowledge?

 

Industry

It is also possible that you will be asked about the company’s activities and scientific research. Be sure to also highlight the organisation’s values which are normally detailed on their website. If, for example, they state the importance of sustainability, then mention this while discussing your knowledge of the organisation.

It would also be useful to look at what factors are affecting their industry e.g. scientific breakthroughs, research, regulations, cost of raw materials.

Example questions:

  • What differences do you think there are between undertaking a project in an academic and industrial setting?
  • Who are the main players in our industry?
  • What scientific and/or non-scientific factors that affect our industry

 

What if I can’t answer a question?

Technical interviewers may really try to test you to the limits of your scientific knowledge. As a result, if you cannot answer a question, ask for clarification or state what you do know in a logical manner. Some questions are asked with the full knowledge that the candidate is unlikely to know the answer. Despite this, your approach or ideas are still highly valuable with regards to their assessment of your scientific potential.

…and finally

As with all interviews, don’t forget to ask them questions at the end. Technical queries you have regarding their processes, products or operations will show you are interested and really want the role.

 

by Pablo Costa
Careers Consultant
The University of Manchester Careers Service

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