In recent times I’ve been asked to be a member of several interview committees – most likely as the token woman, I admit. The difficulties women have in being chosen due to unconscious bias are well documented and there is a lot of advise available for interview panels, see for example:
There is of course much that can be done by administrators supporting panels, but I would like here to address the candidates themselves and give them some well-meaning suggestions. I find that many women just don’t help themselves, maybe from lack of training and mentoring before being interviewed. Here are my thoughts:
Be in the right frame of mind
I’ve noticed that women often seem very surprised by questions, and spend some time resetting their mind between questions – much more so than men. It seems that they often come to the interview expecting a friendly chat, rather than a formal situation where each member of the panel has been given a specific question that they ask all of the interviewees. Maybe they even get this impression from the first few minutes of the interview, where the chair often makes some chatty comments to put the candidate at ease. And sometimes the chair makes more of an effort to put a female candidate at ease then a male candidate. Being put at ease does not mean the interview will be informal. The answers to questions will be marked and compared to others. The panel may well like you best, but will make the choice based on objective criteria.
Be subject- prepared
While the short-list is often made by looking at say publications, or undergraduate degree classifications, or an in-depth talk given by candidates, the interview is often broad and covers a variety of items – for academic jobs, these might be communication skills, fit with the environment of work, knowledge of whole discipline rather than field of work. Spending some time in researching the organisation or the department where one would be placed is crucial, but alas quite often it seems female candidates don’t seem to do some background work. Questions that are often asked are: why did you apply for this job? Who would you collaborate with if you came here? These require some preparation.
Be explicit about your contributions
The panel wants to know if you have the required abilities and skills and they need to tick the items in their list. Even if the question is more general, if you have done something that contributed to the area, then talk about it. Of course, there is a fine balance between stating facts and showing off, and this balance is (I think) more difficult for a woman to find. Nevertheless, it is not enough to explain that you are interested in something, but that you have evidence that you have engaged with the topic.
Be prepared with your questions
Interviews often end with the chair turning things around and asking the interviewee if they have a question. Use this opportunity well – it is not a chance to ask some trivial question, that you can get the answer from looking at the web pages or such – but more a chance to show your own critical engagement with the opportunity. If you plan to eventually work in industry – what further training or networking opportunities would be available? If you plan to apply to a specific kind of follow-up grant, how much support would you have for that? Again, one shouldn’t be fooled by the informal tone of the question – it is still something that the panel uses to gather evidence for them to justify their decision!