The Hidden World of the PostDoc Interview

I thought I knew the process involved in a postdoc interview, but it is a unique experience that people don’t share enough.

Lesson #1
The one thing that was never made clear to me is that you should have an hour long talk ready to go. I was asked the night before my interview if I would be willing to give an institute wide 1-hour seminar while I was there. Unfortunately for my own professional development I politely chickened-out; I have some ACS talks of 20-25 min length but nothing prepared that would tell a cohesive story for a whole hour. Other postdocs that I have seen interview at Berkeley usually give a talk to the group they want to join, but not the big seminar talk.

Lesson #2
The interview is all day long. My day started at 9:00 am with a meeting with the professor I contacted followed by a presentation to his research group of my thesis work. Afterwards it was 1-on-1 talks with his postdocs and a lunch with the group. Which is what I expected. After lunch came meetings with the other professors in the department, an aspect of the process that I was not expecting and was more under prepared then I would have liked to be. The final meeting of the day was with the professor I initially contacted followed by more specifics on what aspects of his work was most interesting to me. The whole process ended after 5:00 pm with an early dinner.

Lesson #3
You need to wear a suit. Fortunately my friends got that into my head before the interview.

Lesson #4
The last step in the process is getting the funds. I need to apply for a fellowship to get started, but as the institute manages the fellowship program I am applying to, I was told not to worry too much about getting it.

The whole day went well, and I look forward to that next step in academia. If anyone else has gone through this process please share your experience in the comments.




  1. I was under the impression that the hour long talk is the industry standard. The whole company (or school) is invited to come and judge you. Some people are visibly uncomfortable with giving the hour-long talk in a suit. I hope your job hunting process is going well. It hasn’t been above freezing here for a week. :/

  2. Unfortunately, no one told me about this industry standard before. I think my job hunting is over, thankfully it didn’t last long.

  3. Thanks for the very informative post! I for one think that department-wide talks are kind of useless. Not the norm for post-docs at my school, in any case.

    Good luck with your new position!

  4. Hello,
    You know, when English is not your native language, this kind of experience is harder and more stress-full but it’s a part of the job…

    Enjoy in your new position

  5. When I interviewed for jobs (as a M.S.), the interviews were generally all day, though I only had to give a talk on my research at one of them. Depending on the job, it can be a very long day or not.

    Maybe the format requires less shifting back and forth for those less certain of where they are going, or the people running the processes want to know siomilar things and figure that the format is a good way to get them.

  6. After a few very stressful/awkward interviews, I received some very good advice that turned out to be surprisingly obvious . . . when you get past the phone interview, interviewers are generally extremely helpful in getting you prepared for the on-site interview. After all, they want you to efficiently and effectively show them what they want to see.

    There may or may not be a dress code, they may be willing to bend on the presentation format/length, they can tell you whether to expect a 1-2 hour visit or to set aside a full day, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask, and just try to relax. They’re real-live human beings, too. 🙂

  7. Hi everybody,

    I am in the process of preparing a Post-doc interview to a national laboratory.
    They asked me to go directly on-site, without a previous phone interview. I was asked to prepare a 20 min presentation which would be followed by 10 min questions. Then I will have meetings with 5 professors from that department.

    I see from your messages that majority of us had to prepare 1h presentation….20 min is definitely not enough to present my PhD work, so I need to be very careful in selecting what to present…

    thoughts on why my presentation has to be so short? any comments are welcome! thank you

  8. I gave a successful interview at a national lab (incidentally, quite close to Berkeley). The format was similar to what you’ve pointed out-a one hour seminar at a particular site, followed by interviews with various people. I think I felt completely alive that day, with a sense that people really valued me and my experience.

    The one hour talk was recycled from my other talks, not complete but vignettes that presented an interesting picture. It was essentially what I later gave for my defense also.

    It was a highly enjoyable and rewarding experience. I did not ask for, or get any criticism during the talk itself (which was sort of glitzy and I felt, heavy on intellectual content with some videos). However, I was to understand after my defense that although my technical content was indeed very excellent, it was important to point out clearly my own intellectual contributions to the projects that I had worked in. So be prepared to sell your work (no, it is no t nearly as ugly as it sounds- unless your work is accessible to the lay audience as would be the case with a diverse group of professors and postdocs, the audience won’t listen).

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