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Three Key Considerations for Your Next Non-Academic Job Interview

Congratulations! You just landed your first non-academic job interview! Now what?

Unlike many academic job interviews that occur in set stages—for instance, first at a conference and then over the course of several days on campus—job interviews outside of academia can vary widely in format and details.

Here are three considerations to have in mind as you prepare for your non-academic job interview.

Key Consideration #1: Who Will Be interviewing you?

To prepare effectively, it’s important to know who will be interviewing you because the interviewers’ backgrounds will likely affect the questions they ask.

If the interviewer is in human resources, he or she will probably ask about your background, where you’ve worked previously, why you are interested in the company, and other general interview questions. A human resources professional will be less likely to prod you into sharing highly detailed technical expertise.

A future peer, however, might want to know specifics about your knowledge and experience with Java or R, for instance. Because this person might need to rely on you and work collaboratively with you, he or she will want to know you are as skilled in your knowledge domains as you claim.

Your future boss might want to learn more about your past achievements and failures and if you work well in teams. Someone in management may also ask questions about former employers to see if you speak positively or negatively about them.

In short, each interviewer’s unique experiences, concerns, and knowledge domains will inform his or her questions.

Key Consideration #2: What do the Interviewers Need to Know about your Background and Experience?

Most people—especially academics—cringe at the thought of marketing themselves. Self-promotion can feel downright uncomfortable and unnatural. Who wants to do that? Well, I would say anyone who wants a job.

When preparing for the interview, think about what the interviewers need to know about you, so they understand why you are a good fit for the position and company. Then, prepare your talking points accordingly.

Key Consideration #3: What Type of Interview Is It?

Hopefully, as soon as you receive notification of the interview, you’ll be informed of the type and duration as well. Because academics can be unfamiliar with the distinctions, I will describe each of the most common formats.

Phone Interview

The phone interview is often called a screening interview because it is conducted with an HR professional who often reviews many candidates for their qualifications and overall fit. These interviews are frequently scheduled for 20–30 minutes, but don’t be surprised if they last up to an hour if the conversation is going well. Take care beforehand to make sure your cell phone’s battery is fully charged, to check that you have good reception in the location you plan to have the call, and to dress as you would for an in-person interview because it can help you get in the right mental framework.

Video Interview

Virtual video interviews might last up to an hour (or even more) but often are scheduled for 20–30 minutes. Since you’ll be seen as well as heard, video interviews allow you to use non-verbal communication such as body language and facial expressions to show your interest and enthusiasm for the position, but many interviewees still find this method of interviewing uncomfortable. To help negate the discomfort and build confidence, conduct a mock interview or two via Zoom or Skype to make sure you are speaking clearly and looking at the camera (rather than at the screen or your keyboard).

Pre-recorded Video Interview

If you haven’t heard of this one yet, steel yourself: some companies conduct video interviews in which you receive questions one at a time and then have a set amount of time (often a few minutes) to record each of your answers. I have heard of large tech and retail companies using this type of interviewing. Unfortunately, your opportunity for a human connection is mostly eliminated in this type of screening. On the plus side, because these are often screening interviews, they are not long in duration.

In-person Interview

This is the most common and well-known type of interview. It might be scheduled for a set amount of time with a single person (one hour with your potential boss), over lunch with a potential future peer, or for, what I call, a marathon interview—an interview that occurs over an entire day. In a marathon interview, you’ll likely meet with a range of people that might include future peers, your future boss, and even the company’s executive or president. These interviews can be intense, but they also give the applicant a clearer understanding of the company culture and what it might be like to work there. Depending on the type of position you’re interviewing for, you might also be asked to take a proficiency test on the core subject matter the job requires. This can range from a writing or editing test to a technical test on a software application, such AutoCAD.


Interviewing outside of academia has its challenges just like it does within the academy. By taking these three key considerations into account before your interview, you’ll be able to approach your non-academic interview as a confident, informed, and prepared candidate.

Heidi owns and operates Career Path Writing Solutions, a communications consulting firm dedicated to helping individuals and businesses communicate when it matters most. She delights in helping job seekers navigate career change and guiding business owners to present their value proposition persuasively. Heidi earned her PhD in history from Duke University and teaches professional development for various university programs and organizations. She holds certifications in resume writing, interview preparation, and empowerment coaching, and sits on the Certification Committee of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

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