How to interview technician job candidates

Running an academic lab can be challenging. One of the challenges is hiring. This is important to get right. In this post I’m talking specifically about hiring a technician, though some of the issues are similar for grad students and post-docs.  I have read some things about hiring. I have hired a lot of people for my lab and for the department I used to chair. Here are some basic principles:

Interviews can be misleading since some people interview well in ways that do not reflect their abilities, and vice versa. So, everything should not hang on the interview.

Past performance is predictive of future results. Try to find out what the person has done.

Letters of recommendation are essential, but can be misleading. Would you write a bad letter for a person you liked who wasn’t perfect? Look for what references leave out. Call them on the phone.

Be sensitive to bias, yours and theirs. Think hard about looking for talent, not how like you the candidates are.

How you conduct the interview can have a big impact on its usefulness.  I can’t dig up the things I’ve read about this that led me to these conclusions. Some I got from my sociology professor daughter. Here goes on the unsourced advice: You should have a list of questions and ask them of each candidate, in the same order. They should all pertain to doing the job at hand. You should mix up the questions, going from motivation and learning questions to technique questions and back. Some repetition is all right. Remember, there are a lot of questions you are not allowed to ask. Get this information from your Human Relations department, or the like.
Debbie and I used a slightly different version of these questions today in interviewing for a technician opening via Skype, video on.  When it comes time, I’ll develop a shorter list of questions for prospective grad students, postdocs, even assistant professors.  I like the idea of consistency, presenting each with a similar set of questions before opening up the discussion.  I would be curious what you have found works for you. Do you have questions that are particularly effective? Answers you seek that are defining?

Technician interview questions
(To find out about intelligence, science background, technical skills, cooperativeness, leadership, interest, drive, initiative, and creativity, all of which will make for a great addition to our group)

1. What was your most successful project and what was your role in the process?
2. Tell us how you worked through a conflict with a co-worker.
3. How familiar are you with PCR? What kinds?
4. Tell us about a time when you assumed personal responsibility for an important task.
5. Did you ever go ask for help to a different lab group to solve a problem?
6. What do you like best about your current job, or your most recent research experience?
7. As an undergraduate, what were your favorite classes and why?
8. What kinds of DNA sequencing or DNA informatics projects have you done?
9. What steps do you take to solve an unfamiliar problem?
10. What do you like least about your current job or most recent research experience?
11. What experience with website or blog design or maintenance do you have?
12. Research can be very tedious and frustrating at times. What techniques have you developed to keep it fun?
13. Our organism requires odd hours occasionally, and unpredictably, including very early mornings, late evenings, or weekends. How do you feel about this?
14. What kinds of microscopy are you experienced with?
15. What microbiology experience or courses have you had?
16. How do you minimize the impact of inevitable failed experiments on your overall progress?
17. Have you been in charge of training or teaching, or in a management position? Describe.
18. Tell us about any technical skills you have, like using a flow cytometer, or other tools.
19. What is your background in statistics? What programs are you comfortable with?
20. What would you like to know about this position?


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Managing an academic career and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How to interview technician job candidates

  1. Pingback: How To Ask For A Position In A Lab | Information

  2. Pingback: Interviewing students the Oxford way | Sociobiology

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