Research Job Interview Questions and Tips

Research job interviews will include basic behavior descriptive questions, questions about research practice and possibly a demonstration or simulation.

Behavior Descriptive Questions

Behavior descriptive interview questions, also known as BDI questions, have been used for almost fifty years in workplace interviews. However, even though they are common, many candidates do not learn how to answer these questions properly, so they are tripped up in the interview. Many human resource officers believe that because there is so much information available about dealing with BDI questions, failing to prepare for them shows a lack of professionalism.

BDI questions ask about a past event. The response should include a short explanation of the circumstances, your evaluation of the event and the outcome. BDI questions usually begin with "Tell me about . . . ," or they will ask about accomplishments, conflicts or stress management. A few examples:

  • Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a peer.
  • Name and describe an achievement from your current/last position that you are most proud of.
  • How do you manage your time?
  • How do you manage competing requests for your time and efforts?

There are potentially hundreds of BDI questions an employer could ask at the interviewer. When you respond, it is important to respond about past behavior during an event or occurrence you actually took part in; do not speak hypothetically. Responding in the hypothetical can indicate a lack of life or professional experience or an attempt to dodge the question.

Hypothetical Questions

Employers will ask hypothetical questions, usually because they would like to know how the candidate would respond to an occurrence in their workplace that the candidate may not have experienced in the past. "How would you deal with a colleague who failed to get informed consent on a portion of her research results?" or "How would you deal with a peer who made repeated mistakes using the statistical software?" are examples of hypothetical questions that could occur during a researcher's interview. It is possible that a researcher has encountered this situation in the past, so the candidate can refer to that past experience. Hypothetical questions are measuring the candidate's ability to deal with unusual situations, or situations that they may not have encountered yet in their professional life and to test the candidate's reasoning ability.

Bench Researchers

Researchers at the bench or in the laboratory should expect questions about their lab needs and any equipment or software required. You may also be asked procedural or safety questions, which the interviewer is using to determine your lab experience and your willingness to follow protocols. You may also be asked about budgets, getting funds and supervising or training other staff members. Social scientists can expect similar questions that ask about their ability to manage their research tools, including investigative methods; they should prepare for questions about fundraising, grant applications for research and completing tasks on time.

Researchers can also expect questions on any software, databases or referencing material that is commonly used in their field.