wheat or chaff

Choosing to be wheat or chaff: A view from interviewing in applied sport science

If you put ‘job interview’ into Google – it will return a google number of articles about some principles or methods of how to ace it (if you put “sports science jobs” in too, you might not get much luck either). Despite this, my experience of upwards of 500 interviews of sports scientists tells me that either a) an infinitesimally small number read these; b) they read them but ignore them, because they are for prudes and surely in this day and age of freedom and democracy, ad libbing freestyle is superior, whilst preparation, organization of thought and clarity of communication is abhorred; c) they didn’t really want the job anyway, they just really fancied a 9 hour round trip from the outer reaches of the UK and that stuttering, fumbling and sighing through a somewhat predictable set of questions is pleasurable.
“The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.”
Abraham Maslow
The inquisition of an interview is not generally accepted as the best way to assess the commitment of employment and investment of salary and time, tending to feel staged and stilted, where the to-and-fro question-answer session doesn’t really reach too far beyond the nervous veneer. For leaders, panel interviews do indeed work well, but for practitioners, I personally like a group task because they quickly get behind the mask. They tend to ply and test the need for diplomacy, negotiation, tact, co-coaching, support, magnanimity and listening skills with equal importance to knowledge, logic, discipline specific understanding, explanatory powers and ability to press a point. However, the classic interview does tend to do a decent job of cutting the wheat from the chaff. But this series of articles about interviewing, is not for the chaff, it is for the wheat that should know better, the wheat that should have done their homework, the wheat that should have taken or sought some more vocational advice at university, the wheat that should have been bolder and asked a mentor figure the honest, open questions of “how do you interview?”, and “how can I do well in an interview?” These articles are for the wheat that just fell into the chaff bucket. Wheat that got beat by better wheat, this is also for you, and wheat that was golden, you might find this useful too – please read this, at worst you still have options b & c above.
I’ll run a series of blogs describing what I (and it is a personal view, and I sure ain’t perfect, no siree) consider as the essential components. By the way, reading this blog is not going to get the job, even if you follow it step by step, you still have to have the experience to back it up (more on that later), but it might reduce the probability of you getting lost, failing to answer the question, or being forgettable. Oh and you also need to be yourself, no-one wants a formulaic performance.
Sports science jobs pre-interview preparation;
· Research the company you want to work for, look at their website, read their publications, see how they feature in the press
· Find out about the people who will be interviewing you. For a start they might have publications you can search in pubmed, often a biography that describes their career achievements or background. Obviously they might have other online activity or presence – this is a bit of grey area and might feel like cheeky peeking. Linkedin, twitter, etc, though are public profiles (at which point I am obliged to point out that my views are my own and not that of anyone I have ever worked for, or have ever known, or are related to, or have been near or have thought of), and so they are probably fair game.
· Give your CV and covering letter some serious work. No mistakes, nothing more than 5 pages (many say no more 2), it must include your grades, it must include your chosen referees. Two features must be central to your paperwork and must be upfront enough to grab the shortlisters attention within 10 seconds (there are plenty of statistics out there claiming that the average time spent reading a CV is less than milliseconds, and I would say that unless it grabs my attention in 30 seconds I will put it in the ‘no’ pile). First it must showcase your relevant experience. Second the letter must compel the interviewers to why you want and are ideally suited for, the job. If either of these are missing then you are relying on a heap of assumed knowledge and you should not expect to be enlisted for the interview.
· Think about some potential interview questions (I will be giving you plenty of my best ones in the weeks ahead). Write the questions out and verbalise or write some answers down.
· Get some rest the night before (I thought I should say it, but in reality don’t expect a good night’s sleep if you truly care about the opportunity – just accept that, more than likely, everyone will be in the same boat). Triple check your travel arrangements. Eat brekkie with a serviette in your collar; check your last minute nose blow hasn’t left a residue on your lip; do any zips up that need to be zipped; tuck your shirt/blouse in – if it should be tucked in (I have encountered all of the above and more, but lets not lower the tone).
Now I think you are ready to meet your inquisitors. Breathe in, shoulders back, apply a little saliva along the length of each eyebrow (unless they are drawn on, that could leave you smudingly surprised). Read on for how to make a good impression. 
If you enjoyed this blog you might like my book the First Hurdle

If you need in-depth help interviewing for sports science jobs take a look at Graduate to Performance online course

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