Focus lens

Clarity, clarity, clarity: Adding structure to your interview answers for applied sport science

“Clarity affords focus.”
Thomas Leonard
The sports science job interview is fully underway now and your tightrope walking and Y type answers have held the attention and impressed so far. The interview panel will certainly have the appointing manager on the other side of the table. They would be your boss and therefore one of the most significant influences in the next phase of your career. They will be the decision maker at the end of the interview process, but they should be flanked with some other people to help them with their decision, to provide other viewpoints, offer a rounded view of the candidates in consideration. They might be a coach or manager from the sport you are applying to work with. They might be from another service discipline, they might have a certain personality preference that complements or balances the panel out, they might come from the operational/professional services/human resources teams. You will need to ensure your answers to the body of the interview appeal to all aspects whilst not getting distracted from providing a good answer. When it comes to answering questions at an interview, I am often surprised that candidates fail to see that this is series of opportunities to show and convince the interviewers that they are the right person for the job. At some point a potential practitioner should make it quite clear, “…and that is why (humble ‘tightrope walking’ tone) I feel I am ideally suited to the role”. If you were to end every answer to every question with such a statement it might whiff of desperation, so go easy on this. In general, there should now follow a series of questions that all candidates get asked, this is best practice to ensure all receive an equitable and fair opportunity.
A primary frustration when listening to answers, is trying figure out what the candidate is trying to say. Usually, candidates haven’t answered the question or they have rambled on in an indiscriminate manner. Nerves will be a big factor here, with all of your brain centres willing you on by shouting, “I have something relevant, let me help”. This precipitates as a melee of thoughts that you are now trying to process, organize and verbalise. Now candidates are primed to blurt their stream of consciousness, starting in the wrong place, mentioning several related facts and jabbering on and on and on, cos you don’t know how to end it, whilst failing to hear “Thank you that’s enough” or seeing the “Please stop” body language.
Here is where practicing answers from blog 1 will help you out. But you don’t know what they are going to ask, you can’t possibly prepare and gen up on everything, so where do you start? Rather than suggesting ‘mind mapping’ everything you have ever learnt, possible answers scenarios, potential follow up questions and context specific perspectives, I would suggest that you brush up on the big areas, such as the sport, the key knowledge areas expected and then apply a framework to help simplify and guide you through answering succinctly, accurately and impressively.
Before I share with you a suggested framework, here are some example questions to get your juices flowing, if you’d like to put on some smart clothing, please do so now;
What is well-being and how do you go about supporting the athlete-life demands of a boxer?
(performance lifestyle)
Can you give a prioritized list of exercises to address hip flexor strength for a kayaker?
(strength and conditioning)
What is economy of movement and how do you go about improving it for a long distance swimmer?
What are the pros and cons of pressure training and how do you effectively manage it in a badminton player’s training?
What is the difference between power and impulse and why do you need to understand both for shot put performance?
When applying for my current role I brainstormed (in my thought shower) what I thought would be the most obvious topics to be quizzed on, but in reality I came to a similar realization that due to the scope of the role, I could get asked anything. A mentor and coach to me, the brilliant @RosieMayes, asked me “What do you have that they wouldn’t be able to catch you out on?” After a long pause, I answered, “My values and philosophies. They are mine”. She also asked, “What added value do you bring to the role?” More thinking… “My experience and examples”. Then finally, “What is your strength?”. “Well, I am quite strong at thinking ahead to what the future looks like”. And lo and behold I stumbled across a very neat structure with three key elements that I not only used, but have promoted to others too;
  • Philosophy – what do you think about the area/topic?
  • Examples – what relevant experiences could you discuss and showcase?
  • Future – where do you want to take it in the future?
Give it a little test drive if you like? Think of a question or use the ones above and add this structure to it. Feels like a custom design catsuit doesn’t it? It shows you have thought in some depth about the area, it shows you have an arsenal of experience to draw on, and it shows you have enough awareness to outline how you could take this area forward or address the challenges ahead.
Now, if someone asks you the chemical formula of water and you launch into, “I highly value water, H2O is very special to me, and if it wasn’t for water, where would we be? I have drunk lots of water, just this morning I had a glass. In the future, I would like to try water with other things in it, like cordial”, then you have gone too far (naughty) and you have taken some blog material and rigidly applied it (and now are blaming me). So if you get a technical question, that requires a definition, or a yes or no, then the PEF (more high performance TLA**s) structure isn’t going to help you.
One last word on trying to blag your way through the various questions you have had the endurance to read this merry day. If you try to wing it, you will probably get found out, because if you are good and show the right focus and direction in your answers, any interviewer worth their salt will dig a little further to assess the limits of your responses. Ultimately, they should dig to find out if what you say is authentic. You ultimately should be prepared for this question, “Who could give full testimony to everything you have said, and would you give permission for us to contact them to verify your experiences*?” You should also be prepared for an interviewer to keep asking questions until they find the boundaries of your knowledge or the interconnections you have made within your knowledge. Therefore, you should also be prepared to say, “I am not sure, that is about as far as my knowledge goes”. This is absolutely fine, it shows you are self aware and honest. Even better if you can point to how or who could develop these areas.
If you give your answers with these filters applied, then you should be able to navigate through the questions in the main body of an interview.
*This would be an unusual question, but just imagine your nearest and dearest, mum and dad, best friend and Santa are all watching over your honesty.
**Three letter acronyms, LOL!
If you enjoyed this blog you might enjoy a book I’ve written called The First Hurdle – all about interviewing for sports science jobs

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


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