This week we are talking to Akash Paun, a fellow at a major London-based think tank, with over 8 years experience in government and political research.
1. Can you describe the best prepared job applicant who you met during your career?
It is hard to pick a specific individual… When recruiting for junior researchers, the most important factor I look for is for whether the candidate has a clear understanding of the organisation they are applying to. Some candidates I have interviewed are strong in many respects, but don’t seem to fully grasp the specific approach and culture of the organisation. The best applicants spend the time to learn what drives the organisation they are applying to and think about how their interests and skills can contribute to that.
2. What are the three most important characteristics that you look for in a candidate?
In my industry (research), a sharp brain and an analytical mind are first and foremost what we are looking for in researchers. Secondly, we want people who can apply their skills to potentially quite different types of research project or policy question so we need people who are intellectually adaptable rather than subject experts. Thirdly, my organisation depends upon strong teamwork and collaboration across the research and other teams so personality and approach are also very important. So we would seek to make a judgement as to how well a candidate would fit within the organisation.
3. In your opinion, what are the three key characteristics of a successful CV?
First of all, of course, the substance has to be there. We look for strong academic credentials – some relevant professional experience as well but academic achievements are crucial. One thing I don’t like is when people don’t put their exact grades on their CV as it makes me suspicious that they are covering up poor performance.
Secondly, I like to see the relevant employment and other experience presented in a clear and logical manner without huge amounts of unnecessary detail. Just a few bullet points setting out the main tasks and responsibilities of each job in a way that makes clear the relevance to us.
Third, I am quite a stickler for proofreading, so spelling mistakes and poor grammar put me off very quickly.
4. What is the most difficult interview question you have ever asked a candidate?
I personally don’t tend to have tricky leftfield questions for candidates. But what I will try to do is to really test the applicant’s thinking so if they give a straightforward answer to a question about a research project they have worked on, I will try to test exactly why they approached the problem in that particular way, what assumptions they made and so on. A colleague of mine, however, had a slightly ‘nasty’ question he used to ask people, including me, when I was first recruited. It was ‘Why do we have in this country a national health service but not a national food service?’
5. Can you tell us the most embarrassing situation you have encountered while conducting an interview?
Well, I had a couple of candidates who were so nervous that they couldn’t stop shaking or coherently answer almost any question. It is tough because you feel bad for them and in some ways you just want to cut an interview short for their benefit, but on the other hand, that would be embarrassing too so you tend to push on no matter how badly it’s going.
6. How would you recommend answering the question ‘What is your major weakness?’
I hate that question! And I have never asked it to the candidate as I doubt you will get an honest answer to it. But if asked that question, then obviously pick something that is not absolutely crucial to the job. So if you are going for a research job, don’t say ‘I don’t much like reading or writing but I can make a great cup of coffee!’
Akash Paun can be contacted at https://twitter.com/AkashPaun