Tips for a successful interview

If you have been asked to come to Brussels for an interview, you should contact the relevant National Contact Point (NCP) from SFI or the IRC about arranging a mock interview. Both agencies organise such interviews to prepare applicants for the real thing, and these have been shown to be extremely valuable.

  1.  Read the instructions carefully! The interview structure will vary from panel to panel.
  2. Your time is limited: Look to balance the description of your past achievements and the presentation of your project. Only give a brief overview of your CV, at the very most, since it is contained in the proposal and will have been read by the panel members.
  3. Remember that the panel members have already studied the written documents that you submitted. Getting to this stage means that they think you are a fundable applicant—use this presentation to convince them that they should fund you.
  4. The main part of the presentation should be devoted to the research project itself: the innovative aspects, the research team, the methodology, the expected results and the potential contribution to the current state of the art in your field.
  5. Focus on your idea: Why is it ground-breaking? Why has it not been done before? What impact(s) will be made if/when successful? Is it risky? Briefly discuss a Plan B.
  6. The panel will have questions about the budget that you have requested—be prepared! There is no time to look in the proposal for details, so be sure to know the justification for each cost.
  7. Bear in mind that the panel members will already have seen the evaluations from the postal reviewers, which you will not yet have had access to. Ideally, you should make time before the interview to consider the likely technical questions that might be raised, such that you are as well prepared as possible.
  8. Memorise your plans for dissemination/making impact/innovation.
  9. Remember, no more than one or two in the panel are likely to be specialists in your field, so plan your presentation accordingly.
  10. Timing is crucial. You will not be allowed to run over time in your presentation. Consider practicing your presentation using timers/buzzers to keep you in check.
  11. Important! Don’t leave the key message(s) until the end of presentation.
  12. Do not cram too much in—use the slides only to emphasise important points
  13. Avoid repeating text from your proposal—use diagrams/images to illustrate your point
  14. Good preparation will be appreciated by the Panel (who may have already have been working for two or three days!)
  15. Inject your talk with energy and passion. Maybe try to lighten the mood (but don’t force jokes!)
  16. Try to appear relaxed and on top of your subject.
  17. The panel will try to determine what stage you are at in your career independence; if you wrote the proposal yourself; if you have what it takes to lead a group; if your idea is ground-breaking.
  18. Prepare backup slides with responses to likely questions (but only present them on request). Likewise, prepare material on your host institution/facilities, but, again, present them only on request.
  19. Only refer to previous work in order to relate your proposed work to it.
  20.  Reduce references to former mentors/supervisors to an absolute minimum.
  21. If interdisciplinary elements are in the proposal, be sure to illustrate that you are the senior partner.
  22. On the day itself: Arrive at least an hour in advance… but avoid pressurised waiting rooms if possible
  23. Report any potential conflicts to ERCEA staff.
  24. Try to relax. The questioning may be intense—be prepared.
  25. Make sure you have saved your presentation in formats that can be viewed on both PCs and Macs.
  26. Your presentation may be projected onto a screen during the interview. Consider using higher-contrast colours (don’t use yellow on white!!) so that your presentation is easily viewable for the panel members.
  27. Store your presentation files on USB sticks and make sure you have electronic back-ups that you can access from cloud storage/email just in case.
  28. Where possible, keep your presentation technologically simple; you do not want your interview to be ruined simply because the PowerPoint animated transitions did not work. Prepare a pdf file of your presentation without any movie clips.

For more information to help with your application, see tips for writing a successful ERC proposal.