One line answers to tricky questions

Andrew gave me some useful tips on how to help short-listed candidates prepare for funding panel interviews (e.g. the European Research Council Starting Grant interviews this month).  I have now road tested this advice on an ERC applicant.  He tells me that he faces tomorrow’s  interview with increased confidence.  So here is my extended version of Andrew’s original advice:

1. Predict the most likely questions.  Spot your weak points by using the following: scheme criteria; critical feedback from colleagues; mock interview questions, and referee reports on proposals on a similar topic.

2. Predict the least likely questions (because questions are often completely unpredictable).  If your project is high risk, prepare to be seen as incremental.  If your project (and funding scheme) are multi-disciplinary, brace yourself for a single discipline interview panel that refuses to leave its theoretical home ground.  Just turn each question round to face the other direction.

3. Take the ‘four key propositions’ from the Research Funding Toolkit (p.51) and invent questions that query the importance of your project, your competence, the likelihood of your project succeeding and its value for money.  The four key propositions are a set of generic criteria that are reflected in the specific criteria of every funding agency.  The answers you prepare to these questions may prove adapatable to a range of panel questions.

4.  For each question, prepare a one sentence answer.  Then prepare a three or four sentence answer that starts with the one sentence summary.  You can use the short version when a brief answer is required and the longer version when you need to expand upon your response.  Either way, this technique means that you communicate key arguments up front and don’t bury them in long-winded explanations.

This technique is very similar to the advice we give in Tool 27 (‘Speed-Readable Paragraphs’, p.110) but the principles also apply to oral presentations and interviews.

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