Answer the question asked, but look for opportunities to say something which might lead to interesting conversation which brings out the points you’d like to make in your interview. Establish a context right from the first answer you give. Subsequent questions may well come from something you’ve already said… Remember, this is chess.
Don’t just give a lot of curt answers which require follow-up questions: verbal ping-pong is tiring and not very interesting. While keeping it brief, give examples or elaborate a little—you want this to be a conversation—but don’t let them wonder why you’re going off on what may seem like a tangent. Be clear about how things relate to one another, and remember that what’s obvious to you may not be to others.
Show you’re interested in what the other person has to say. One way to do this is to take cues from the other person’s posture, tone, pace. If they’re relaxed, you shouldn’t be too rigidly at attention. If they speak slowly, don’t give them machine-gun speech; if they speak swiftly, keep up. If they smile, smile back; if they’re serious, be serious back. “People like people who are like them…”
Take account of circumstances, don’t go in with a prepared act or script—see what the tone of the interview is like, and listen to what you are asked. Don’t answer the question you wish you’d been asked, the question you think you heard, or anything other than the question you were asked.
Don’t say “no”—it’s a missed opportunity and may make a bad impression. Don’t ask a question if you don’t care about the answer. (Or simply because someone else said it would be a good idea. It’s another conversation you don’t want to have.) Don’t ask a question that shows you haven’t done your homework. (Could you have gotten the information from their website had you bothered to look?) Try to get them to talk about everyone’s favorite subjects—themselves, their interests, their experiences. While you may not get this kind of question much in a fellowship interview, this is exactly the sort of situation which arises during the social parts of some interview processes…
How did you hear about this postdoc position?
Are you ready to apply to a posdoc job offer?