Tag: #PHN

Sample Behavioral Interview Questions

It’s time to practice for your interview! While knowing what experiences you have had in the past is very important, knowing how to answer behavioral questions can make the difference between being hired or not. Behavioral questions are designed to learn how you would respond to a specific workplace situation, and how you solve problems to achieve a successful outcome. Here is a list of possible behavioral questions that they could ask you divided into different sections.


With teamwork behavioral questions, interviewers get a sense of whether or not you like working on a team, how well you work in groups, and what role you tend to take on a team project (leader, mediator, follower..). These questions also show whether you are easy to get along with, which is important in almost any work environment.

  • Talk about a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours
  • Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle that?
  • Tell me about a time you wish you’d handled a situation differently with a colleague

Client-facing skills

Client-facing skills behavioral questions give interviewers a way to see how you react to different kind of clients. What would happen if the client is frustrated, or if there a large number of clients waiting and how you can handle that pressure.

  • Tell me about a time when you made sure a customer was pleased with your service
  • Describe a time when you had to interact with a difficult client. What was the situation, and how did you handle it?
  • When you’re working with a large number of customers, it’s tricky to deliver excellent service to them all. How do you go about prioritizing your customers’ needs?

Ability to adapt

The ability to adapt is a very important soft skill that is required in any job. The way you answer these questions will give a sense of how you are able to adapt in a new working space and how flexible you are to change and adjust to new situations.

  • Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure. What was going on, and how did you get through it?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to think on your feet in order to delicately extricate yourself from a difficult or awkward situation
  • Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with the situation?
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure

Time management skills

Time management is another very important skill to have. When one of these questions is asked, make sure you are clear about how you managed your time carefully, what tools did you use and why did those tools help.

  • Describe a long term project you managed. How did you keep everything moving along in a timely manner?
  • Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself. How did you go about ensuring that you would meet your objective?
  • Tell me about a time you had to be very strategic in order to meet all your top priorities

Communication skills

The ability to communicate is closely evaluated in a job interview. Some recruiters will not ask questions directly related to communication in the interview but just see how the candidate is able to communicate during the interview. However, other recruiters might ask you behavioral questions that show the candidate’s communication skills with a real life example.

  • Tell me about a successful presentation you gave and why you think it was a hit
  • Tell me about a time you had to explain something fairly complex to a frustrated client. How did you handle the situation?

Motivation and values

Motivation and values behavioral questions are asked to see what values and what kind of personality the candidate has. It is important to always be honest and show how your personality could be an asset for the company. 

  • Tell me about a time you saw a problem and took the initiative to solve it rather than waiting for someone else to do it
  • Tell me about your proudest accomplishment in work or school
  • Tell me about a mistake you’ve made. How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about a challenging situation you overcame at work
  • Tell me five things that you are NOT

How to prepare to answer behavioral questions

Read the job description carefully. Make a list of the top skills or qualifications it calls for. Think of a story that demonstrates your ability in each area. Following the STAR technique, write your stories down, including the situation, task, action and result. Then, practice saying them out loud several times. Your answers should only take about 1 ½ to 3 minutes. In order to make a good impression, telling stories that are related to each one of these questions is crucial. Telling stories is the best way to be remembered by the recruiter.

Practice is the best way to succeed at behavioral interviews. If you would like to practice doing behavioral interviews, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me (oliver.decroock@lawrence.edu) or Grace Kutney (grace.kutney@lawrence.edu).

Oliver De Croock ’24, Student-Athlete at Lawrence University majoring in Economics and Career Peer Educator. Connect with me on LinkedIn.

Career Highlight: Environmental Toxicologist

Adapted from environmentalscience.org 

Environmental toxicologists study the effects of toxic chemicals like pollutants (e.g., pesticides, industrial waste, etc.) and heavy metals on the environment and humans. They minimize these effects by investigating the sources of chemicals and examining how these chemicals move through ecosystems to predict where and how these chemicals may end up in our bodies. If this career interests you, read on! 

Job Duties: 

Environmental toxicologists conduct experiments on human cells and lab animals to investigate the effects of toxic chemicals. They forecast and analyze the impact of toxic chemicals using modeling technology. They also present their findings to stakeholders and administrators and may even consult with policymakers on the safety of chemicals.  

Where They Work: 

There are a variety of opportunities in academia, private industries and in federal and state regulatory agencies for environmental toxicologists. Those employed by federal , and state regulatory agencies often test new chemicals for safety or help develop regulatory policies. 

Toxicologists employed by private companies help with product development and safety testing. They may either work for product developers or research organizations that contract their expertise. Toxicologists are also being increasingly employed by consulting firms that advise public officials, industries and lawyers on toxic chemicals. 

Many environmental toxicologists are also employed as faculty or staff researchers at colleges and universities, with doctoral degrees being required for such positions. Some nonprofit organizations also hire toxicologists to conduct research on chemicals or issues of public concern.  

Education and Training: 

Toxicologists employed as faculty or staff researchers most often require doctoral degrees. Most professionals start with bachelor’s degrees in biology, chemistry, environmental chemistry, or ecology. Further graduate training then provides additional education in molecular and developmental biology, neuroscience and risk assessment.  

Pay and Job Outlook: 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the predicted job demand is an 8 percent increase between 2020 and 2030. Environmental toxicologists fall under the broader category of environmental scientists and specialists. According to the BLS, this category earned a median salary of $73,230 as of May 2020. The highest paying industry for these professionals is the federal government, which reported a median salary of $103,180 during this time. 

Writing a Personal Statement for Summer Research

Adapted from the Institute for Broadening Participation

Personal statements are an important component of the research application process, especially for off-campus programs. They provide you with the opportunity to explain why you are interested in this research opportunity, how you will be able to contribute to this project, and how the project connects to your goals. The personal statement also enables the selection committee to get a better idea of who you are as a person and whether you are the best fit for this research opportunity. But given how important a personal statement can be, how does one go about writing a strong one? 

Your personal statement should include: 

  • Why you are interested in a field of study 
  • How that interest started and how it grew over time 
  • How the research opportunity is the next logical step in the path toward your specific goals 

To help write about above topics, try answering the following questions: 

  • Why are you interested in this program? Does it fulfil your interests in a particular area or field of study?  
  • How did you become interested in this specific research area/academic field? Maybe it’s because you took a class that sparked your interest, or you read a book that intrigued you and pushed you to learn more about this specific field of study.   
  • What are your aspirations, goals or future plans? How does this summer research project act as a stepping stone in pursuit of your academic and career goals? 
  • What kind of activities or experiences have you done that contributed towards your interest in or preparation for this field or research area? Explain how your skillset aligns with what they need for this research program to grab the reviewers’ attention. 

Personal statements also give you the opportunity to explain certain gaps or weaknesses in your application. For example, if you got low grades in your spring term of sophomore year because a family member passed away or you had low grades during your first term due to challenges with difficulties adjusting to college, you could say: 

  • “Unfortunately, a family member passed away during my spring term of sophomore year which is why I my performance was sub-tier. However, I learned how to get connected with counseling resources and was able to get back on my feet the following year” for the first example. 
  • “Although a lack of academic preparedness caused my grades to suffer during my first year, my transcript from more recent semesters shows a significant improvement in my grades, proving that I’m committed to my academic growth and demonstrate that I’m ready for this research opportunity” for the second example. 

However, while explaining weaknesses or apparent gaps, don’t list excuses. Focus on what you learned from that situation and how you dealt with this challenge to get back stronger. You can make a strong case for yourself by turning your own weaknesses into strengths and while the application committee understands that most things in our life are out of our control, they are most interested in hearing how you work through challenges.  

Other tips to keep in mind when planning your personal statement: 

  • Saying “I am…” instead of “I have always been…” 
  • Make positive statements and how you are qualified for this summer research position: “My experience in… makes me well suited for this opportunity because…” 
  • Your opening statement (why the committee should accept you for this research) should be supported in the body and should also be consistent with your closing. 
  • Organize the statement so it flows from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph. 
  • Proofread for grammar, spelling, paragraph breaks, and correct punctuation. 

A strong personal statement could be the deciding factor in whether you are accepted for a research opportunity, which is why it is important to create drafts and plan ahead. If you need more advice on writing a personal statement or any other part of the research program application process, feel free to make an appointment with our PHN advisor, Jacklyn Fischer. 

Career Highlight: Physicist

Interested in becoming a physicist? Read on to know more about what this career looks like! 

Job Duties:

Physicists write and publish scientific papers about the results of their research. This research can vary from developing theoretical models that describe properties of the natural world like the force of gravity or the formation of sub-atomic particles to more practical things like examining how materials change their structure when undergoing different processes or looking at how microtubules pull chromosomes apart. Physicists also need to write proposals to receive funding for their research and present their findings at scientific conferences and lectures. For this reason, physicists will occasionally need to travel locally or internationally to go to conferences to present and discuss their research with other scientists (the costs for these trips are typically covered by the institution they are researching for). If working in academia, they may also teach courses or give lectures at universities in addition to research. Mentoring and advising students (both graduate and undergraduate) may also be part of their job duties. 

Because physics is such a broad field with many applications, there are many branches. Astronomy or astrophysics focuses on the physics of the universe and space while particle and nuclear physicists examine properties of atomic and subatomic particles and the forces responsible for their interactions. Atomic, molecular, and optical physicists study atoms, molecules, light, and the interactions among them. They may also research ways to control states of individual atoms because this can help develop better semi-conductors and transistors. Materials physicists examine physical properties of matter in molecules, nanostructures, and novel compounds. Plasma physicists study plasmas, which occur naturally in stars and are found in neon signs and plasma screen televisions. They also study ways to create fusion reactors, a potential future source of energy. Some branches of physics are more inter-disciplinary, like medical physics, which involves using physics to develop new medical technologies and radiation-based treatments. Biophysics is also another example which applies physics theories and methods to understand how biological systems work.

Where They Work:

Physicists generally work in offices and research labs. Around 31% of physicists work in scientific research and development services (which includes privately and federally funded labs). Examples of labs include the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Goddard Institute in Maryland and the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California. Some of the biggest employers of physicists within the federal government are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Department of Defense according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Something to note: U.S. citizenship is required for most research opportunities in the Department of Defense, Department of Energy and NASA). 

Some physicists choose to take alternative pathways beyond academia and research and go on to work in private industries. This includes a variety of industries such as those engaged with engineering, computer science, and companies who work for government contractors. The research or work done for private industries might be a little different from doing research in a government funded lab; for example, in a government funded lab you might be working with a high energy particle-accelerator because you are researching high-energy particle physics but for a private tech company, you might be researching ways to create better semiconductors and lasers which might have practical applications in electronics or medical imaging. 

Education and Training:

Most roles as a physicist will require advanced academic training. While many believe that getting a Ph.D. is necessary to getting a job in research, that is not always the case. There are other ways to working in research without getting a master’s degree or Ph.D. For example, if you already have research experience, you might be eligible to apply for entry-level positions like research assistant positions (especially within a school of medicine of health sciences), lab managers, or lab technicians. The American Physical Society also has a helpful guide to pursuing bachelor’s degree-level physics research roles in government-funded laboratories. For these roles, it is important to pursue physics research as an undergraduate (e.g., summer research programs, REUs, etc.). 

Pay and Job Outlook:

The average projected employment growth for physicists is around 8%, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. The median annual wage in May 2020 is around $129,850 with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $67,450, and the highest 10 percent earning more than $208,000. However, these numbers start to change when looking at specific industries. For a more detailed look at median wages by industry in the United States, you can visit the Occupational Outlook Handbook website.  

“Thank you for the interview opportunity!” How to follow up after interviews and write thank you notes

Following up after job interviews and writing them a quick “thank you” note after the end is a good way to ensure that you still remain in the interviewer’s mind and demonstrate your interest in the role. You should also follow up with a “thank you” note after networking conversations/informational interviews, as they are a great way to show your appreciation and strengthen your existing connections. But how does one write a good “thank you” note?
There is no single right way to pull it off but some general conventions still apply when writing thank you notes following a job or informational interview. When sending a note, be sure to:

  • Send the thank you/follow-up email to the interviewer within 24 hours of the interview. Hiring processes can be done quickly, so hand written cards to follow up on job interviews might not be feasible. However, for informational interviews, sending a written thank you note within a week is a good way to stand out and show your extra appreciation (this can be done in addition to the 24-hour email).
  • Refer to when the interview occurred.
  • Refer to important parts of your conversation with them, such as highlighting a specific piece of advice that resonated with you.
  • For job interviews, reaffirm your interest in the position and why the interview made you even more interested in that position.
  • End with an invitation for further follow up.

Here’s an example format of email to guide you:
Subject: Thank you for the interview opportunity

Dear Mr./Ms./Mx. [Interviewer’s Last Name],
Thank you for speaking with me yesterday about my interest in the [job position you are applying for] role at [organization name]. I sincerely appreciate the time you to took to explain the position and all that it would entail.

I enjoyed our discussion on [add specific references to the conversation]. It only further reaffirmed my interest in the position, as it [explanation of why you are interested in this position]. I am confident that my prior experiences have prepared me to jump right into the role, especially [very brief explanation of why you think you are qualified for the job].

Thank you again for your consideration and for providing me the opportunity to meet with you and your team. Please let me know if there is any other information I can provide as you move forward in the hiring process.

You can find examples here and find more here. If needed, the Career Center has thank you cards available for your use. And, as always, if you need help writing a follow-up note or anything else, you can always make an appointment there!

Raisa Fatima ’23, Career Peer Educator

Dear Career Center, how do I email professors to inquire about an undergraduate research opportunity?

Emailing professors about research opportunities can be daunting, especially if you don’t have a personal relationship with the professor. How do you contact a professor when they’re in a different department, or if they’re at another institution?
General emailing conventions apply. Emails to professors should:

  1. Have an informative subject line. Example: Meeting to discuss your research
  2. Be concise and direct. See template example below
  3. Be formal. e.g., Dear Dr./Professor Simmons, Sincerely, etc.

If you know the professor because you’ve taken their classes, emailing them to request a meeting to discuss research opportunities will suffice. Depending upon the professor, an entire conversation might even take place via email.
For professors who you do not know, an initial email should include:

  1. An introduction: Include your class year and major(s)
  2. When emailing off-campus, specify that you’re a student at Lawrence University
  3. How you found out about their research or specific project
  4. Explain why you’re interested in their research
  5. Describe any of your relevant research and/or class experience
  6. Explain why gaining undergraduate research experience is important to you (e.g., what goals are you hoping to achieve, what skills are you hoping to develop)
  7. Ask them if they might be available for a brief 20-30 minute meeting to talk about their work, and/or whether they offer undergraduate research positions over the summer

Here’s an example format of a general email to a professor:

Subject: Meeting to discuss your research
Dear Professor/Dr. [Last Name of Professor],
My name is [name] and I am a [class year] at Lawrence University majoring in [major]. I found out about your research [explanation of how you found out about it]. I am especially interested in your work because [explanation of why this topic interests you].
My experience in [research experience or class] confirmed my desire to further develop my research skills and [goal]. I am sure you are very busy, but would you potentially have 20 minutes to talk about your research via phone?
I would appreciate the chance to talk with you about your research in this field, and if any, potential future opportunities in your lab. I have attached my resume and unofficial transcript. Please let me know if there is any other information I can provide. I look forward to hearing from you.

You can find more examples here. Remember: A well-written, thoughtful email that feels personalized to someone’s research is more likely to elicit a response, especially if you are pursuing opportunities off-campus. If you need help, you can always make an appointment with myself or Jacklyn, our #PHN advisor, to discuss your resume and how to begin the research exploration process.

Raisa Fatima ’23 is a Physics major with interests in research and engineering. She enjoys painting, reading and playing games like Stardew Valley in her spare time. Raisa works as a Career Peer Educator for the BE and PHN career communities so if you’re interested in anything PHN or BE related, or you just need some general advice on anything professional development related like resumes, cover letter etc. you can schedule an appointment here.