I figure one of the unique perspectives I can offer here on the web is job advice for any aspiring graduate student that wants to work in the UK. There are some important differences in how the interview process and job offers work here in the UK as opposed to the US.
At the end of the interview for my current postdoc I was asked “if we offered you the job, would you say yes?”. Needless to say, I was completely taken off guard by this question. What the hell kind of question is that to ask someone?! Well, it’s a British kind of question. Apparently it is standard practice here to ask this question if one is seriously considering making a job offer. In fact, it
is essentially a job offer** is as close to being a job offer as one can get without actually being an offer and can apparently be the time to start some negotiations. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time and had to quickly come up with a response of “well I would certainly consider it”. I wasn’t quite prepared to make a commitment right then on the spot and was very surprised. This gets me to the second aspect of hiring in the UK that is very different…
Do not plan on having a whole helluva lot of time to make a decision on whether or not you will take the job. Whereas my fellow graduate student colleagues who were courting jobs in the US had weeks to collect and compare offers, I had about oh, 4 days (and I think even that was pushing it!). My plan was to try and shore up at least two offers so I could decide between them. Well, getting to the UK for two interviews in the time I had to make a decision was simply not happening.
Finally, the other thing I found to be a bit odd is that the overall interview setup was a bit different. Instead of just you being interviewed, expect to be interviewed in close proximity to your competition. After I gave my job talk and chatted with my current PI for a bit, I checked out the lab and talked with various people. At this time interviewee number two was giving their talk. This led to a couple of awkward moments as we were being shuttled around so as not to bump into each other too much. But of course, on the way out I inevitably see the other folks who are waiting for their interview.
Of course, there is always the caveat that some of this is not UK specific but is specific to my PI (although I know for a fact that the “If I offered you a job” bit is UK wide). Any comments from any other UK postdocs? Similar or different experiences?
**Note: I changed the wording here a bit after reading Dorothy’s comment below. I would not want to mislead someone inadvertently. This is not a job offer but, I would say, is very close to a job offer.