Research Assistant Interview Questions
A Research Assistant provides support to primary researchers through a variety of tasks including data collection and organization, proofreading, analysis, preparing visual representations of research results and performing research according to the researchers’ protocol. Research assistants handle the majority of clerical work and tasks that support the research team’s efforts. Hiring the right candidate will free up more time for researchers to concentrate on their work while ensuring that all data is properly managed.
A quality Research Assistant is a dedicated, diligent and detail-oriented individual with strong numeracy and analytical skills. They hold at least a bachelor’s degree in their respective field. Lab experience will vary. The process of selecting a Research Assistant can be a challenge depending on the nature of a facility’s work; while all applicants may not need hands-on experience, they should be familiar with the research process and have demonstrable technical, analytical and organizational skills.
General interview questions (such as “Can you tell me about yourself?” and “Why are you looking for another job?”) are a great way to get to know your candidate’s personal history, interests, and goals. However, be sure to add inquiries specific to the role they’re interviewing for, so you can gain valuable insights into their likelihood of success in that position.
Below are Research Assistant interview questions to help you get started:
1. What is your interest in the type of work we do?
What you want to hear: Although the nature of your facility’s research may be confidential, the candidate should be able to summarize the fundamental aspects of what you do and why it is of interest to them. The response should align with the candidate’s personal feelings as well as demonstrate their ability to conduct thorough preliminary research.
Red flag: An individual who does not research the basics about a firm or facility prior to the interview is not an ideal candidate. Lack of initiative is often derived from disinterest, which results in poor work performance and minimal ambition.
2. What is the most challenging problem you’ve faced in your career thus far, and how did you apply research to solve it?
What you want to hear: The nuances of research require flexibility and creative problem-solving; the candidate may have prior research experience, so a relevant experience and solution could provide insight into how they approach challenges. The most important factor to listen for is how the candidate can illustrate their ability to turn the technical principles of a research practice into real-life applications.
Red flag: If a candidate cannot recall any professional challenges or consider how research has benefited them in life, they might not fully understand the vast skill sets required to perform the job they’re applying for. Inexperience is not as big of a red flag as a lack of understanding.
3. If you were working with us, what is the first thing you would do if you came across data you didn’t understand?
What you want to hear: Your Research Assistant should be committed to ensuring accuracy at all times. While a good response will include searching for contextual clues, a Research Assistant should always seek clarification from researchers to avoid misinterpretation.
Red flag: A Research Assistant who makes assumptions can draw egregious conclusions. You should ensure that the candidate expresses the importance of clarity and accuracy in their work. The right person won’t be afraid to ask questions.
4. Can you recount a time that you made a mistake in the workplace?
What you want to hear: Everyone is prone to error, and a qualified Research Assistant will possess the humility necessary to admit their faults. Your ideal hire should show self-awareness, accountability and a commitment to readily correcting any mistakes.
Red flag: Anyone who cannot recount a single mistake lacks awareness or does not put forth enough effort to make them in the first place. A candidate must understand that mistakes happen, and identifying them in one’s own work is a strong sign of how well they can spot them in materials they work with.
5. What is your ultimate research experiment?
What you want to hear: Ambition and passion will shine through when a qualified candidate is asked to explain their dream experiment. The answer should be ethical, structured and reveal an authentic enthusiasm for the field.
6. How would you describe your computer skills?
What you want to hear: A Research Assistant must be able to take advantage of modern technology to perform their job. Candidates should be fluent using a computer as well as common software such as Microsoft Office.
Red flag: A candidate who cannot describe their own ability to use one of the most common pieces of technology in everyday life is likely to slow work down or be prone to error. All Research Assistants should strive to be current with their information technology skills.
7. Have you ever faced challenges working with colleagues in the past? If so, how did you resolve the issues?
What you want to hear: Although not everyone will face significant conflict in the workplace, a strong candidate will be able to recall at least one situation in which they did not see eye-to-eye with a colleague. Listen closely at how they describe the problem; they should not bad-mouth the former co-worker but instead concentrate on the issue and the steps they took to resolve it amicably. Candidates who cannot recall specific incidents should admit such but still describe how they would approach a hypothetical situation.
Red flag: Research Assistants must work closely with others to perform their job. Any candidate who seems prone to anger or lacks strong communication skills could create unnecessary tension in the workplace that jeopardizes the integrity of the research.
8. How do you handle working with several tasks with tight deadlines?
What you want to hear: Success in research is rooted in personal organization. A good Research Assistant will discuss their systematic approach to prioritizing their work.
Red flag: Candidates who lack time management skills are likely to become overwhelmed as a Research Assistant. You need to hire someone who is comfortable performing a variety of tasks each day with a short turn-around time.
9. What are your best tips for optimizing your workflow?
What you want to hear: Every candidate will have their own methodology, but all qualified applicants will be able to provide examples of a strong work ethic and approach to productivity.
Red flag: Lack of ambition or inability to assess one’s own performance can lead to errors and oversights. Candidates who are interested in research must be able to continually identify areas of improvement in their own work habits to maximize their results and contribute to the team.
10. What are your primary methods for finding new research information?
What you want to hear: A Research Assistant must understand the difference between scholarly resources and general web content. They should demonstrate their ability to utilize both Internet and library resources to find peer-reviewed, scientific documents appropriate for professional-level research.
Red flag: Any candidate who resorts to Google and nothing more cannot provide the type of materials necessary to assist researchers. Your Research Assistant must understand the quality of the level of work necessary to perform your jobs, and they should be able to analyze information to ensure its quality and usefulness as part of their work.
Every interview question can help get you closer to the right fit for your Research Assistant position.
Be sure to keep an eye out for candidates who:
- Possess strong analytical, technical and communicative abilities
- Demonstrate a passion for both general research and your facility’s area of concentration
- Appear highly motivated and understand the importance of concentrating on even the most repetitive research tasks