In this post, you will find how the ERC interview process works. You will also find 8 top tips for a great ERC interview.
In general, ERC interviews have quite a reputation. For some applicants the experience can be nerve-wracking: you are evaluated by a panel of experts in your field and you will answer all type of questions for the possibility of winning a considerable amount of funding.
What to expect?
If you made it this step. First of all, congratulations! Only 30% of candidates get to this point.The interview will take around half an hour. You will have to give a presentation for which you are allowed to use slides. The individual panels will set the precise time available for your presentation. It may vary between 2 to 10 minutes and this time limit is strict. Afterwards, you will be asked several questions. Some of these questions may have been prepared in advance by the panel, some may arise spontaneously. Depending on the panel, you may be allowed additional backup slides to help when answering questions. Some panels may not want this. In any case, you will receive panel specific information with your invitation. It is very important to read this carefully.
Since 2019, the ERC has new evaluation facilities in Brussels: the “Fotis Kafatos evaluation centre”. The rooms are bigger and better equipped to try to make the experience as pleasant as possible. If the COVID situation allows, the interviews would be carried out in these facilities. However, if you are invited to a remote interview, the following tips still apply.
- Know your audience. You are talking to researchers, so you will need clear slides that focus on the research. Do not try to conduct a “business” presentation. It should not be too naïve: the panel wants to see the nitty gritty details of your research.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. You have to know every single detail of your proposal and methods, as well as your research area. Very often you will be asked about your main competitors and your main collaborators. You should be able to name them all and explain how you relate to them and the field. If you have new data, you can also update the panel during the interview.
- Don’t be thrown off your game. Anticipate questions, prepare a situation where you do not have an answer to something you have been asked. How would you act in this case?
- Pay a courtesy visit to your collaborators. You have about 3 months between the time you find out about the interview and the actual interview. Don’t be shy! This is an excellent opportunity to pay your collaborators a visit. Discuss your supporting evidence and your hypotheses with them. Ask them to ask you really mean questions. They might highlight some weaknesses you didn’t know you had.
- Do not over-explain your CV. These people have spent a considerable amount of time reading your proposal and they will have seen your CV. If you would like to emphasise some things, you can put any new papers or changes in the first slide of your presentation, which is the slide that will be shown at the beginning of the interview (before you even start). Remember to not spend too much time on this, the presentation should focus on the project.
- Prepare your answers to recurring questions. Panels sometimes like to ask the same questions to every applicant. So just in case, here are two that you should be able to answer:
– Which 2 sentences do you hope will be added to a textbook thanks to your ERC project?
– Where do you want to be in 5 years? Please don’t answer this with “I want to be an ERC grantee and be applying for my next grant”.
Also, try to avoid starting your answers with “excellent question”.
- Keep the time. You will be notified when you’re running out of time, but you should not be caught unprepared.
- Practice, practice, practice. Once you are done preparing, practice. Practice in front of your colleagues, with your family, your friends, department, different departments, etc. Practice with anyone who will listen to you.
There are some common misconceptions or rumours circulating around ERC interviews. Some say you should choose the acronym of your project considering alphabetical order, as this is the order of the interviews. This happens sometimes, sometimes the ERC panels use numbering, sometimes themes, sometimes the order is simply random. So, choose an acronym that is easy to pronounce and to remember, it will be repeated many times by panel members in the discussion. It doesn’t have to be a real acronym, it can also just be a name.
It is also thought that late afternoon interviews have lower chances of success. This is also not true, and there are many times that the last interviewees get the grant. The work of the panel is intellectually quite hard, and it can get tiring. Although there are breaks for them, you should always aim to “shake” them up a bit and catch their attention.
As a small comment, please ALWAYS check the changes published yearly with every work programme before applying.
This information was extracted from an ERC video, you can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4qXVGcdH5w