How to defend your thesis...at a job interview

How to talk about your thesis at a job interview

Whether you see your thesis as a work of art, a fabulous construction or your precious baby, it will have taken a lot of effort to bring it to completion. It’s a major undertaking that involves hard slog and heartache. Yet many graduates don’t even think to mention it at an interview. With the jobs market looking decidedly uncertain, it is wise to use everything in your armoury to show that you have what it takes. But how do you bring it up?


That year at college is still a bit of a blur. In addition to attending lectures and studying, you spent months thinking, planning and working on your dissertation. By the end of it, you had an impressive body of work and you knew your topic inside out. So why would you not mention it at a job interview?

Many graduates don’t exploit this rich seam of experience, but they really should, according to Neil Ewington, the founder of Career Coaching Consultancy in London, who has experience as a recruiter in the tech, media and banking sectors. “It’s probably the biggest project you have ever had to do,” he said. “It requires a lot of skill.”

Make sure it is relevant

The key to making use of this experience is to keep it relevant. “Don’t just sit down and go, ‘Hey, by the way, this is what I did’,” said Ewington. If the topic that you wrote about is pertinent, feel free to bring it up. So, for example, if you are going for a post in the restaurant industry and your dissertation was about food allergens, it is a good idea to mention that and what you learnt from your research.

If your topic was something that might be seen as contentious, steer clear of mentioning the research and talk about your methods instead. “I would avoid talking about the subject matter of your thesis if it could be deemed controversial,” said Ewington. “It is often best to stay away from religion and politics—especially if your conclusion was controversial. You don’t know who is sitting across from you when it comes to their beliefs or their views.”

What key competencies can you show?

Regardless of the topic of your dissertation, the skills, behaviours or competencies that helped you to complete the project are ones that can help you to impress a potential employer. Decide which ones to highlight by looking at what requirements or desirable attributes are mentioned in the advertisement for the job. “The important thing to remember with all job interviews is that companies don’t care about what you have done, they care about what problem or challenge you can solve for them,” said Ewington. “The very act of completing a thesis allows you a lot of opportunities to show you have those basic competencies.”

A recent advertisement for the post of digital marketing assistant sought a candidate who could collate, analyse and interpret information. Those are all skills used in creating a thesis. Other skills you might have after all those months of investigation include conducting research, deciding what information not to include and writing up the content. Rather than speaking in generalities at the interview, however, you need to give clear examples. To help you to formulate your answers, Ewington advises using the Star interview method, an acronym for situation, task, action and result. “Take your time on this. You need to think of real examples you can talk about in the interview. This method will help you to structure them,” he said.

How to use the Star method

It can be too easy to ramble during an interview, especially if you are nervous, so the Star method can help you to stay focused on the essential information. “The Star technique helps when you’re explaining any sort of situation in your past, anything that you’ve done that’s relevant to the competency,” he said. The interviewer may say, “Give me an example of a time when you have faced a challenge?” or “Can you tell us about your communication skills?” If you have read the advertisement carefully, you will have your answers prepared.

Follow these four steps:

You need to go through this method for each competency or soft skill, such as critical thinking or problem solving. If you want to give an example of your communication skills you can develop your response like this:

  • Situation: Set the scene, making sure to add context and background information. “For my degree in journalism, I had to prepare a 10,000 word thesis on methods of community policing and how well they worked.”
  • Task: Explain the issue you had to overcome or what you needed to achieve. “The challenge was to get a variety of voices from members of the police, academics, lobby groups and people in the community.”
  • Action: Look at how you tackled the problem. What did you do? “I drew up a list of potential interviewees, then made initial contact by social media, telephone and email. I discussed the project with them and then decided who to interview.”
  • Result: What was the outcome? Give details as to what happened as a result of your actions, if possible with figures. “The finished thesis featured 50 interviewees and included a wide variety of voices showing different viewpoints on the issue.”

Consider what skills you used in producing your dissertation, then go through this method for each one until you can mention them succinctly. Keep it brief and you will be able to cover more ground in your interview.

One of the biggest problems for job seekers early in their careers is that they don’t know how to speak about their achievements, such as completing a dissertation, according to Ewington. “You’re not going to get marked down if you don’t mention your thesis at an interview, but you put so much effort into it, you really should,” he said.

Photo: WTTJ

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Rose Costello

Editor and writer

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