Navigating the ERC Interview Q&A session: Three Tips and Recommendations


Getting ready for the Q&A session of an ERC grant interview requires comprehensive preparation that extends beyond your pure scientific expertise. In this article, we share our insights to help candidates effectively prepare for this crucial part of the interview.

1. Draw on Your Scientific Network to Organise Mock Interviews

Once you have received the invitation from the ERC for the interview, start organising mock interviews with close collaborators and with researchers from the scientific disciplines represented in your ERC panel. Simulating the diverse composition of the panel is essential, considering that panel members, being scientists themselves, may have specific interests related to their own research. During these mock sessions, aim to receive as many questions as possible, particularly on scientific and technical aspects of your proposed research. This is crucial, as our experience indicates that a majority of questions during the actual interview are likely to be of a scientific or technical nature. Additionally, anticipate that the questions posed during the interview will, in part, be derived from the written reports of external referees. These referees, who are not part of the ERC panel and do not participate in the interview, are recognised experts in your field. If they raise critique regarding a technical issue in their review, expect questions on this during the interview.

2. Practice Giving Concise Answers

For many candidates, it is very challenging to provide to-the-point answers to questions on a complex topic. We therefore recommend continuing your preparation by creating concise written outlines for the questions that you have received in the mock interviews, aiming to build up a small database of potential questions and answers. This approach will help you avoid getting caught off-guard in the actual interview, while also ensuring that your answers remain focused and clear, even when addressing difficult questions. In general, aim for 30-45 seconds per answer, to accommodate as many questions as possible within the time constraints of the ERC interview. For questions on critical aspects of your project, you may prepare slightly longer answers (1-1.5 minutes). Rather than the natural inclination to start with context and build up to the main points, we advise ‘upfronting’ your message. This means beginning with the key conclusion of your answer first and then, if necessary, adding more details afterward.

3. Handling the Q&A Session

Whenever possible, aim to engage the panel members with your responses, recognising that they are scientists with their own perspectives and research interests. Even more, the interview is an opportunity to receive useful feedback and input on your project. While you are the expert on the topic, acknowledge the existence of alternative approaches. If a panel member proposes an alternative, consider recognising their perspective as a potential fallback plan, for example by expressing, ‘In the event our primary approach faces challenges, we will certainly regard this as a contingency option.’ This strategy ensures respectful engagement, avoids confrontation, and demonstrates thoughtful consideration and flexibility.

Occasionally, candidates may face confrontational questioning or find their answers challenged or dismissed by a panel member. In these cases, it is very important not to enter into conflict, as this only leads to a negative spiral of interchanges that will not help convince the rest of the panel about the potential of your project. It also takes away precious time from other, more pertinent questions. Instead, always refer back to the science. Rather than responding with ‘I don’t agree’ or ‘you’re wrong,’ reframe your answer to highlight relevant research. For instance, say, ‘That’s an interesting point. However, the study XYZ indicated that our proposed method is more efficient because…’ This approach maintains focus on the facts.

Additionally, always engage respectfully with each query. Avoid interrupting or judging the questions. When discussing competing research, maintain a diplomatic tone, while emphasising the strength or novelty of your proposed approach, rather than criticising others. Finally, a smile can significantly convey your passion and dedication to your project, enhancing the overall impression you leave with the panel.


Preparing for the Q&A session of an ERC grant interview requires a multifaceted approach that extends beyond showcasing scientific expertise. It involves practising concise communication and anticipating diverse questions. Incorporate these strategies to elevate your preparation, effectively articulate your ideas, and leave a lasting positive impression on the panel.

Are you interested in further guidance and personalised support for your ERC interview? Visit to explore our comprehensive ERC interview training support designed to help you make the most of the opportunity. We will help you prepare a strategy for how to impress the panel members with your presentation, and practise with you how to answer questions in a convincing way. We also share with our candidates a list of typical questions brought up in an ERC interview.

Authored collaboratively by Malte Beringer and Stewe Bekk, this publication is the second in our series on effective strategies for ERC grant preparation.

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