20 J-PAL Interview Questions and Answers

Prepare for the types of questions you are likely to be asked when interviewing for a position at J-PAL.

J-PAL is a global research center on poverty alleviation. They work to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is based on scientific evidence. J-PAL was founded in 2003 as a joint initiative of the Economics Departments at MIT and Harvard.

J-PAL has a competitive interview process for all positions. In this article, we will give you an overview of the J-PAL interview process and the types of questions you can expect to be asked. We will also provide sample answers to some of the most common J-PAL interview questions.

J-PAL Interview Process

The interview process at J-PAL can be quite lengthy, and may involve multiple rounds of interviews. The first round is often a screening interview, followed by one or more rounds of interviews with research associates. These interviews may test your knowledge of RCTs and other economic methods, as well as your ability to code in STATA or R. You may also be asked to complete a written exercise or case study.

1. What is your experience with research?

This question is an opportunity to show your knowledge of the field and how you can apply it to J-PAL. Your answer should include a brief description of what research is, why it’s important and any experience you have with it.

Example: “Research is the process of gathering information about a specific topic or problem in order to find solutions. I’ve been involved in several research projects throughout my academic career, including one where we studied the effects of poverty on children’s health outcomes. We found that many families living in poverty don’t have access to healthy food options, which leads to poor nutrition and other health issues. This information helped us develop programs that provide low-income families with resources for better nutrition.”

2. Describe a time when you had to work under pressure, how did you handle it?

This question is a great way to assess your ability to handle pressure and perform under challenging circumstances. When answering this question, it can be helpful to describe the situation in detail and how you handled it.

Example: “In my previous role as an economist, I was working on a project that required me to analyze data from several different sources. The deadline for the project was approaching quickly, so I worked late into the night to complete the research. After analyzing all of the data, I realized there were some inconsistencies with one of the sources. I had to contact the source to get more information about the data. They responded back right away and provided me with the correct information.”

3. Tell us about a time where you struggled in the workplace and how you handled it.

This question is a great way to show your problem-solving skills and how you can overcome challenges. When answering this question, it’s important to be honest about the situation but also highlight what you learned from it.

Example: “When I first started working at my previous job, I was tasked with creating a new marketing campaign for our company. I worked on the project for weeks, and when I presented it to my boss, he wasn’t impressed. He told me that I needed to do more research before presenting anything else to him. I took his advice and spent another week researching different ways we could market our product. After doing some additional research, I came up with an even better idea than the one I originally presented. My boss was very impressed with my work.”

4. How would you go about collecting data for a study on poverty?

This question is an opportunity to show your research and data collection skills. It’s also a chance to demonstrate how you can work with others in the field.

Example: “I would start by identifying which countries I want to study, then find out what resources are available for that country. For example, if I wanted to study poverty in the United States, I would look at existing government reports on poverty. If there aren’t any recent reports, I would contact local governments and ask them to conduct surveys or studies on poverty. Next, I would reach out to non-profit organizations working on poverty issues and see if they have any information about it.”

5. Do you have any experience working with children?

This question is a great way to determine if you have the skills and experience needed for this role. If you do, share an example of how you helped children learn about social justice issues. If you don’t, explain why you would be excited to work with children in this position.

Example: “I worked as a teacher’s aide at my local elementary school for two years. I loved working with kids because they are so eager to learn new things. In my role, I taught them basic math and reading skills while also teaching them about different cultures around the world. It was rewarding to see their excitement when learning something new.”

6. Are you comfortable traveling abroad?

J-PAL requires its staff to travel frequently. This question helps the interviewer determine if you have any concerns about traveling abroad and how well you can adapt to new cultures. If you are not comfortable with international travel, consider explaining why in your answer.

Example: “I am very comfortable traveling abroad. I’ve been to several countries on my own, so I know what it’s like to be in a foreign place without anyone else around. However, I do understand that there is always something unexpected that could happen when traveling. I’m prepared for anything and will make sure to stay safe at all times.”

7. Why do you want to work at J-PAL?

This question is a great way to see how passionate you are about the organization. It also allows you to show your knowledge of what J-PAL does and why it’s important. When answering this question, make sure to highlight some specific aspects of the organization that interest you.

Example: “I want to work at J-PAL because I am passionate about helping people in developing countries. I have always been interested in international development, so when I learned about J-PAL, I knew it was an organization I wanted to be a part of. I think the research they do is fascinating and would love to help them find solutions to poverty.”

8. Tell me about a time that you were able to successfully build a relationship with someone difficult.

This question can help the interviewer determine your interpersonal skills and ability to work with people who may have different opinions than you. Use examples from past experiences where you were able to successfully build a relationship with someone difficult, but also show that you are willing to compromise or adapt to their needs.

Example: “In my last position as an economist, I worked closely with a team of engineers on several projects. One project in particular required us to collaborate more closely than usual because we needed to create a new software program for our client. The engineers had very specific ideas about how they wanted the program to look, while I was focused on creating something that would be easy for the client to use. We eventually came to a compromise by using some of the engineer’s suggestions and adding additional features.”

9. What are some of the most important things to remember when conducting research?

This question is an opportunity to show your knowledge of the research process and how it can be applied in a variety of situations. Your answer should include some specific examples from your own experience that demonstrate your understanding of the importance of conducting research, as well as its value.

Example: “There are several important things to remember when conducting research. First, you need to make sure that you’re asking questions that have not already been answered. Second, you must ensure that you’re using the right methods for collecting data. Third, you need to consider whether or not there’s enough information available to draw conclusions about the results. Finally, you need to understand that even if you’ve done everything correctly, there may still be errors.”

10. How can we improve our current policies surrounding poverty?

This question can help the interviewer assess your knowledge of current policies and how you would improve them. Use examples from your experience to highlight your critical thinking skills, ability to collaborate with others and commitment to social justice.

Example: “I believe that we need to focus on creating a more inclusive society where everyone has access to basic needs like food, water, shelter and education. In my last position as an economist for the state government, I helped create a policy that focused on providing affordable housing options for low-income families. We also implemented programs that provided free meals to children in schools who were at risk of going hungry. These two changes alone have had a significant impact on reducing poverty rates by 10%.”

11. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a manager or coworker and how you handled it.

This question can help interviewers learn more about your problem-solving and conflict resolution skills. When answering this question, it can be helpful to mention a specific example of how you worked with the other person or group to find a solution that benefited everyone involved.

Example: “In my last position as an economist, I disagreed with one of my coworkers on a project we were working on together. Rather than immediately telling them why I disagreed, I took some time to research their point further. After doing so, I realized they had a valid argument and adjusted my own work accordingly. My coworker appreciated my willingness to listen to their side and was happy to collaborate.”

12. Which areas of policy are you interested in?

This question is a great way to see if your interests align with the organization. It also allows you to show that you have done some research on J-PAL and its mission. When answering this question, it can be helpful to mention specific policies or areas of interest that are listed in the job description.

Example: “I am passionate about education policy because I believe that quality education is essential for building strong communities. In my last role, I worked as an assistant teacher at a local elementary school. I helped students learn how to read and write by creating fun lesson plans and activities. I would love to continue working in education policy, especially since J-PAL works so closely with schools.”

13. What are some skills that you think would be essential to doing well in this position?

This question is a great way for the interviewer to learn more about your qualifications and how you view this role. When answering, it can be helpful to mention skills that are directly related to the job description or any skills you have developed in previous positions.

Example: “I think one of the most important skills I could bring to this position would be my ability to work well with others. Throughout my career, I’ve had many opportunities to collaborate with other researchers on projects, which has helped me develop strong communication and problem-solving skills. Another skill I feel confident using in this position is my research and data analysis skills. In my last position, I was responsible for analyzing large amounts of data, which taught me valuable lessons about interpreting information.”

14. When was the last time you worked as part of a team?

This question is a great way to learn more about your potential colleagues and how they work together. It can also help you decide if the organization values teamwork or individual contributions. When answering this question, it can be helpful to mention a specific project that involved collaboration with others.

Example: “In my last position as an economist, I worked on a team of three other economists. We were tasked with creating a new economic model for our state’s budgeting process. The four of us met regularly to discuss our progress and brainstorm ideas. In the end, we created a system that helped our state save money while providing better services to its citizens.”

15. How do you think we could improve our policies regarding poverty?

This question is a great way to test your knowledge of J-PAL’s mission and goals. It also allows you to show the interviewer how you can contribute to the organization’s success. When answering this question, it can be helpful to mention specific policies that you think could use improvement or discuss what you would do differently if you were in charge of creating new policies.

Example: “I believe we should focus more on finding solutions for poverty rather than just studying it. I think we need to find ways to help people who are living in poverty right now instead of waiting until we have all the answers. We should also work with governments to create better policies regarding poverty. Governments often have the resources and power to make real change.”

16. What is one quality that you think all good researchers should possess?

This question is an opportunity to show the interviewer that you possess the qualities of a good researcher. When answering this question, it can be helpful to think about what makes you a good researcher and how your skills align with those of other researchers who have been successful in their work.

Example: “I believe all good researchers should be passionate about their work. I am very passionate about ending poverty around the world, so I feel like my drive to help others has helped me succeed as a researcher. I also think that being open-minded is important because it allows us to consider new ideas and ways of thinking. This quality helps me learn from my mistakes and try new things when needed.”

17. If hired, what would be your approach to analyzing data from a study on childhood education?

This question is an opportunity to show your analytical skills and how you would apply them to a specific situation. You can use this question to highlight your ability to work with data, analyze it and make decisions based on the information you find.

Example: “I would first look at the results of the study to see if there were any patterns or trends that I could identify. For example, in one study I conducted, we found that children who had access to computers at home performed better in school than those who did not. We also found that students whose parents worked from home were more likely to have access to computers at home. This led us to conclude that providing computers for students may be beneficial, but only if their parents are able to provide supervision while they’re using them.”

18. What kind of experience do you have working with people of different backgrounds?

J-PAL is a global organization that works with people of all ages, genders and ethnicities. Your interviewer may ask this question to learn more about your ability to work with others from different backgrounds. Use your answer to explain how you’ve worked with diverse groups in the past.

Example: “I have experience working with people of many different backgrounds because I grew up in a small town where there were people of various races and religions. In college, I volunteered at an after-school program for children who had just arrived in the country. There, I learned how to communicate with kids who spoke little English. These experiences taught me how to be patient when working with people who are learning or speaking a new language.”

19. Explain what an RCT is and why they are useful.

RCTs are a specific type of experiment that is used in the social sciences. They allow researchers to test hypotheses and measure cause-and-effect relationships between different variables. This allows them to make more accurate predictions about how policies will affect people’s lives.

Example: “An RCT stands for randomized control trial. It is an experimental method where researchers randomly assign participants into two groups, one group receiving the treatment or intervention being tested and the other group not. The researcher then measures the outcomes of both groups and compares them to see if there was any difference in their results.

This is useful because it helps us understand what causes certain effects. For example, I once worked on a project where we wanted to know whether providing free meals to schoolchildren would improve their academic performance. We conducted an RCT by dividing students into two groups—one who received free lunches and another who did not. After six months, we found that those who had access to free lunches performed better on standardized tests than those who didn’t.”

20. What are your thoughts on the current state of global poverty?

This question is a great way to test your knowledge of the current state of poverty and how it affects people around the world. It also allows you to show that you are passionate about helping others in need. When answering this question, make sure to include specific examples of what you have seen or experienced yourself.

Example: “I believe that global poverty is an issue that we can solve. I’ve seen firsthand how J-PAL’s research has helped communities all over the globe. In my last position, I worked with a team of researchers who were studying ways to reduce childhood mortality rates in developing countries. We found that providing mothers with access to clean water reduced child mortality by 20%. This information was vital for organizations like UNICEF, who used our findings to help provide clean water sources to thousands of families.”


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