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How to Ace Interviews

We are living in the age of biopharmaceutical innovation – and movement. Although the big biotech and pharma industries have seen swathes of job cuts over the past decade, we are now on the cusp of a huge growth period. The number of openings my agency has been asked to work on has increased significantly over the last 12 months and the projections for 2016 are looking even better. A company that was previously hiring two people a month is now hiring fifteen people a month; a company that was typically hiring 50 people a month is now hiring 80 people a month. I’ve been recruiting within the biopharma industry for almost 20 years – first as an individual recruiter, then as an owner of my own company established in 2004, and I have never seen hiring at this rate. It means more opportunities for all, particularly for those with strong technical, leadership and management skills. In essence, the world is your oyster! Here, I give my advice on how to get through the interview process and land that dream job.

On top of the world

In the US, it’s customary to find a new job every three to five years. If you stay at a company for close to 10 years then other firms start to perceive you as being stale and less able to see things from a different perspective. In Europe, however, there is a very different attitude and it’s common to see people staying with the same company for 10 years or more. In fact, employers may even be wary of a resume with too many job changes. In the future, I think the European trend will change; the US influences every market in the world and it will eventually influence attitudes towards movement. One thing’s for sure, when jobs are plentiful and diverse, you don’t need to be trapped in an unrewarding position.

Indeed, if you’re unhappy in your current role and feel that you need a new job, then you have waited too long because your work productivity has likely suffered and you won’t be giving it 100 percent. It’s better to start looking for a new job as soon as you notice a decline in your interest and success in your role. It’s even better to start when you’re on top because your excitement, enthusiasm and success will speak for itself. You’ll be able to go to an interview and honestly say that you’re happy and doing great – but that you’re really interested in the advertised position and what the company has to offer. You become a commodity worth having.

Before you apply, one of the first steps is to check that your resume is clear, legible and up to date. It’s common for people who have been at one company for a long time to state on their resume: 2001 – 2014, Director, Process Development. But it’s probably not true – more than likely they had a path of progression. It’s important to include all of your roles; for example, senior engineer, then manager of engineering, then an associate director of process engineering... Prospective employers are interested in the progression of your success and want to know that you are ambitious. Make sure you also state the skills and expertise you have gained and use active verbs like ‘led’ and ‘managed’ to describe those skills. You need to show that you are more than a ‘doer’ – you are a leader. At any level within an organization, a company wants to hire people with leadership skills. Regardless of whether or not you have managed people or projects, they will still assess those skills.

Although a resume is certainly important, I think far too much emphasis is placed on making sure it looks a certain way.

Although a resume is certainly important, I think far too much emphasis is placed on making sure it looks a certain way. Today, most people get jobs either through referrals or by recruiters, and only around 10 to 15 percent are placed through submission via a job advertisement. Using your network is crucial, so a profile on LinkedIn can be very helpful because it’s where most recruiters and peers will find prospective candidates. Your LinkedIn profile should have the same amount of detail as your resume, whether you are looking for a job or not.

Falling in love

The interview is really all about the company. Everything you say should relate to how you can improve the company: What skills can you bring? How does your experience match the responsibilities involved? You really need to sell yourself because you want them to feel like they can’t live without you. Once the company decides that you’re ‘the one’, the offer process can be all about you. But you’ll never get an opportunity to consider an offer if they haven’t fallen in love with you first.

Most interviewees show up on the day looking good and feeling good (those who don’t are anomalies), so it’s hard to be unique in that regard. The most important key to cupid’s arrow is consistently framing your answers and preparing positive responses beforehand. For example, you shouldn’t say, “I dislike my new boss,” – instead try, “I want to work in a collaborative environment.”

The real you

Throughout the process, the interviewer will try to uncover things about the ‘real’ you. They only have a few hours to figure out whether or not you’re going to make a great addition to the team, and usually they use behavioral-based questions to do this. They will ask how you behaved in a certain setting in the past and will ask follow-up questions to dig deeper. Most people do not spend enough time preparing for these questions. Give me an example of when you’ve been in a situation of conflict and how you handled it. Give me an example of when you failed to complete a project and what you did about it. Give me an example of when you told someone an answer and then later learned it was wrong… the list goes on.

My greatest piece of advice is to look up behavioral-based questions online and practice giving positive answers. Everybody has been in a conflict before and everybody has made the wrong choice. But if you’re not prepared for the question, the first thing you will think of (and probably divulge) are the one or two extreme examples where you may have acted out of character, as opposed to the hundred other occasions where you made the right choice. Focus on a less extreme situation and frame the response around a positive approach and outcome.

Embrace the learning curve

Most people don’t want to hear why they failed to get the job they wanted – they just want to shut the door and pretend it never happened. But you should try to get a candid answer as to what went wrong. If you know anyone at the organization that can speak to you off the record, then consider approaching them. You may find out what you did to influence the decision (in a good or bad way) – and that will help you to avoid repeating mistakes. It’s a really hard thing to ask, but you’ll be surprised at how many people will share the real deal with you.

You can also look for indicators yourself. If you’re getting a lot of phone interviews but no follow up face-to-face interviews then it’s an indicator that you’re doing something wrong during the call. It can be hard to be objective about your own answers, so set up a mock call; a close friend or colleague may be able to spot a problem instantly. If you get plenty of face-to-face interviews but you don’t get any offers then consider the way you present yourself (appropriate dress code) or even your handshake.
In my experience, interview catastrophes don’t happen often; this year, my firm has placed around 300 people and set up over 1200 interviews and there has been less than a handful of candidates that truly bombed. Catastrophes do happen, but they probably never should.

We’re not just living in the age of biopharma growth – it is also the age of global movement. In the next few years, we will see more people switching organizations and even countries to seize new and exciting opportunities. Candidates are now in a strong position to grab the job of their dreams, including roles that seemed implausible five years ago – and these jobs may not come around again. Happy hunting!

Megan Driscoll is the founder and president of PharmaLogics Recruiting.

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