We have all been there at one point in our careers, and most of us will be in the future again. Interviews can be nerve-wracking! How to prepare? What to wear? What will they ask me? How can I stand out from the other applicants for this position? Everyone, I’m sure, knows the basics. Dress clean and tidy, show up on time (even early if possible), employ good body language and so on.
To help you prepare (and ace!) your interview, I have compiled some tips and hints not commonly discussed based on my own experience as a recruiter, from discussions with other recruiters, hiring managers, headhunters and employers as well as from polls and studies. I hope these tips will help you ace your interview and land the career of your dreams!
- Familiarize yourself with the company.
Good recruiters and interviewers will typically ask you what you know about the company and why you are interested in working there. Do your background research as well as you can. Investigate things such as what are the products of the company? What products have they successfully launched and what is currently in development? What does their pipeline look like? If possible, I recommend looking into the team that works there and read about their work. The more you know, the better. This will show the interviewer that you are specifically interested in this job and not simply looking for anything that is out there.
- Prepare questions to show your true interest.
Although the job description may provide most of the information concerning the specific job qualifications, ask questions outside the job for which you are applying. What does the company portfolio look like? How is the company growing and where do they see they will be in 5 years? What is the company culture like? These types of questions show that you are serious about joining the company and interested in a long-term career there, as well as interacting with the other employees. I personally always ask the interviewee at the end of the interview whether they have some questions. If the answer is no, it is fairly obvious they are not serious about the position and portrays an indolent, dispassionate phenotype.
- Be prepared to answer anything about everything on your CV.
While writing a CV, people often list every little thing they have done in their life, even if it is just that one time. This can be self-destructive. Although you may think it looks impressive, if you are unable to answer questions about it, leave it out. Let’s say you have listed chromatin immunoprecipitation in your skill set, since you did it a few times in college. The recruiter may ask you very specific questions about it – explain the steps in this procedure, describe the main parameters, elucidate on the possible pitfalls. If you fail to answer these questions, not only will you come off as ignorant but pretentious as well. The answer ‘I don’t remember, it’s been awhile since I did that’, simply will not cut it. Less is sometimes more: list the subjects you are an expert at while leaving out items you know very little about.
- Don’t ramble on.
Answer the questions briefly and to the point, yet specifically enough. It is frustrating to the recruiter when the interviewee goes off topic, skipping to irrelevant subjects. This type of behavior not only makes you appear insecure, immature, and unprofessional but also that you are avoiding the question and may not know the answer. Let the interviewer lead; you follow.
- Phone interviews.
Most positions receive so many applicants that the first screens are typically performed via phone. First of all, all the above tips for live interviews apply to phone screens as well. However, there are a few additional tips that a professional interviewer will be able to pick up even without meeting you face to face. Smile – it sounds strange, but it is recognizable through the phone. It will make you appear personable, likable, and engaging. Sound enthusiastic and energetic. A lethargic person will come off as lazy and disinterested. Be interested in the interviewer as well. Perhaps say, “Hey, I looked at your LinkedIn profile and your background is interesting. How did you become a recruiter?” These may seem like minute things, but in the end, there are so many qualified applicants that it often comes down to the personality and your enthusiasm for the position.
- The ‘cultural fit’.
Unfortunately, in the end much of the time whether you get hired or not comes down to this: were you the right person for the company culture. Today, there is an abundance of highly qualified candidates for any position. Often it doesn’t matter whether you have all the qualifications on paper if your personality does not fit that of the company. This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. It means that there is another opportunity that is more suited for the type of person you are. Some companies are more relaxed and prefer a collaborative, laidback team atmosphere, where they might turn down an extremely shy or arrogant person while other companies prefer to have less of a social interaction. This is one of those key questions you should ask the phone interviewer. Try to find out more about the company culture. If you do get invited to an onsite interview, you will know what type of person they are looking for.
- The new era: the importance of LinkedIn
So you haven’t updated your LinkedIn profile in awhile. All your colleagues and friends know you. You feel you have a good network in the industry. In particular, people in academia often don’t feel the need to update or elaborate on their profiles. You could be missing an opportunity for employment. Let me tell you how recruiters and headhunters work. Much of the sourcing is based on Boolean X-ray string searches. Not familiar? Here is an example: “organoids” AND “confocal” AND “drug discovery” AND “small molecules”. Or “project management” AND “director” AND “R&D” AND “CRO”. The majority of these searches utilize LinkedIn based on different combinations of key words for what the client is looking for in their job description. Therefore, the more specifically you list your skills, qualifications, and expertise on your profile, the more likely you are to be discovered by a recruiter.
I hope these tips are useful to you in attaining your desired career path. If you focus on this advice, you will make your (and our!) job just a little bit easier. Best of luck!