The most dreaded interview question

The most dreaded interview question

This most popular question that always seems to be tripping prospective employees up for years – whether they’re applying for jobs at the local store or at Google. There’s no guaranteed-to-land-you-the-job answer to this question, but there are certainly wrong ways to answer, and ways that will increase your chances. The first step, is to understand why you’re being asked the question?

interview questions


Usually a pharmaceutical or biopharma interviewer is looking to see a few things when they ask you about your weaknesses – first, they’re looking for self-awareness. Are you knowledgeable enough about yourself to understand and appreciate where you’ll fit well within a role, and where you might need to develop? And are you comfortable enough with yourself to admit those areas? This is more of development and confidence question over anything else.

This is one of the most well-known interview questions out there, so a pharmaceutical interviewer may also be looking to make sure you care enough to have prepared to answer this question. If you don’t have something ready for them, that could be taken as a red flag.

There are ways you can answer this question! 


EVERYONE has weaknesses – so never say “I don’t have any weaknesses.” It’s not bold or confident; and will be exactly what an interviewer is looking for to eliminate someone from the process. Part of the strength of your answer will be your honesty – being able to admit that you may not have every single skill you need to dive into the job straight away. Employers aren’t looking for someone to do the job perfectly immediately – they’re looking for people who are able and willing to learn and grow into the role and work on their weaknesses.

Keep your answer honest, but make sure to explain it well and lead into how you’re going to overcome the weakness.

Finally, don’t pick a weakness that is obviously a strength. Working too hard or giving too much attention to detail aren’t weaknesses unless you explain why. This is a common mistake interviewers make.

Be confident in your answer

interview questions

How should you answer –

The best answer to this question has two parts. First, the admission – state your weakness, explain why it’s a weakness, and keep it realistic. After that, you have to explain how you plan to overcome that weakness, if you haven’t already. Use the question as an opportunity to explain how you hope to grow and develop in this new role.

An honest admission is what you should keep in mind that’s swiftly overcome by a solid plan that ends up demonstrating further value. This doesn’t have to be a question that might trip you up – think about it as an opportunity to explain how you’re hoping to learn and grow in your new role.

Being prepared and honest will show your strength

15 Reasons Why You Aced Your Interview But  Didn’t Get The Job

15 Reasons Why You Aced Your Interview But Didn’t Get The Job

High Impact Recruiting for Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Companies

Have you ever left an interview for a pharmaceuticals or biotech job position feeling that things went fantastic only to be later informed that you “aren’t a fit.”  Worse yet, maybe you were never informed or you heard through the grapevine that a lesser qualified candidate got the position.

qualified candidate

…but everything went great!?

Everything seemed to go well.  You “connected” with the interviewers, you knew you were well qualified, you followed up with personalized thank you emails.

What happened? What went wrong?

For starters, let’s start by facing the simple fact that life isn’t fair. Nowhere is this more true than in employment and hiring.

The truth is that, the best people don’t always get the job and in general, job interviews are a flawed process of assessing and projecting talent. Most pharmaceutical and biotech interviewers aren’t trained on how to gauge talent. Even if they are, most will spend less than 10 seconds reviewing a resume before interviewing the candidate. This pittance of time is often followed by an emotional rather than logical assessment of a candidate.

qualified candidate

get used to it

If it were solely about qualifications and competency, most companies would have workforces that look markedly different. Bestselling author and popular speaker Scott Berkun indicates that most interviewers make instinctive judgments based on biases they’re not aware of. They use back-filling, logic to support an intuitive response they’re in denial about. This lack of self-awareness is not universal but it is pervasive. He feels most job interviews are deeply flawed and unfair experiences.

It isn’t JUST about the interview and just as importantly, not all jobs are created equal. There are behind-the-scene dynamics that determine who will fill the position.

These unadvertised aspects can ultimately determine your odds of success in landing the position.

Below is some of the inside information you probably weren’t privy to:

  1. The biopharma job was meant for a company insider or a referral but was advertised for good show- you never really had a shot from the beginning. Don’t feel bad, according to interview strategist Lou Adler, 85% of All Jobs are Filled Via Networking confirming that the ol’ boy network is alive and well.
  2. The biopharma hiring manager wanted a woman or a man and you are of opposite gender.
  3. The pharmaceutical hiring manager felt threatened by your capability and felt you may outdo him or her. Hiring manager insecurity is an unfortunate yet  common problem
  4. You weren’t subservient enough  The hiring manager wants a “yes” man or woman, not an objective thinker.
  5. Your race your gender your religion your  politics your hobbies. If you happen to wear these things on your sleeve you run the risk of not being selected by an individual who may be opposed or prejudiced.
  6. You were too salesy or self promotional and you may not even realize it. No one likes a blowhard even if they are good at their job.
  7. superficial reasons: you were late your suit was not up-to-par, your body spray was too strong your hairstyle, your laugh. Some managers can’t get past the little things. These shortsighted people often make poor decisions so no loss here.
  8. Your social media profiles revealed another side of you that maybe is less palatable in a corporate setting. A deep search can often yield a different you. Make sure you know what is out there.
  9. There was a budget cut and this position was eliminated. But no one bothered to tell you. Thus it went unfilled.
  10. Your Salary was too high. If confronted with the salary question, try not to answer . In some states, salary inquiries can’t be asked legally. If you are confronted, it is best to try not to answer directly, perhaps give a  range.
  11. The hiring manager was demoted or there was a re-org and  the position went away and no one told you.. Companies and people within them get moved around a lot.
  12. The position was never real to begin with it is intended for another individual who is in a Green Card Application process ..
  13. Talent Pipelining. Sometimes jobs are advertised for the sole purpose of attracting future talent and the job is not ready to be filled. In this case you were simply a practice interview.
  14. Informational purposes. Want to learn how to do something? Watch a Youtube video or better yet invite that person in for an interview and milk him or her for information. This happens more often than most are aware. Some hiring managers will use this disingenuous trick to learn a new skill set or gain additional insights.
  15. Someone else (perhaps better qualified) demonstrated the requisite passion, and competency with the right blend of ‘Sell’ and humility and you were beat you out.

These are just some of the reasons you didn’t get the job despite a good performance.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an odds of success indicator BEFORE you went in for an interview? I mean if you knew your odds of success were 1 in 100 you might want to save your time. In a few of these instances your odds could very well be close to zero and the job simply isn’t real.

Alas, there are some things you can do to improve your odds:

Sometimes the job is a mirage

  1. Do your homework upfront with your phone screen

In many instances you can get a sense of how “real” a job is by asking pointed questions  before you head into the interview..

How long has the position been open?

If it’s been open a long time, more than a few months, then there is likely some kind of issue and you should be a bit suspicious.

How many candidates have interviewed so far for the biopharma position?

If you are the first interview, expect that there will be a wait involved as seldom is a hire made after only one interview. If there have been numerous interviews find out what the candidates have been lacking. Do you have the special sauce that they don’t?

Have any candidates turned the position down?

If yes, Find out why. Although it is unlikely that you will get a genuine answer, sometimes a hint may emerge. Perhaps they aren’t paying market rate or they have unusually high expectations.

Keep in mind that  company may have a history of advertising and not filling positions. If you can  try to connect with the hiring manager or an individual from the hiring team before the interview to create some rapport and to get additional info you won’t get from HR.  Do as much internet sleuthing about the company as you can but keep in mind that  nothing beats first hand information from someone who works there.

2) Don’t be too smart or confident for your own good

In some cases your interview failure can be solely attributed to your style and you may not even be aware of it.. You may have an inflated view of self or you come across as arrogant or boastful.  

You may also be sending the wrong signals during your interview. In: his piece, Why Smart People Don’t Get Hired , Maurice Ewing comments on smart people being  subject to (cognitive) “bias blindspots”. In other words, they don’t see their mental hangups and, in many instances, are even more subject to bad judgment than others that aren’t nearly as smart or qualified. This could explain why intelligent  job seekers may not be making allowance for the cognitive biases that turn employers off and reduce their chances for landing suitable roles.

Try to gain some self-awareness by practicing with friends or family. Make adjustments through this practice and try to imbue the general qualities of employer attraction into your interview.

perceptions can be different from reality

3) Tilt the odds in your favor

Now that you learned whether the job is “real” or not and you know your bias blind spots it’s time to learn how to subtly sell yourself. In her succinct piece How to Convince an Employer to Take a Chance on You, Katie Douthwaite Wolf explains that you need to showcase what sets you apart and to refrain from drawing attention to your lack of skill or experience. While this may seem obvious this needs to be done in the cross section of humility and confidence. Another nuance: You often interview best when you have nothing to lose as in you are comfortable in your current role and aren’t actively considering a change. People want what they can’t have so for this reason alone you will be more attractive as a candidate.


Luck will alway play into the equation but you can make your own luck by being a discerning and self-improving  interviewer. When faced with rejection, don’t let negativity take over. and don’t give up. Move forward and look up, and consider that some jobs were never meant to be!


When is the best time to look for a job?

When is the best time to look for a job?

If you are planning on switching jobs or starting the job hunt there are different times of the year which represent the best, and worst, times to apply for jobs in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry.

The Best time to look for a jobNew job

January and February time frame

The beginning of the year represents the strongest hiring period. Many companies have their updated yearly budgets set in January, they know how much money is available for hiring new staff for the year. The amount of employees that take vacations in December also reduces the amount of job hunting activity around this period, therefore increasing the amount in January and February.

Worst time to apply for jobs

November and December time frame

The end of the year can be the worst time to apply for jobs. Many companies are not looking to hire new staff and take on additional salaries to their budgets. They have exhausted all their budgets and are finalizing all financial commitments that have been put in place.They will not begin the pharmaceuticals recruitment process until January when they have their new budgets and plans in place for the year.

Many biotech and pharmaceutical recruiters and job seekers take time off over the holiday season. This can make it more difficult to arrange interviews and there are also less staff in the office so recruitment isn’t as highly prioritized as other tasks take priority for the New Year.

November and December may be the best time to start thinking about what your next career move will be. The holiday season can also be a great time to network and understand what jobs and positions are available.

New job

Top tips for success:

In the meantime, here are three top tips to help you stand out!

1. It may sound obvious but check your CV describes what you have done and what sets you apart from other applicants – rather than just writing a list of previous job descriptions or keywords that may sound good.

2.  It’s about you… but it’s also about the company. Do your research, and go to interviews armed with one or two questions for the interviewer so it’s not a one-way conversation. Know who you are interviewing with and make sure to be prepared!

3. Be open to advice, your dream job may be something you haven’t thought of. Be open-minded throughout the entire process.

How to Build Resilience as a Jobseeker

How to Build Resilience as a Jobseeker

job seeker challenges by Cliff Mintz  There was a very insightful article in this past Tuesday’s NY Times Science Section entitled “Building Resilience in MIdlife.” that I thought was applicable to the challenges that many job seekers face while searching for a new job or pondering a career change.These insights were offered in a book entitled ‘Resilience:The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges’ by Dr. Dennis Charney, a resilience researcher and dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York after being shot several years ago by a disgruntled former employee while leaving a NYC deli.

Practice Optimism. According to Dr. Charney, optimism is part genetic, part learned. That said, looking for a job in a highly competitive field without success can easily lead to feelings of defeat, failure and even depression. Put simply it’s normal to feel sad or “down” when things are not going your way during a job search. Rather than succumb to pessimism, Dr. Charney suggests that learning to think positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with optimistic people (there are people out there who ARE really optimistic all the time) can help. It’s easier to think more optimistically if the people around you are upbeat and always putting a positive rather than negative spin on things. I am not suggesting that that you jettison all of your pessimistic friends but finding new optimistically-thinking ones will not only increase the breadth and size of your social circle but may also help to elevate your emotional state during a frustrating job search.

Rewrite Your Story. Instead of focusing on your shortcomings or difficulties that you have experienced, it may help to change your internal narrative and focus on accomplishments (rather than setbacks) and things that you may have learned about yourself to this point in your life journey. While this may sound like an existential exercise, changing the internal story that you tell yourself (from a negative to a more positive one), may help you to feel better about yourself and make things easier for you. And believe me–from my own personal experiences– others around you will notice the change; most importantly prospective employers and hiring managers!

Don’t Personalize Your Failures. Everyone tend to blame themselves for life’s setbacks and ruminate about the decisions that they have made to put them in difficult situations. A way to counteract this is to recognize that, generally speaking ,other factors and uncontrollable life events likely contributed to the so-called bad decisions that you made. In other words, unexpected, mitigating factors not simply your poor judgement, likely contributed to the situation that you find yourself in. Recognizing this may help to assuage that nagging tendency to blame yourself for your current situation and may also allow to “learn from your mistakes” to avoid making them in future personal and career decisions.

Remember Your Comebacks. It is easy to wallow in your failures and feel bad about your current situation. Rather than letting things get you down, try to remember times earlier in life when you were able to overcome adversity and still “land on your feet.” This will remind you that you have the skills and experience to overcome a current “bad” situation. Also, it may be helpful to read about others who seemingly failed and were able to turn those failures into positive personal and career moves. In my experience, failure is a key ingredient to a successful and meaningful career.

Take Stress Breaks. Stress is a fact of life that nobody can escape. Rather than succumb to life’s constant unrelenting stresses, it is important to take breaks to regroup and push forward.  For example, take walks, have lunch with friends, go to the gym or even meditate. One way that I relieved stress as a graduate student and postdoc was to play intramural softball as much as I could and then drink beer with teammates after the games. Putting your “head down” and pushing forward will not relieve stress or eliminate anxiety in your life.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone. It is easy to continue to do the same thing even if that thing is stressful or hurtful because you are comfortable (despite assertions to the contrary) with what you know. However, doing the same thing over and over again  because your are familiar with it will not improve your current situation or change how you feel on a daily basis. Perhaps, taking yourself out of your comfort zone and placing yourself in new challenging positions  may help to overcome those feelings of “being stuck.”  For example, if you don’t want to do laboratory research for the rest of your career, learn new skills (that may have always frightened you) to help find a non-laboratory PhD job in the pharmaceutical or biotech industry.

While doing the things that Dr. Charney recommends may not materially improve your current job situation or career choice, they may help  you to look at the world in different terms, feel better about yourself and provide some clarity/insights into t future career directions or job choices.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!

Is Another Degree Necessary After Your PhD?

Is Another Degree Necessary After Your PhD?

life science careersby Clifff Mintz.  There was an interesting article in Science Careers Magazine this week entitled “Should you consider another degree after your PhD.” The article traces the journey of several people who earned PhD degrees in science-related fields who transitioned into new careers including law, regulatory affairs, business development and science writing.

The gist of the article is that if you can afford the costs of earning another degree, it may be worth it for persons with PhD degrees who want to get “out of the lab.” However, based on my own experiences and those of the persons mentioned in the article, most graduate students and postdocs lack the financial resources to enroll in professional degree or certificate programs after completing their PhD programs. Consequently, most of the people showcased in the article were able to leverage unpaid internships and volunteer work into new jobs that paid for additional training or professional degree programs.

I have long posited that obtaining another degree after a PhD degree may not be in a  best interest of PhD degree holders for a variety of reasons. First, as mentioned above, the financial obligations of a degree or certificate program may be too onerous  or unrealistic for graduate students who worked for minimum wage for many years to obtain their PhD degrees; the funds simply are not available. Second, by the time a PhD degree is award and postdoctoral training is completed, most science PhD degree holders are in their mid 30s to early 40s and ,in many cases have families,which may not be conducive to going back to school full time. Also, who wants to be a student for most of their adult lives? Finally, the mere exhaustion and stress associated with spending close to 10 years in a laboratory may discourage even most ambitious individuals from pursuing another degree or certificate. Put simply, there may not be “enough gas left in the tank” to obtain another degree in the hopes of possibly a changing a career trajectory.

Based on my experience as an instructor in a program offered to PhD students and postdocs who had already decided that a research career was not for them, internships, volunteer work and an unrelenting pursuit of an alternate career is probably the best way to navigate a career change. What I observed about all of the students in this program (over 70% of them obtained non-research jobs after completing their PhD degrees with no postdoctoral training) was that they were highly motivated and did whatever was necessary to network and leverage the resources offered to them by the program (which included mixers, invitations to professional meetings, and guest speakers outside of the research world including pharmaceutical executives, venture capitalist, medical writers and clinical study managers) to get “where they wanted to go”.  For example, one student, who was interested in regulatory affairs, went to the dean of her medical school to get the funds necessary to go to a national regulatory affairs meeting rather than attending an annual society meeting to present her research findings. Today, she is a director of regulatory affairs at a major biotechnology company. Another student, wrote reviews for an online financial services company regarding the technology behind various private and publicly traded biotechnology companies as a graduate student, now works for a financial service company as an analyst. Finally, another student who was interested in technology transfer was able to leverage an unpaid internship in his university’s technology transfer office into a full time job (he is now a director of the office).

The bottom line: while obtaining another degree or certificate may better position you for a possible career change, it may not be emotionally or financially possible or likely. That said, rather than fantasizing about what may have been if you simply chose law or medicine or business over a graduate career in science, you best shot at changing the direction of your career may be to identify alternative career options and obtaining the necessary skillsets, qualifications and real life experience to make it a reality, Once you have identified those things, the next step is to devise a financially-viable plan to obtain them and then spend the majority of your waking hours successfully implementing the plan. It won’t be easy but as the old adage goes “if there is a will then there is a way.”

Until next time……

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!


Top 5 questions to help you decide if it’s time to switch jobs

Top 5 questions to help you decide if it’s time to switch jobs

Are you looking for a long-lasting career in pharmaceuticals or biotechnology that will allow you to explore your true interests? There are 5 questions you can ask yourself that will help you decide if it’s time to switch jobs.

How do you feel about your current job? What’s your next move? These questions will help you make the call about whether it’s time to move on.

Am I inspired, have I done anything new?

Do you look forward to going to work on Monday? If your pharmaceutical work constantly drains you, you should look deeper into what’s making it so difficult. Perhaps you should change your schedule so you’re addressing tasks in a different order, or taking longer or more frequent breaks to recharge when the going gets tough. If that doesn’t help, it’s possible you’re not a good fit for the position and should consider something else.

For inspiration, think about the things outside of work that give you energy. What aspects of that could you seek out as you look for a new job or even career? If you want to grow in your biotech or pharmaceuticals career, that won’t happen if you are doing the same thing every day. Ways to help: Look over your resume—or update it if it’s been awhile—and see how many achievements have come in the past year. You may be getting to comfortable and stagnant in your position and it may be time for a change.

switch jobs

Have I gotten a raise lately?

Your pay can be a good indicator to help determine whether you should stay at your job. Ask yourself: do I make enough money to cover my cost of living? Typically, salary upticks are granted once a year, so if you haven’t had a raise or a promotion in that time or aren’t getting opportunities to earn one, it may be time to move on.

Can I make a change?

If it is possible for you to can change what you don’t like about your job – and what you are asking for is a realistic request, this could be a discussion to have with your manager to see if there’s something that can be done. If there is no room for flexibility, change, or future growth this is a sign that it’s time to move on.

switch jobs

Is the grass truly greener on the other side?

If you are unhappy in your current position, consider whether it’s job/company related or if it’s a personal dissatisfaction. Even if you do make a change, will your unhappiness follow you? Also, consider whether the things you don’t like about your job are unique to that job or workplace.

Many times people think the grass will be greener, but it’s not, To make sure you’re really moving to a better place, you first have to know for sure why you want to leave. If you can pinpoint something specific, you can research prospective companies by talking to current or past employees and checking business social media and ranking sites.

What is my future with this company?

If you can’t picture yourself at your current organization in a year or two, or if the track you’re on doesn’t lead to where you want to be, it’s time to seriously look at whether it’s the right place for you. Ask yourself whether the job aligns with your overall career goals. If it’s not a step on the path to your career dreams, it may be time to make a change.

Hope these questions can help you make the right decision in your future career planning goals!