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Managing Job Interview Questions

Managing Job Interview Questions

Author: Cliff Mintz

There are countless interview question anecdotes and horror stories on the Internet. Moreover, urban legend suggests that jobseekers should expect to be asked “off-the-wall” or ridiculous questions during face-to-face job interviews. While this may occur during some interviews, generally speaking, interviewer questions are usually carefully crafted and intentionally designed to offer insights into a prospective employee’s capabilities and future on-the-job performance. To that point, it is important to point out that an invitation to participate in a face-to-face interview typically means that a job candidate possesses the requisite knowledge and technical skills to perform a particular job function. That said, the real intent of a face-to-face interview is to determine whether a prospective job candidate has the personality/ temperament to fit in and excel in an organization’s existing work environment or culture. Therefore, it is imperative that job candidates anticipate and prepare for possible interview questions before taking part in face-to-face job interviews.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint exactly which questions will be asked during face-to-face interviews, jobseekers are likely to be asked some variations of the following questions.

1. Describe how you overcame a particularly disappointing time in your life

2. What are your greatest achievements?

3. Why are you looking for a new job?

4. Why are you interested in this company and not our competitors?

5. What are your strengths?

6. What are your weaknesses?

7. What can you offer this company/organization?

8. Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?

It is apparent that none of these questions has anything to do with a prospective employee’s technical or job-related competencies or capabilities. They are intentionally designed and asked to help to gauge a jobseeker’s self awareness, interpersonal communication skills and the ability to think quickly on his/her feet. While some job seekers may not take these questions seriously—usually those who don’t get job offers—appropriate responses to them could mean the difference between a job offer and unemployment. Therefore, it is vitally important for jobseekers to carefully think about possible responses to these questions before upcoming face-to-face interviews. To that end, it is not unreasonable to write or “script” appropriate responses to these questions in advance of scheduled interviews. While this may seem unreasonable or overly excessive to some job seekers, experienced hiring managers can easily determine a job candidate’s level of interest in a particular job based on his/her answers to these questions.

It is important to point out that there is no “right” or “wrong” answer to any of these questions. However, it is important to be selective with the responses that are offered—especially when asked about weaknesses. For example, a would-be customer service representative may recognize that he/she—like many other customer service representatives—has trouble dealing with unhappy or angry customers. Because dealing with unhappy or angry customers is part of a customer service representative’s job, it is probably not a good idea to mention it when asked about possible weaknesses. Instead, choose a weakness that can possibly be viewed as a strength related to a particular job. For example, while being a “pushy” person may be off-putting or viewed as a weakness by many, it may be a highly desirable trait for salespersons. In other words, be selective and strategic when identifying possible weaknesses to hiring managers. More important, be certain to identify possible weaknesses that are work related rather than personal in nature.

Further, when answering interview questions, be careful not to divulge more information than is necessary or required. Answer questions as openly and honestly as possible but keep responses short, to the point and do not overly embellish or improvise responses. Job candidates who improvise responses generally do not know the answer to a question and tend to drone on to cover up their lack of knowledge. If you don’t know an answer or cannot think of a good response to a question, sometimes it is better to say “I don’t know” or ask the interviewer for help with the question. Asking for help, signals to the interviewer that a job candidate, if hired, would not hesitate to ask his/her superior for help to solve a potentially deleterious or pressing problem for the organization.

Although most of the questions asked during a face-to-face interview are asked by an interviewer, job candidates are expected to have questions too! This shows a prospective employer that a candidate has prepared for the interview and is seriously interested in the company or organization that he/she may join. By asking questions, job candidates let interviewers know that they have done their “homework” and would likely entertain a job offer if proffered by the company or organization.

Finally, there is universal agreement among recruiters and career development professionals that being prepared for face-to-face interviews helps to reduce stress, improves interview performance and increases the likelihood of job offers!

Screen for Success

Screen for Success

Author: Gabrielle Bauer

Pre-interview screening helps you hire the right people faster

The hiring process is a pyramid: you start out with a platform of candidates, and stack it up with smaller and smaller platforms until you get to the golden egg at the summit. Effective screening can make the stacking process more efficient and productive.

The why

Screening is a way to weed out unsuitable candidates early on. It ensures the employer doesn’t waste time on lengthy interviews with candidates who lack a deal-breaking requirement for a position. You can screen for criminal record, cultural fit, skills, and leadership qualities, among other parameters.

A well-thought-out screening strategy takes some of the routine aspects of hiring out of your hands, so you don’t need to waste time on basic questions during the all-important face-to-face interviews. Most importantly, a good screening process lowers the odds that you’ll hire an underperformer or chronic job-hopper—a scenario that could cost your organization both in dollars and reputation.

Why screen? The numbers tell the story

A 2015 survey by Aberdeen Strategy Research found that pre-screening candidates has significant benefits:

  • Hiring managers who pre-screen candidates report 36% more satisfaction with their final decision than those who don’t.
  • Screening lowers the employee turnover rate by 39%.
  • Organizations that screen candidates are 24% more likely to have employees who exceed performance goals.
  • Pre-hire screening cuts down on the time and cost of hiring.

The how

Today, the search for new talent often begins with background screens, like police checks or drug tests, to minimize the risk of hiring someone who will act in bad faith or endanger others. Such background screening adds a layer of complexity to the hiring process, but an increasing number of employers consider it an essential step.

“The worker represents the employer’s brand; therefore, background screening—particularly when access to people or sensitive material is involved—is a critical risk mitigation tool.” 
Melissa Sorenson, executive director
National Association of Professional Background Screeners

To screen candidates for skills and fit—the core of the screening process—you have several methods to choose from. Tried-and-true strategies include resume reviews, skills tests, personality tests, one-on-one phone interviews, or group panel interviews conducted virtually or in person.2 In today’s world, 92% of employers also rely on social media screens, as a person’s online presence can leave important clues about character.

Depending on your priorities, you can mix and match these channels in different ways. For instance, you can administer a skills test to ensure an assay developer can identify the organic chemicals she’ll be working with, followed by a panel interview to help size up personality traits such as detail orientation and adaptability. Phone interviews, meanwhile, could help you screen candidates for cultural fit.

The who

In today’s ultra-competitive hiring market, with hundreds of applicants vying for life sciences jobs, the screening process may seem overwhelming. Indeed, unless your organization has a dedicated screening team within the HR department, you may not have the time or expertise to screen candidates without help.

That’s where a recruiting agency comes in. A reputable agency with expertise in the life sciences knows what works and what doesn’t. They’ll adapt the screening process to the position, using one set of tools to screen lab directors and another to screen lab technicians.

Experienced recruiters also use technology to get the most out of screening. Items in their toolkit may include:

  • Advanced artificial intelligence (AI) software to predict candidate outcomes
  • AI-powered chatbots to extract basic information from candidates
  • Mobile apps to communicate with candidates about next steps.
  • Cloud computing to back up valuable data

If you don’t have such capacities in-house, Sci.bio can help. Our specialized experience and comprehensive screening toolkit take the guesswork out of the screening process. Contact us today to learn more.



11 Important Interview Tips for Success

11 Important Interview Tips for Success

Author: Cliff Mintz

Most job seekers understand that a job interview can be very stressful and emotionally draining experiences. After all, how you perform in a face-to-face job interview will likely determine whether or not you get a job offer. To that point, we provide below some tips to pull off a successful face-to-face job interview.

Professional Attire is Mandatory

In general, most scientists do not like to dress up. However, professional attire for both women and men is required for ALL face-to-face job interviews. This means suits and ties for men (no exceptions) and similar professional attire for women. First impressions do matter and a professional, well-polished appearance will help set a positive tone for the job interview.

Be Prompt or Arrive Early

Ideally, you should arrive at least 10 to 15 minutes early for an interview. This allows you to relax and compose yourself prior to the start of the interview. Tardiness implies that time management—required by all employers may—be challenging for you.

Bring Extra Copies of Your Resume

Interviewers sometimes “misplace” or have not read your CV prior to the interview. Rather than spend limited interview time reviewing information that is readily available on your CV, hand the interviewer a copy of your CV. This will save precious interview time and signal that you are organized, forward-thinking, reliable and helpful; desirable traits that most hiring managers are looking for in new hires.

Be Personable and Always Remain Positive and Upbeat

One-on-one interviews are an opportunity for you to demonstrate that you are socially-engaged, personable and have reasonable interpersonal communication skills.

Regardless of what is going on in your life, it is important to be positive, upbeat and outgoing during a job interview.

Eye Contact is Imperative

A lack of eye contact (or an inability to look directly at a person during a conversation) may signal to a hiring manager that they lack social and interpersonal communication skills, both of which hiring managers are looking for in right fit job candidates.

Answer All Questions Concisely and Honestly

It is not a good idea to waste an interviewer’s time with answers that are rambling, unfocused or irrelevant. Most interviewers expect direct, concise and well-thought-out answers to their questions. They are not interested in chit chat, professional gossip or who you may know in the field.

Never Interrupt an Interviewer

Interrupting anyone before they finish talking is rude, inappropriate and unprofessional.  Therefore, it is imperative to never interrupt an interviewer and allow him/her to complete a question before you answer. This signals to the interviewer that you listen, can engage in a professional conversion and implies that you will likely fit in to the organization’s reporting structure.

Act Professionally at All Times

Job candidates frequently eat breakfast, lunch or dinner as part of the interview process for life sciences jobs. Viewing candidates in these settings offers prospective employers’ insights into a job candidate’s social skills and how he/she may represent the organization in future social situations. Remember, although it may feel as though you are in a social setting, you are still being scrutinized by your host for professional behavior.

Ask Questions

Prospective employers expect job candidates to ask questions about their company or organization. This shows them that you have done your homework and are interested in learning more about the organization. Employers generally view job candidates as not being interested in a company if they don’t ask any questions during a job interview.

Never Criticize or Say Anything Negative

The scientific community is a small one and chances are that any negative, pejorative or derogatory comments made about an individual or organization will get back to them. Also, like it or not, it is simply unprofessional to say negative things about a previous or current employer, colleague or organization.  Again, nobody wants to work with a naysayer or an indiscrete or inappropriate colleague.

Turn Off All Cell Phones

Surprisingly, many job candidates don’t remember to turn off their mobile phones or other electronics prior to the start of an interview. Nobody likes being interrupted during a conversation or a discussion by annoying, ringing or vibrating cell phones. While being connected at all times is de rigueur, a ringing cell phone during a job interview can certainly be a job killer.

While there is no way to eliminate the anxiety or uncertainty of a face-to-face job interview, making use of the tips and suggestions offered in this post may make your next job interview less stressful and hopefully increase the likelihood of a job offer.







Telephone Interviews: A Guide to Success

Telephone Interviews: A Guide to Success

Author: Cliff Mintz

Telephone interviews are an inexpensive and quick way for employers to screen prospective job candidates, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Generally speaking, employers use phone interviews to verify that a candidate’s personal information, qualifications and skill sets in his/her curriculum vitae is correct, accurate and consistent with what employers may have learned about an applicant online. Another use of phone interviews is to determine whether or not a job candidate has the requisite oral communications skills required to perform the job that he/she applied for.

To increase the possibility of a face-to-face, job candidates can do a variety of things to prepare for and optimize his/her performance during phone interviews.

These include:
  1. Use a landline. You don’t want to risk having problems with cell phone service. It is irritating for employers to conduct interviews if the call breaks up frequently or is dropped. If you don’t have a landline or access to one, make sure that the telephone interview is conducted in a location with as much cell phone service as possible.
  2. Keep your resume and job qualifications readily available. In fact, lay out all of your materials in front of you before the call. This includes your resume, notes about your career objective and skill sets/qualifications for the job and anything else you think may be helpful during the interview.
  3. Steer clear of distractions. Find a quiet place to interview and stay there! There shouldn’t be any noise in the background to distract you or the hiring manager. However, it is understandable that this can be tricky if you have young children at home who need your attention. When you set up your interview appointment, try to schedule it for as precise a time or window as possible. That way, you are able to avoid possible distractions.
  4. Speak slowly and clearly. When you speak to people in face-to-face situations, you are better able to understand what they are saying or asking because you can see their mouth move and observe their body language. Of course, neither you nor the interviewer will be able to do this over the phone. Therefore, it is important to speak clearly and more slowly than you would if you were talking face-to-face to him/her. If you cannot hear the interviewer, politely ask him/her to repeat a question. If this doesn’t work, blame the poor sound quality on your phone and say “I’m really sorry, it’s hard to hear you, and the volume on my phone just won’t go up!”
  5. Beware of jokes or sarcastic remarks. Jokes or sarcastic remarks that may be deemed harmless in face-to-face conversations can be misinterpreted during a phone interview because an interviewer cannot see your body language or facial expressions when a comment is made. Also, an employee who is sarcastic or prone to joke telling may not be considered professional to some hiring manager. Therefore it is a good idea during a phone interview to maintain your professionalism; stay on target with the interview topics and focus on the key information about you that will get you hired.
  6. No eating, drinking or chewing gum! While eating, drinking and chewing gum are typical things that people do, none of these activities should be performed during a phone interview. They can interfere with your ability to communicate and are considered to be unprofessional behaviors (unless of course you are working through a lunchtime meeting after you are hired).
  7. Turn off all electronic devices. The goal of a telephone interview is to tell a prospective employer that you are serious, focused and keenly interested in the job that you are interviewing for. There is nothing more annoying, disruptive or rude than hearing an email alert or vibrating phone during a conversation. If you want to get invited to a face-to-face interview, then turn off all electronic devices (tablets, laptops, televisions etc) before the telephone interview begins.
  8. Prepare questions ahead of time. At the end of many telephone interviews, hiring managers typically ask whether or not there are any questions. Therefore, it is a good idea to have some. Asking questions signals to the interviewer that you did your “homework” about the company/organization and are seriously interested in the job opportunity. Some examples of questions are: “What is the start date for the job?” “What software/equipment will I be using?”

Remember; do not ask about salary or benefits. These questions are best left for face-to-face interviews. However, if the interviewer asks about salary requirements then you should be prepared to provide an answer. Typically, it is a good idea to provide a salary range and if you are reluctant to offer that information it is acceptable to say “a salary commensurate with persons with my qualifications and years of experience.

Using these recommendations to prepare for an upcoming telephone interview will signal to prospective employers you are professional, serious and extremely interested in the job opportunity. And, hopefully, your performance will be sufficient to garner an invitation to participate in a face-to-face, onsite job interview.


Negotiating a Job Offer

Negotiating a Job Offer

Author:  Gabrielle Bauer

The devil is in the details

You got The Call. They want you on the job, starting next month. Much as you’d like to shout the news from a rooftop, this is not the time to lose your cool. Reviewing and negotiating the offer will benefit not only you, but your new employer: if you’re happy, you’ll work more productively and stick around longer, which means they’ll be happy.

Some people feel confident about the negotiation process, viewing it as an interesting game. Others would rather skip the whole thing. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it pays to remember that you and your would-be employer share the same goal: having you join the team. You’re simply ironing out the details. (If you truly dread the prospect of negotiating and you used a recruiter to get the offer, you can ask the recruiter to negotiate on your behalf.)

Establish your priorities

Salary, ability to work remotely, work-life balance, vacation time, benefits, moving expenses… you can negotiate just about everything in a job offer, expect items governed by employment law or organizational structure. Even resources such as lab equipment and office space fall into the “negotiable” category.¹ Make a list of your must-haves and nice-to-haves and keep it handy as you prepare your negotiation strategy.

While salary may or may not be your biggest concern, it probably matters to some extent. To get a good read on a competitive salary for your new job, research the salary ranges for the position, taking region and type of company (industry, academic, nonprofit) into account.¹ Websites like Payscale (https://www.payscale.com/) can help you get started.

Negotiation by the numbers²

These figures from Become, a career-development organization, suggest that new recruits aren’t using their full power in the negotiation process:

  • 52% of men and 68% of women accept a salary offer without negotiating; many women shy away from negotiation because of fear of seeming desperate or greedy.
  • Only 38% of millennials negotiated their first job offers, compared to 48% of baby boomers.
  • Gen-Xers line up more closely with boomers, with 46% negotiating their first offers.
  • People who never negotiate their salaries can miss out on up to $1.5 million in extra earnings over their lifetimes.

Get ready

Once you have a written offer—a must for negotiations—evaluate it point by point and see how it lines up with the list you prepared. If you find significant gaps, prepare a counteroffer explaining the changes you’d like to see, and why. Let’s say the salary doesn’t match your expectations: make a list of the assets you bring to the table that “average” candidates may not offer, like authorship in peer-reviewed journals or connections with prominent scientists. If you’re using a recruiting service, they can help you with the counteroffer, ensuring you’re not missing any red flags and helping you build your case.

As you plan the counteroffer, bear in mind that your negotiation ceiling may depend on the company’s size. For example, larger companies hiring a lot of people at the same time may have less wiggle room with salary. In such a case, you may want to focus more on other aspects of the job offer, such as professional development opportunities or even a different job title.

Next, write out a rough script for the verbal negotiation. Practice it out loud, aiming for a friendly, nonconfrontational tone. Just as likeability can help you get a position, it can generate goodwill during salary negotiations.³

Words of wisdom from career coach Carlotta Zee¹
“I’ve helped clients negotiate jobs with salaries starting at a quarter of a million [dollars], and I guarantee that they didn’t just smile nicely and giggle. We rehearsed endlessly. We researched. We made a plan.”

Show time

If you’ve done the groundwork, you can approach the actual negotiation with confidence.
As far as possible, aim to negotiate in real time, either sitting across from the employer or by videoconference. Seeing faces humanizes the process and will likely work in your favor.

Don’t let fear limit what you ask for: the worst your employer can say is no. When discussing salary, remember that you do not have to reveal your previous salary to employers: depending on the jurisdiction, it may be illegal for them to ask. Keep the focus on your expectations, supported by the research you have done.

If you explain why you want something—say, working remotely twice a week to cut down on gas consumption or avoid a long commute—the employer is more likely to empathize with your position. By the same token, showing some flexibility will prompt your employer to return the favor. If you want to work four days per week, for example, you could offer to work longer hours on those days or to take a salary cut. If the employer won’t flex on salary, ask them to reconsider your salary in six months or to commit to invest in your career development.¹

Expect to emerge with a satisfactory offer, but be prepared to walk away if your employer shows no flexibility. The last thing you want to do is start a new job with an undercurrent of resentment.¹ A more likely scenario is that you’ll receive a counteroffer that meets you partway. If it aligns with your must-have criteria, you can accept it with peace of mind—and then climb up on that rooftop.

1. The professional’s guide to negotiating a job offer. Become, Nov. 17, 2020. 
2. Bankston A. Negotiating for scientists. ASBMBToday, Aug. 1, 2018. 
3. Malhotra D. 15 rules for negotiating a job offer. Harvard Business Review, April 2014. 
4. Brothers L. How to negotiate work-life balance into an offer. BioSpace, Aug. 15, 2019.