…Not today! Nowadays, more specific questions for life science candidates are in style – not to mention, far more useful. Instead of ultra-vague cliches, consider carefully thought-out inquiries to really get to know your candidates.
Of course, you can never know for certain how an interviewee will perform based on a short series of questions. That said, some questions are meatier than others, and can get you a pretty good idea of how a candidate might fare if offered the position.
The Four Questions for Life Science Job Candidates
Question 1: What first made you interested in a career in the life sciences?
From reading their resume, you probably already know where a candidate has worked, and what they can do with their knowledge. What you may not have read is the human story behind their choice of career.
Maybe they’ve traveled extensively, and were inspired by the many opportunities for biotech innovation around the world. Or maybe they’ve been reading life science magazines since they were six years old, and have always been fascinated by the potential of technology to save lives. Learning a candidate’s backstory will give you a sense of the passion they would bring to your company, and where it might lead them within their new role.
Question 2: What is the most complex life science project you have worked on? How did you overcome the associated challenges?
There’s nothing like past behavior to help you predict future behavior. That’s why you should ask any candidate about their past experience – ideally, working in a setting that closely mirrors the work environment of the position in question.
If your candidate has experience with large projects like running clinical trials or developing new products, you’ll want to hear about the specifics. Education is great, but it’s their experience, and of course their success stories, that really tell you what they bring to the table.
Question 3: What Do You Know About Our Company, Our Products, and Our Product Pipeline?
Looking to test whether an interviewee has done their homework? This question will speed-track the process. Let’s face it: if they didn’t think to do a quick background check for the interview, they probably won’t be the most thorough workers, either.
Assuming they can answer the question, their response will shed some light on their interests and values as a life scientist. If they have a penchant for a particular product, or a specific reason they’d like to work for you, this question offers them the chance to share.
Question 4: How Would You Improve or Expand Our Current Product/Trial?
Above all, this one is a test of critical thinking. To answer this question well, a candidate will have to think about your business through a big-picture lens. This takes in-depth knowledge of the workings of the biotech/life science industry, both internally and externally, and the ability to apply it to the context of a single company. If your candidate hasn’t prepared for this one, cut them some slack – but if they do land on their feet with an intelligent answer, they definitely deserve bonus points.
Other Important Questions to Ask
At the end of the day, the particular cocktail of interview questions you settle on will depend on what you really need to know. If the position in question will be data-heavy, for example, ask candidates how they go about evaluating new information as it becomes available. If they’d be in charge of enforcing regulations, ask them which ones they feel would affect your current product pipeline.
Depending on the candidate and the role in question, you can also ask about their lab experience, biotechnology experience, and/or their knowledge of a specific technology or lab technique.
Choosing a new candidate to onboard is an exciting process! It’s also a scary one – especially when you consider the immense costs of training someone new. Naturally, you’ll want to find the candidate that checks as many important boxes as possible. Specific questions will let you zoom in on those essential areas, leaving less room for vague, useless answers.
How can you avoid candidate ghosting? First we need to define ghosting. The term “ghosting” – when one person drops all contact without warning and no longer replies to your messages – is something you may have heard about in the context of romantic relationships or friendships, but it is becoming a professional phenomenon too.
A recent survey of jobseekers found that 84% of candidates admit to ghosting an employer or potential employer during the past 18 months. As a recruiter, it is frustrating when a candidate stops responding to your calls and does not tell you why. Aside from accepting it’s not a personal reflection on you, here are some ways to reduce the likelihood of candidate ghosting.
Why Candidates Ghost
Unfortunately, the reality of the current workforce and hiring trends means that ghosting is easier – and more tempting than ever.
With the biotech sector still growing fast and struggling to fill their positions – and the rising cost of living prompting many STEM workers to seek better opportunities – recruiters need job candidates slightly more than candidates need them. As a result, jobseekers often move faster than recruiters when applying for jobs and accepting or rejecting offers. They are also frequently working with multiple recruiters or applying to jobs directly. This leads to a situation where candidates are more likely to ghost one recruiter because they’ve accepted another job offer, or they are balancing too many job applications and decide to let some opportunities go.
In the survey mentioned above, 29% of job candidates said the reason they ghosted an employer was because the salary offered was too low. The second most common reason given was the candidate received a better job offer (28%).
How Recruiters Can Avoid Candidate Ghosting
The best way to avoid jobseeker ghosting is to remain approachable and proactive. Keep candidates apprised of delays with their applications (e.g. if the hiring manager is away on vacation until next week), and check in with the candidates regularly. These check-ins should continue even after a job offer is made: if the candidate isn’t receiving updates from their new employer, it may make them nervous and more likely to continue their job search. It is uncommon for a candidate to ghost the company after making a job offer…but it’s not unheard of.
When filling biotech roles, make sure you know what the candidate’s preferred salary range is early in the process, and whether the position you’re trying to fill meets their expectations.
Assume that the candidate is pursuing multiple opportunities simultaneously, and act accordingly. Try to accommodate the candidate’s other applications – if they expect to attend a final stage interview next week, make sure they do not have to wait long to find out the status of the interviews you’ve facilitated.
Lastly, emphasize that you’re supportive of the candidate pursuing other opportunities and accepting competing offers. Some candidates ghost recruiters because they fear an awkward conversation when they admit they’ve accepted another offer. If you want your candidates to tell you when they’ve stopped their job search, it’s best to be understanding.
Are you wondering what to expect at your biotech job interview? Before we get to that, congratulations on getting this far! Whether you are applying to your first STEM job after graduation, or re-entering the job market after a long time, the biotech interview process can appear intimidating. Fortunately, the recruitment process is fairly standard across the industry – with a few exceptions described below – and with a little bit of preparation you can shine every step of the way.
General Structure of Biotech Job Interview Process
The first step of the recruitment process is usually an HR screening call. The recruiter or HR representative will tell you about the company and the role in more general terms, and assess your basic suitability for the role: whether you have the right qualifications and experience. The next stage is a call with the hiring manager, followed by technical or panel interviews. Panel interviews will usually involve senior employers across a variety of functions who will interact with you in their line of work. For instance, if you’re interviewing for a bench position, you may be interviewed by your potential line manager, the head of your department, and someone from finance or operations.
These interviews will delve deeper into your experience, competencies, and what the role involves. Depending on the technical role you’re applying for you might be asked to present on a scientific topic (e.g. your thesis project), or complete a timed/take-home assessment.
A biotech job interview will often be via video conference (Microsoft Teams, WebEx or Zoom), though you may be invited for an in-person interview at the final stage if you live nearby.
If you found this job through a recruiter, expect them to follow-up with you after each stage to get your feedback. The recruiter will often do the majority of the interview scheduling, and talk to the hiring team on your behalf.
It’s a good idea to prepare for the interview by gathering basic information about the company you wish to work for. Look at the company website, its LinkedIn pages and read through recent press releases or news articles about the company.
You want to get a general idea about the structure of the company (how many employees it has, where are its offices, etc), and if it’s expanding or changing its business focus. During the interviews you could be asked “what do you know about the company?” and you want to be able to give a brief but accurate answer. Were there any big approvals or results from clinical trials? Most interviewers are prepared to talk about the company, and answer your questions, so don’t feel shy about admitting you don’t know something.
For the later interviews (e.g. with the hiring manager, technical, panel) think about scenarios in previous jobs – or during school – when you had to deal/work with a difficult person, work in a team to solve a problem, deal with multiple challenging deadlines at once, etc. You’ll often be asked basic competency questions to see how you communicate and work with others, in addition to assessing the technical skills you bring to the role.
The best way to demonstrate interest in the role is to ask questions and maintain a dialogue with the interviewers. In the last few minutes of the call, ask a couple of questions about the state of industry, any changes in the industry or company the hiring managers are excited about; or why they enjoy working for the company. It reflects well on you if you have thoughtful questions to ask.
Different Companies Have Different Hiring Procedures
This interview process varies depending on the size of the company hiring. At a small biotech start-up there are usually fewer interview steps. You’re more likely to interview with company higher-ups such as the CEO sooner.
At larger biotechs of pharmaceutical companies the recruitment process is more formal, with more interview steps, and a greater number of people involved in each interview. It therefore might take longer to move through the interview process, since there are more people to schedule around, more candidates, and more internal bureaucracy prior to approving a new hire.
Overall, though the biotech interview process can feel exhausting and repetitive, exposure to multiple people will give you a good sense of the company culture, and allow you plenty of opportunities to get your questions answered.
Nervous about applying for a new STEM job? The friendly recruiters at Sci.Bio will be with you every step of the process to help you prepare. Connect with us to discuss your needs today.
Do you know who to hire for which role? Gone are the days of the lab-only scientist. Nowadays, positions in STEM fields can call for a variety of communications skills, whether that be writing, management, design, or something else. These science communications positions are all the rage nowadays, but because they require at least two skill sets, they can be difficult to fill.
When hiring for a science communicator role, there’s no one-size-fits-all background to look for – so screening applicants can be tricky. What keywords do you search for? Who do you rule out? Many qualified applicants won’t have had a separate career to match every skill required for a role. So, you’ll need to find other ways of assessing their potential to succeed.
Types of multi-skilled roles in the sciences
As careers in science communications become more and more well-known, interest in the field is burgeoning. Examples of positions in science communications include scientific communications specialist, medical writer, and research analyst. Some positions will skew more communications-based, and some more science-based. The trick for who to hire for which role is to discern which skillset comes first for a particular job. Then, you can comb through the applicant pool with that information top of mind.
Positions that are often more science-based can include roles in technical editing, data management, and curriculum development. Such roles absolutely still require communications skills – just perhaps not the same kind of verbal acuity that might be required of a presenter or writer. There are no hard and fast rules, though! Always use your judgment about the skill set that would work best for a particular position.
Who to Hire for Which Role
A role that primarily involves research or leadership, but seldom calls for in-depth or on-the-spot scientific knowledge, is often well-suited to a communications professional. If you’re on the lookout for a Director of Communications for a life science business, for example, don’t hesitate to choose someone who’s well-versed in leadership and project management, and less experienced (but highly trainable) in research analysis.
For roles that hinge on a deeper STEM knowledge base, consider hiring scientists – albeit that they boast some natural writing acumen. For instance, you may be on the hunt for a data science consultant who can not only solve problems, but effectively communicate their solutions. Because data science is not usually a skill that people pick up “on the fly”, you’ll probably want to first gather a pool of candidates with experience in the field. Then, to form your “top tier” of potential hires, you can identify the strongest communicators within that pool.
Some positions get especially tricky, though. Let’s say, for example, that you’re on a mission to find the perfect technical editor to fill an opening. In this case, you might actually be better off hiring a trained scientist. That’s because editing, while communications-based, is very detail-oriented and factual. Of course, any editor should have a good handle on grammar and paragraph structure, too – but in this case, finding someone who knows the ins and outs of the subject matter may prove to be the most important factor.
What to screen for
For science positions that involve preparing presentations, articles, or other written materials, ask your shortlist of candidates to show you a couple of relevant samples. A candidate’s portfolio may include brochures, slide decks, even emails – as long as it gives you a sense of their writing style, it should offer valuable insights into their suitability for a communications role.
Ultimately, when you’re hiring for a multi-skilled position, the most important thing to screen for is ability to learn. If a candidate sounds terrified, or perhaps just bored, by the thought of becoming well-versed in a subject that’s new to them – this may not be a recruitment match made in heaven. But if their eyes light up when you tell them more, and they can describe times they’ve used a similar skillset somewhere else – you may just have a winner on your hands.
The most important skill – who to hire for which role
Figuring out which candidate is likely to make the best hire can be a tricky balancing act – especially when it comes to science communications roles. As you search for suitable candidates, keep an eye out for those who are sharp, enthusiastic, and above all ready to learn – even if they don’t have the perfect resume.
And remember: people can always surprise you. Just because a writer hasn’t researched scientific topics before doesn’t mean they aren’t cut out to learn some new ropes. If your new science news editor has advanced technical degrees in their subject matter but little to no writing experience, you can assess their language skills another way. Keep a critical but open mind, and you’ll find a candidate who brings to the table an impressive skillset – and a willingness to keep learning more.
Few people enjoy job hunting, and most job candidates have a story or two about bad application or interview experiences. For this reason it’s important for recruiters to make a good impression on candidates, and ensure they have a positive experience being guided through the application process. These days, there are plenty of communication tools tailored to help you stay in touch with candidates without increasing your own workload.
Communication Strategies: Automate What You Can
Calendly is a simple tool that allows candidates to schedule screening calls with you. It gives the candidate a feeling of control and easy ability to reschedule, while reducing the time you spend arranging (and rearranging) screening calls via email or over the phone.
Providing a chatbot (such as Mya or FlashRecruit) that addresses basic jobseeker questions is another way to reduce clutter in your inbox, by allowing the candidate to receive pertinent information about your opportunities and the application process at their own convenience.
Small and steady check-ins
It’s likely your job candidate is working with multiple recruiters and balancing a lot of job applications – all at different stages. For this reason, regular touchpoints with your candidate are vital. Don’t leave them waiting on promised updates, or wondering where their application is in the pipeline: if it’s with the hiring manager, if the hiring team is scheduling interviews yet. A candidate will prioritize applications where the timeline/anticipated next steps are clear, because it helps them plan the remainder of their job search and anticipate when offers might be made.
To help reduce your email inbox clutter, use personalized email templates sparingly. Job candidates don’t want to be on the receiving end of constant cookie-cutter responses, but email templates can be helpful when you have a range to draw from. Tools like Gorgias and Followup.cc allow you to manage customized email templates and keep on top of follow-up messages.
New software is constantly being launched or upgraded, and communication trends change quickly. Be sure to check your workflow and organizational tools are still meeting your needs. How many hours a day are you actually fielding questions from candidates, for instance? Don’t be afraid to try new processes and experiment with the levels of workflow automation.
At Sci.Bio, we specialize in finding top biotech talent and adapting to meet your recruiting needs. Schedule an appointment with us today to learn more.