Acing the Interview: tips for rising above the competition
For every job opening in the bio tech and life science sectors, there are dozens, if not hundreds of applicants. I wrote in my previous blog, "Graduation season is here. Now is not the time for science majors without a job to panic," about the job search process and how to make yourself stand out.
Your resume and application helped you stand out, and you've landed an interview. Your interview will most likely be virtual (but some organizations are starting to do in-person interviews). It's time to get prepared! Let's discuss the logistics of virtual and in-person interviews, how to prepare, how to answer the questions and following up afterwards.
Logistics to consider for virtual interviews
Interviews are stressful situations, whether they are virtual or in-person. You have seconds to make a great first impression. Add technology into the mix with a virtual interview and the stress level can rise. Let's talk about what you can do to minimize the stress so you can focus on presenting your best self to the interviewers.
Make sure your camera is eye level; place books or a box underneath it if needed. Pay attention to your lighting. Make sure there isn't a window behind you. If you are going to do a lot of interviews, invest in a light designed for virtual meetings. Lume Cube is just one of many companies that offer affordable lights that clip on top of your laptop to provide even lighting on your face and background.
Speaking of your background, make sure it's organized and clear of clutter. If your background doesn't promote the image of professionalism, add a virtual background. Upload it to the platform you'll be using and test how it looks beforehand.
If your desk faces a wall, print key bullet points of your responses to standard interview questions on the wall right above your screen. This way, you can easily reference these bullet points while answering questions and appear to be looking into the camera.
It's time for the actual interview experience
You've gone through the logistics for the interview. Your computer setup is ready, and you know what you're wearing. But do you know who you are interviewing with?
The interview process will probably go several rounds. Your first interview will most likely be with a representative of human resources. Some companies may refer to HR as talent management, the people and culture team, employee relations, etc., but they all mean the same thing. This is the person who will determine if you continue in the interview process, so take this as seriously as any interview you have.
From there, your second and possibly third rounds of interviews could be with multiple people, which makes virtual meetings challenging, so the more comfortable you are with virtual meetings the better. I'll provide advice for each type of interview later in this blog.
Prepare for the interview by comparing each position requirement with your resume and relevant experience. The experience could come from jobs you've held, your research activities, course projects, volunteer work and leadership activities. Remember those bullet points I spoke about earlier? Create bullet points for each requirement and practice your responses from them.
In my graduate research, I led a team of four people to develop three different genetically modified mouse models to study drug targets for diabetes.
In this response, you highlight the hard skill as well as the soft skills of leadership and teamwork.
Make time for self-reflection before the interview
It's important to understand your career goals. What you want now, and where you see yourself in five and ten years. It sounds cliche, but it's true.
Before the interview, ask yourself some important questions. Chances are good you'll be asked these questions in the first round of interviews.
Utilizing the STAR Method when developing interview responses
It is important to remember that interviewers cannot read your mind. You know what you do, you have lived your life. When you explain something, you know exactly the context, what you did, what the outcome was – you might even remember the exact day and time that this situation happened and how you were feeling. The interviewer listening to you has no idea about any of this – this is the first time, usually, that they are meeting you and listening to you talk about you experiences. Therefore, it is important to indicate context, otherwise they might not be able to “place” where you did what, especially if you've had multiple research experiences.
The STAR method will help you develop your responses. This allows you to mention the following:
Your responses and questions depend on who you're speaking with
I mentioned earlier that your interview process will probably go several rounds. It's important to remember that not only is the company interviewing you, but YOU are also interviewing the company. Questions can and should go both ways.
They will inevitably ask if you have questions for them. Never say no. Have a list prepared. If you have no questions, they will think that you are not interested in the opportunity. Some questions to ask HR during the interview are:
What's next? Don't be afraid to ask.
Knowing what's next in the process is fair to everyone. You have a right to ask, and the company may or may not provide a lot of information. You can ask the HR person and the hiring manager what the next steps are in the interview process and when you should expect to hear about the next round.
Nothing is as important as passion.
Passion plays a huge role in the job search process. You need to have and show your passion for a role or organization and for the work that you are hoping to be hired for. The people in the organization need to show you passion for the work they do and the company they work for. As Jon Bon Jovi said, "Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate."
Companies also want to see someone who is a team player, but can also work independently, with good communication skills. You are looking for an organization where you feel welcome, appreciated and part of a team that is making a difference.
Ultimately, you are both looking for the perfect match.
Propel Careers is a Boston based life science search and career development firm focused on connecting talented individuals with entrepreneurial life sciences organizations. Lauren Celano has a B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology from Gettysburg College and an MBA with a focus in the health sector and entrepreneurship from Boston University. Celano serves on the boards of many organizations, including the Board of MassBioEd as Vice-Chair and the Board of the National Tay-Sachs & Allied Diseases Association. She is also on the Advisory Board for the Professional Science Master’s Program at Framingham State University, and New England Graduate Women in Science & Engineering (NE GWISE). To learn more about Propel: https://www.propelcareers.com/