If you’re ready to embrace the challenges of a senior-level or executive position in the life science industry, you’ll be familiar with the interview process and technique. You know that the interviewer is evaluating your fitness for a leadership-level position, so the key is to convince them that you have the necessary skills and experience to further the business while being a good cultural fit. Interview preparation can make it easier to accomplish this goal.
If you’ve made it to interview, whether telephone or face-to-face, you’ve already overcome the first hurdles in the hiring process. That means you’ve been shortlisted by an executive search firm, recruiter or member of talent acquisition and put forward to the hiring manager of the life science organisation you’re interviewing with. But you’re up against tough competition. Generally, 4-5 candidates will be shortlisted for any senior-level roles.
The interview is your place to shine. You only have a small window in which to impress, but by following the steps in this article, you’ll be fully prepared and confident in your delivery. And when the interview ends, you can rest assured that you left the hiring manager and other influencers in no doubt that you are a talented life science leader who can transform their department, function or organisation. Here’s how to wow them.
Following formal introductions by the hiring manager and accompanying interviewers (typically a member of HR), management and executive-level interviews typically begin with questions designed to validate the skills, experience, qualifications and accomplishments listed on your CV.
Prior to interview, ensure you’ve familiarised yourself with your own CV and can list your major accomplishments with ease, especially those which relate directly to the role you applied for. The hiring manager is expecting to hear about them, and will no doubt ask probing questions about your past achievements or how you handled difficult situations in the past. Don’t fall at the first hurdle. Know your CV inside out.
Understand the organisation
As the interview progresses, the hiring manager will likely want to find out what you know about their life science organisation, what interests you in the position, and why you want to work for them. To provide an effective answer, you need an understanding of the organisation missions, values, products and competitors. Here are some ways to research an organisation prior to interview:
An organisations website provides a wealth of information about its products, services, accomplishments, history, mission and culture. While the About Us section is a good place to start, seek out press releases, blog articles, white papers, full accounts and annual reports to get a true understanding of the organisation and its activities over the past five years.
When sifting through the information, look out for common themes in their topics, language and imagery. How does the organisation betray itself? And more importantly, can you see yourself working for them? If you uncover any red flags during your research – for example, the organisation has made a loss for several consecutive quarters – be sure to bring that up during interview.
2. Social media
Life science organisations use social media to connect with their customers and suppliers, increase awareness about their products and services, announce company news and demonstrate their expertise in their industry. How they portray themselves across social media will give you a good sense of how the company wishes their customers to view them.
Like and follow the organisation you are interviewing with on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and any other social media platform where they maintain an active presence. That way you can keep an eye on goings on within the organisation in the days leading up to your interview, providing you with insights others might miss from only researching the website.
3. Press releases
While press releases inevitably place a positive spin on topics, they provide a wealth of organisational information. Recent discoveries, product and service launches, mergers, acquisitions and CSR initiatives are frequently reported, all of which provide great stimulus for questions during interview. Be sure to have read the last few press releases prior to heading into interview.
4. Media articles
Unless the organisation is highly controversial, news sources provide a more balanced insight into the organisation; it’s competitors and how it is perceived externally. Just type the organisations’ name into Google and select the News tab to bring up latest news stories – good and bad. You can hone the results further by adjusting the publication date under the Tools menu.
5. Industry Journals
Industry journals are an excellent source of information on both the organisation and the life sciences industry in general. They will typically cover the business’s significant accomplishments, breakthroughs, or setbacks. They will also discuss industry trends and upcoming changes, so you can anticipate what responsibilities the job position may attract in the future.
6. Google Competitors
To find out who the organisation’s competitors are, simply type in “top [life science function] organisation” into Google and note the results. You might even find some media sources have created contented specifically listing the top 10, 20 or even 50 organisation in the sector. Depending on the size of the organisation, the returned results might be aspirational, especially for startups, so clarify this with the hiring manager during interview. For more questions to ask the hiring manager, read our blog: 13 Of The Smartest Questions To Ask A Hiring Manager
Who is the Hiring Manager?
Researching a potential employer is an excellent way to understand the organisation as a whole, but it can also be beneficial to learn more about the person(s) who will be interviewing you. You may or may not report into them in future, but they definitely make hiring recommendations, so you want to create a positive first impression, especially to the hiring manager.
You see, the hiring manager calls the shots in the interview and hiring process. Like you, they are busy individuals who manage a team/department/function. And they’re looking for their next new hire to help ease their burden. The more you can find out about the hiring manager prior to interview, the better you can tailor your responses to his/her questions.
First things first, find out who they are. If you are not sure, seek clarification from the person arranging your interview, whether that be a member of HR or a recruiter or executive search consultant. Once you know who the interviewers are, look them up on LinkedIn. What is their role? Recent accomplishments? Where did they go to university? You can also Google the individual to see if they have contributed to any media articles, press releases or hosted any events which could be indicative that they are subject matter experts in their field. Good to know before meeting them.
Clarify the role requirements
Interview success is dependent upon your understanding of the role and using that information to deliver a gold standard performance. Examine the job specification and, for every requirement, prepare a case study of a similar situation in your career where you excelled. You might need to do a little detective role to remind yourself of the objective, deliverable and core metrics.
Where possible, draw from experiences that occurred in the last 3-5 years. The more recent the experience the better. That way, if asked how your experience compares with that of the job specification, you will be able to do deliver a clear and concise answer on why you are an excellent fit for the role, wowing the hiring manager in the process.
If you lack a particular skill, don’t threat. Job specifications are usually aspiration in their requirements and you would not have been shortlisted if your experience was not sufficient. But the more requirements you have direct experience of the better your chances of success! You could even consider signing up for an online course or purchasing a book on the subject to better your knowledge. Not only will this help you sound more knowledgeable, but it will demonstrate an appetite for lifelong learning, as well as proof of your self-motivation and interest in the job.
You should treat the interview as an opportunity to demonstrate how you would develop the role over the next 6, 12 and 24 months if hired. These predictions should play to your personal strengths while demonstrating an understanding of market conditions and the organisations’ mission. Don’t forget to include some shorter-term goals, identify clear objectives for your first 30, 60 and 90 days. This aids the Hiring Manager in visualising how you would settle into the role and demonstrates that you can take small practical steps to develop the position.
Impressing at interview is all about the way you tell your story. Any interview for a senior-level management or executive position will include questions about:
- Your experience.
- Your management style.
- Past career accomplishments.
- Mistakes and how you overcome them.
- Expectations for the future.
Your answers to these questions will help the Hiring Manager judge your competence for the role and cultural fit. Excelling at answering these competency questions is key to interview success.
Use the STAR technique – Situation, Task, Approach, Results – to articulate your responses. To give an effective response, all four elements of your answer need to work:
Set the scene by providing the Hiring Manager with some background information which will help put the other elements of your answer into context. For example, if the interviewer asks you about your last position, you could say, “I developed and lead the regulatory program for [Organisation], an industry leading biologics organisation based in California”.
Build on your background by outlining what you had to do to complete all deliverables. Building on the Regulatory Affairs example outlined earlier; you could say “I assured the compliance of all marketing initiatives by having final sign-off on all marketing collateral and campaigns developed in-house and by external agencies”. Don’t go into too much detail unless prompted.
How did you resolve the situation? Your interviewer will know that challenges are common, so don’t be afraid to be honest. Tell them what hurdles you had to overcome to accomplish your goals. Be sure to align your response with the skills, experience and qualities outlined in the job description wherever possible.
Describe the outcome. Did you achieve target? If you failed, explain what you learnt from the experience and what you would do differently if you were to approach the task again.
It’s often been said that there’s more to succeeding at interview than giving the right answers. You also need to ask the right questions.
While you might believe that the answers you give during interview will paint your expertise and qualities in the best light, don’t underestimate the importance of asking questions during interview. Hiring Managers frequently acknowledge that questions posed by leadership-level candidates offer telling insights into the individual’s character, emotional intelligence and cultural fit, and is the part of the interview they most look forward to.
So as the interview approaches it’s conclusion, the hiring manager will likely ask “Do you have any questions?”
Here’s a tip: your interviewer wants you to ask questions about the organisation and the role, so come to the interview with pre-prepared questions of your own.
Detailed inquiries about the position, company, or department are always well-received. They will impress the Hiring Manager, especially if they reflect your industry knowledge and interest in the organisation. You could ask about the onboarding process, opportunities for personal development and training, and any concerns you have about role remit. Sample questions could include:
- What are the challenges of the position?
- How do you evaluate success?
- What is the long-term strategic vision of the organisation?
Sometimes, a Hiring Manager is so thorough in their introduction to the organisation and the role that they cover all bases before you get an opportunity to ask questions. If this is the case, you can say something along the lines of “our discussion has been very thorough, so right now I believe that all of my questions have been answered. May I reach out to you if I think of anything else?” If you part on this note, be sure to follow up with the Hiring Manager via email or telephone with any questions you might have within three days of the interview.
For more questions to ask the hiring manager, see are blog: 13 Of The Smartest Questions To Ask A Hiring Manager.
Dress for success
Ask any actor: wardrobe has to complement performance. When deciding what to wear to interview, visit the organisations’ website or social media platform for clues as to organisational dress code. Do senior managers and executives stick to tightly-buttoned three-piece suits or is work attire a comfortable blend of business casual? The answer should inform your choice of clothing.
It’s important to plan your wardrobe ahead of time. Not only do you need to choose your attire, but you need to ensure your clothes look their best. Ensure all clothes are washed or dry cleaned, shirts and blouses are ironed, trouncers crease free and shoes polished. You need to make a great first impression, so ensure you enter the interview room looking sharp.
When planning your outfit you should:
- Err on the side of caution.
- Stick to neutral colours.
- Avoid patterns and prints.
- Consider the season.
- Ensure you’re comfortable.
If still in doubt, ask. Reach out to the Hiring Manager or, if being put forward by an executive search firm or specialist recruiter, the consultant for advice on suitable attire. Getting your outfit sorted ahead of time gives you piece-of-mind, allowing you to focus your attention on more important things, like interview answer preparation or getting to the interview – the subject of our next tip.
When you’re heading out to a job interview, punctuality is critical.
First things first, confirm address and interview arrangements. Where is the interview? What time does it start? Do I have reserved parking? Who should I ask for at reception? If you’re interviewing for an overseas position or a role in a different country, state or city, you will need to make separate hotel and travel arrangements. Generally speaking, most organisations reimburse candidates for their travel, accommodation and food when travelling considerable distance for interview, but clarify with whoever is organising the interview prior to making your travel arrangements.
After confirming the above, locate the interview site on Google Street View. Conduct online reconnaissance of the area to pinpoint the main entrance, the car park or, if travelling by public transport, the nearest bus stop or train station. This way you will know exactly when you need to leave your home, work or hotel to arrive on time, and you’re less likely to get lost en route.
If you happen to run late, be sure to contact the organisation in advance to warn them. Arriving late without prior warning will lead to negative assumptions about your professionalism.
Before entering the interview room, try to relax. You’ll feel less nervous, more enthusiastic and personable. Organisations seek senior managers and executives who can remain calm and composed in stressful situations, and the interview is the perfect arena to demonstrate this quality. If you maintain eye contact with the Hiring Manager, answer their questions clearly and speak with genuine warmth, you will appear calm and in control of the situation. If you struggle to relax in these scenarios, practice these conscious breathing technique.
To succeed at an interview for a leadership position, you need to display a leader’s attitude. Research the company and the role extensively, home you answers to common interview questions using the star technique, look the part, and arrive on time. By following the tips above, you will stand out from other interviewees and be one step closer to landing the position.
For more job search advice tailored to senior managers and executives…
- Read 13 Of The Smartest Questions To Ask A Hiring Manager.
- Visit our life science job board to start your job search.
* Fraser Dove International is a specialist executive search firm operating exclusively in the Life Science industry. Passionate about people, we take pride in helping exceptional life science organisations source the talent they need to design, manufacture and distribute life-changing drugs, treatments and devices which transform and save patient lives.