If you’re ready to embrace the challenges of a senior or executive position in the life science industry, you should be familiar with interview process and technique. The interviewer is evaluating your fitness for a leadership-level position. Convince them that you have the necessary skills and experience to further the business while being a good cultural fit. Proper 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 hurdle in the hiring process. That means you’ve been shortlisted and put forward to the hiring manager of the life science organisation. Despite this, you’re up against tough competition.
Generally, 4-5 candidates will be shortlisted for any senior-level roles.
That makes the interview your place to shine, but you only have a small window to impress. Fortunately, following the tips in this article should fully prepare you.
So what are our 10 tips? Keep reading to find out:
- Know Yourself
- Understand the Organisation
- Research the Hiring Manager
- Clarify the Role Requirements
- Articulate Answers
- Ask Questions
- Dress for Success
- Be Punctual
- Take a Breath
The first step to proper interview preparation is knowing yourself. When you enter the interview, you can expect formal introductions by the hiring manager and accompanying interviewers (typically a member of HR). Afterwards, management and executive-level interviews typically begin with questions designed to validate the skills, experience, and accomplishments 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. The hiring manager is expecting to hear all about them. Most likely, they’ll ask probing questions about your 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. This is another area where interview preparation is crucial.
They’ll probably ask 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’s missions, values, products, and competitors.
Here are some ways to research an organisation prior to interview:
An organisation’s 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, try seeking out other materials. Examples to look for include press releases, blog articles, white papers, full accounts and annual reports.
A combination of the mentioned materials can help build a true understanding of the organisation and its activities over the past five years.
When sifting through information, look out for common themes in their topics — for example, language and imagery. How does the organisation portray itself? 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 for a multitude of reasons. Here are some of the top ones:
- To connect with their customers and suppliers
- Increase awareness about their products and services
- Announce company news
- Demonstrate their expertise in their industry
How a business portrays itself across social media will give you a good sense of how they want customers to view them.
Like and follow the organisation interviewing you on their active socials (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc). That way you can keep an eye on the organisation in the days leading up to your interview. You might even gain insights that others have missed.
3. Press releases
While press releases inevitably place a positive spin on topics, they provide a wealth of organisational information. Key information to look out for includes recent discoveries, product and service launches, mergers, acquisitions, and CSR initiatives. These topics are frequently reported, plus they provide great stimulus for questions during interview. Be sure to read the last few press releases prior to heading into interview.
4. Media articles
Unless the company is highly controversial, news sources may provide a balanced insight. It’s quite easy to find current stories too. Simply type the organisations’ name into Google, select the News tab, and browse the current headlines. You can hone the results even further by adjusting the publication date under the Tools menu.
5. Industry Journals
Industry journals are also an excellent source of information on both the business and the life sciences industry in general. Journals typically cover the significant accomplishments, breakthroughs, or setbacks. They will also discuss industry trends and upcoming changes, so you can anticipate the position’s future responsibilities.
6. Google Competitors
To find out who the organisation’s competitors are, Google search “top [life science function] organisations” and note the results. You might find some media sources have listed the top 10, 20 or even 50 organisations in the sector. Depending on the size of the company, the results might be aspirational — especially for startups. You may want to clarify this with the hiring manager during your interview.
Research the Hiring Manager
Researching a potential employer is an excellent way to understand the organisation as a whole. As an added bonus, you can learn more about your interviewer(s). You may not report to them in the future, but since their recommendations carry some weight, you’ll want to create a positive first impression.
Throughout the interview and hiring process, the hiring manager calls the shots. Like you, they are busy individuals who manage a team, department, or function. Ideally, you’re the 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 their questions.
Initially, you’ll need to find out who they are. If you’re not sure, try asking the person arranging your interview; they could be a member of HR, a recruiter, or an executive search consultant. Once you know who your interviewers are, look them up on LinkedIn.
Try to find out relevant information about them. This can include their role, recent accomplishments, or even where they went to university. You don’t always know what information will be useful prior to your interview, so learn what you can.
Want to score some extra brownie points? Google your interviewer to see if they have contributed to any articles, press releases, or events. If they have, that’s indicative they’re experts in their field. Good to know before meeting them.
Clarify the Role Requirements
Interview success depends on your understanding of the role, and using that information to deliver a gold standard performance. So how should you prepare?
Start by examining the job specification. 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 work to remind yourself of the objective, deliverables, 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, you’ll be prepared during the interview if you’re asked how your experience compares with the job. Additionally, you’ll be able to do deliver a clear and concise answer explaining why you’re an excellent fit for the role. If all goes well, you should wow the hiring manager.
If you lack a particular skill, don’t fret. Typically, job specifications have aspirational requirements. It’s also worth remembering that you would not have been shortlisted if your experience was not sufficient. Keeping that in mind, 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 improve 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 motivation and interest in the job.
Ultimately, 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 ideally draw parallels between your personal strengths, market conditions, and the company’s mission. Of course, it’s extremely difficult to come up with these on the fly, so this is another area where sufficient interview preparation is paramount.
Don’t forget to include some short-term goals. By identifying clear objectives for your first 30, 60 and 90 days, this aids the Hiring Manager in visualising how you would settle into the role. Furthermore, it demonstrates you’re already taking small practical steps to develop the position.
Articulate your Answers
Above all, impressing at interview is about how you tell your story. Any proper interview preparation for Senior or Executive positions should plan to exemplify the following:
- 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. Consequently, excelling at 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 should be considered:
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. Continuing the Regulatory Affairs example outlined earlier; you could say “I assured the compliance of each marketing initiative by having final sign-off on all 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 its 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 our 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 also ensure your clothes look their best.
Whatever you decide to wear must be clean and tidy — even creases make your clothes look unkempt. For that reason, make sure shirts, blouses, and trousers are ironed, and your shoes are 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 you’re still in doubt, ask. Reach out to the Hiring Manager. Alternatively, if you’re being put forward by an executive search firm or recruiter, ask the consultant about suitable attire.
Getting your outfit sorted ahead of time also gives you peace-of-mind. Instead, you can focus your attention on other aspects of interview preparation. This could be planning interview answers, or finding your way there.
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’ll need to make hotel and travel arrangements. Generally speaking, most organisations reimburse candidates for their travel, accommodation and food when travelling considerable distance for interview. Regardless, it’s best to clarify with whoever is organising the interview before you make travel arrangements.
After confirmation, 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/train station. This way you’ll know exactly when you need to leave to ensure a timely arrival — plus, you’re less likely to get lost.
If you do happen to run late, be sure to contact the organisation in advance. Arriving late without prior warning will lead to negative assumptions about your professionalism.
Take a Breath
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, answer questions clearly, and speak with genuine warmth, then you will appear calm and in control. If that’s something you struggle with, practice this 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, hone your answers to common interview questions using the star technique, look the part, and arrive on time. By following the tips above, you’re more likely to stand out 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.
- Also check out our initiative Lift Up: Women in Life Sciences
* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.