What Are Recruiters Looking for in a Competitive Job Market?
Top Interview Questions Revealed by Masimo, Amyris, and Watson Pharma
By Suvarna Sheth, Special Career Feature
With a fresh year ahead of us, it's still a highly competitive market in the biotech, pharmaceutical, and medical device industries, and recruiters are doing all they can to ask the right questions to recruit the best candidates. Read ahead for some inside information on what recruiters from some of the leading companies in the industry are looking for during the interview.
Edward Klimczak, Director of Talent Acquisition at Masimo Corporation says the current candidate pool is very rich. “In a down economy with the national unemployment rate hovering around 10%, there are many people looking for job opportunities at stable, growing companies like Masimo,” he says.
Of course, Klimczak says this means that recruiters have to look through a lot more resumes than usual to find the skill sets they’re looking for—“making it increasingly important that a candidate’s resume specifically addresses the skills required by the job as listed on the position description,” he says.
Masimo is one of the few companies that actively recruiting at the moment. The medical device company is slated to add 100 new positions to a third building in Irvine, California. Most of the openings will be focused on field sales representatives and engineering positions at all levels. But, there will also be openings in regulatory, clinical research, quality and a few other corporate areas.
In such a tight job market, it helps to know what sort of questions the recruiters are asking. When interviewing, Klimczak says his top 5 interview questions when recruiting a candidate are the following:
1. What do you know about the company and why do you want to work for it?
2. What are you looking for in your next career move?
3. Tell me about one of your most challenging career obstacles, what steps you took to meet the obstacle, and what was the outcome?
4. What are your greatest takeaways from your previous employers?
5. Why do you want to leave your current/previous employer?
But, the answer to these questions is not all Klimczak is looking for. What he is truly looking for is a glimpse into candidates’ professional motivations, career aspirations, how they approach their job, and what they have learned from past experiences.
In particular, “I want to understand why they are looking to make a move and their motivation for wanting to join Masimo,” he says, “is it for a salary increase, career advancement, a change of pace or environment, or because they envision being part of something new and different?” he questions.
Klimczak also wants to get a sense of a candidates’ work ethic, the level of passion they have for what they do, and in what settings they feel they work best. “More often than not, it is how they say or frame their answers versus just the content of their answers that matters most,” Klimczak says.
According to Klimczak, what a candidate says tells him if they are articulate, have well organized thoughts, can convey their answers in a clear, concise manner, and how they approach and overcome obstacles. “How they respond tells me how passionate they are about what they do and the job they are applying for,” he says.
Interestingly, when the answers don’t flow naturally or address the specific question asked, Klimczak says it can seem as if the candidate has been coached or is reading from a script. Also, he says if a candidate’s answers are “too canned” or “executed flawlessly,” it can give the impression that they are staged.
Klimczak typically designs his interview questions based on the requirements of the position, department, the personality of the team or group, and corporate culture. “Based on the candidate’s resume and what I know of them, I design additional questions that speak to their learning ability, leadership ability, and the skills and successes they bring to the position now and into the future,” he says.
If you are currently unemployed, Klimczak says to treat your job search as if it were your full-time job. “Pull out all the stops and take it seriously,” he says, “have a professional, upbeat telephone greeting on your cell and home numbers, and get your resume out to as many people as you can.”
He encourages candidates to talk to as many recruiters as possible, tap into your network of colleagues and friends, post your updated resume on job boards. He also says to consider being open to relocating if necessary. “This is no time to be shy, pick-up the phone and start dialing,” he says, “But, above all else, stay positive!”
Klimczak’s best advice for a recruiter is to network and seek out. “First, utilize your own internal network and resources,” he says, “our recruiting team is comprised of seasoned professionals with many years of experience, so we bounce ideas, approaches, and sourcing techniques off each other all the time.”
Next, he says to seek out input, feedback, best practices, and information from external networks and resources, such as industry colleagues and employers. “The goal is always to attract top talent, which means keeping your recruitment feelers out there and your finger on the pulse of the industry,” he says.
As many know first-hand, recruiting has been very limited over the course of the last year across the life-science industries. Georgia Key Smith, Director of Human Resources at Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (JOBS) in Corona, Calif. says last year was very slow on the recruitment front, but there presently several key openings within the company.
Like Klimczak, Smith says the candidate pool is also pretty rich at the present time. “However, we have to weed through an awful lot of unqualified applicants,” she says, “there’s such unemployment, that people will apply for anything whether they are qualifies or not.”
She suspects the reason is so people get their foot in the door, but she says it just makes a lot of work for recruitment. For any one job, she says it’s not atypical to get 300 applicants. “I’ve not quite seen it like this before,” she says.
As for the interview process, Smith says a candidates’ knowledge, preparedness, and on target, or lack of, response is very critical in the process. By knowledge, she is expecting them to know something about the role, a bit about the company, and demonstrate expertise in the role in question.
One of the pit-falls she says recruiters need to avoid is judging a candidate in the first few minutes of an in-person interview. She says it’s easy for less-skilled recruiters to be swayed by personal appearance. “It’s something you have to really guard against,” she says.
As for advice to candidates, she says to “be prepared, be through, know your stuff, be verbally skillful, and be able to communicate effectively.”
Using common sense is also important during the interview. One of her top questions to candidates is why he or she is applying for a specific position.
Unbelievably, she says she often gets replies that have to do with the company being closer to home. “A director-level candidate said that to me not that long ago,” she laughs. She has heard similar responses from more than one candidate in the past.
While actual recruitment strategies don’t vary too much depending on the size of the company, Salvador Rivera, Director of Human Resources at Amyris Biotechnologies, Inc. says often the recruitment process is different for start-up companies compared to larger companies.
“At start-ups, there are fewer resources, recruiting budgets are smaller, and the employment proposition is a bit different from a large pharma that has all the mature bells and whistles,” he says.
From a wealth creation prospective, Rivera says large pharma companies often offer perks such as matching 401K plans, employee stock programs, and even pension plans at some of the European based companies.
At a start-up like Amyris, Rivera says an employment proposition is centered on a candidates’ ability to work in a fast-pace environment. “We’re doing something for the first time—that creates an unprecedented opportunity to make a quick impact in the work that we’re doing,” he says, “at larger companies, it’s a bit more difficult to get traction on the impact you want to make on the company.”
Amyris is currently very stable with its employee count and all the job functions and are at capacity. “That doesn’t mean that we won’t be recruiting for replacement positions and some new positions as a result of some business and scientific activity, namely the receipt of a federal grant recently,” Rivera says.
The funding has prompted human resources to look for individuals who can manage the grant, including accountants and administrators, and people that may be needed in the scientific and technology groups as a result of the grant work the start-up will be doing.
For Rivera, the top question to candidates is finding out what they are looking to gain from their next position. He says it’s important to know this to ensure the company can meet those expectations, and to make sure the position is a proper match in terms of what the candidate is seeking.
His other top questions are geared to making sure a candidate will be compatible with life at a start-up company. “It’s a faster pace, there’s much more need for innovation, autonomy, self-motivation and direction,” he says, “and teasing out whether a candidate is not only compactable with those characteristics but it willing to engage in what needs to be done is essential,” he says.
Rivera says past-performance is always the best predictor for future performance, and so the design of his interview questions usually fit that framework.
As for advice to recruiters or hiring managers, Rivera says it’s important to spend more time up front defining the role. This means going beyond the job description and involves defining the success factors for the position that’s open.
He also says it’s important to have an organized approach to the interview rather than open-ended conversation. He says a lot of scientists and engineers are systematic in their work and he encourages them to bring this methodology to the recruitment arena.
“Designate specific roles to the interview team members so they don’t repeat conversations,” he says, “that way everyone brings consistent information that can be assembled together to make the best selection possible.”
Read the Career Insider online newsletter January 28, 2010.
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