Here Are 5 Tricky Job Interview Questions You Might Get at Genentech, Regeneron, and Stratos
February 16, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
Many biopharma companies and human resource executives have straightforward approaches to job interviews. The questions are standard: “Tell me about yourself,” or “What interests you about this job?” or “What salary range are you looking for?”
Some companies—not so much in biopharma—ask very odd questions. Glassdoor conducted a survey and came up with a list of 10 Oddball Interview Questions for 2016. Examples include rocket maker SpaceX asking a propulsion structural analyst candidate, “When a hot dog expands, in which direction does it split and why?” Or a Trader Joe's HR rep asking, “What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer?” And a Delta Airlines revenue management co-op candidate was asked, “How many basketballs would fit in this room?”
Behavioral-based Interview Questions
Biopharma companies don’t have that quirky reputation, although that doesn’t mean somebody won’t ask questions that put you on the spot. Janice Chavers, director of global human resources and diversity communications at Eli Lilly told BioSpace, “We use behavior-based interviewing, which is based on the assumption that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.”
Those types of behavior-based questions include:
• Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
• Give me an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.
Chavers added, “In addition to those behavior-based questions, I always ask why someone wants to work for Lilly. If I could just offer one tip, I would say people need to know why they want to work for a particular company—and show some passion. Quite a few people I have interviewed have not been able to provide a strong answer.”
Julia Löffelsend, the media and public relations representative for Boehringer Ingelheim told BioSpace, “At Boehringer Ingelheim, we try to be as responsible as possible with the candidate’s time. During the interview, we focus on finding out whether she or he has the necessary skills, the right competencies—and very important, shares our values. To this end, we do not so much work with a set of standard questions, but develop them in a conversation based on the particular profile of the position.”
On Glassdoor, job candidates shared some of their interview questions with biopharma companies. Here are some examples, with a few thoughts on how to best answer them.
Regeneron Sample Interview Questions
1. If you were the CEO of the company, what would you think are the most important aspects of the drug manufacturing process?
It’s a little hard to tell exactly what they were looking for with this question, although familiarity with the drug manufacturing process and current good manufacturing practices is likely. Given that you’re being asked about drug manufacturing processes, your best answers would probably revolve around quality, safety and regulatory compliance. Certainly, for any drug manufacturing position, an emphasis on the quality and safety of drugs would be a top priority.
2. Tell me about a time you received constructive criticism?
This is a fairly standard behavioral-based interview question. A LiveCareer article specifically addressed this question and gives several points to emphasize and mistakes to avoid. They include:
• Describe how you listened and made changes based on a critique.
• Talk about a situation when you improved your performance after the criticism.
• Emphasize your interest in doing quality work and how you value input from people with experience.
• Focus on your flexibility and professionalism in accepting criticism and working with others.
• Don’t make up a story; in other words, don’t lie.
• Focus on your positive reaction, not a laundry list of your mistakes.
• Don’t say you’ve never been criticized
• Don’t bash the person who criticized you.
3. If you are unsure of how to do something, even if it is a very small task, how do you proceed?
Another common example of a behavioral-based type question. For the most part, they’re probably looking to get an idea about how you work and how you solve problems. The Big Interview lists six competency areas this type of question is trying to evaluate. They are:
• Analytical Thinking
It also seems likely that this particular type of question is designed to determine if you’re willing to ask for help and at what point you might decide you’re in over your head. It also may be probing about what kind of a team player you are.
Genentech Sample Interview Questions
1. What was the greatest failure or mistake of your life?
Also a behavioral interview question, and according to Pamela Skillings, the co-founder of Big Interview, many recruiters say it’s the most important question they ask. She writes, “They ask this question to understand: Are you somehow who can learn from failure? Are you self-aware enough to acknowledge failure and weakness? Do you take smart risks? How do you view success, failure, and risk in general?”
Not answering or dodging the question is not a good way to deal with this question, as uncomfortable as it is. Skillings writes, “I strongly recommend that every job candidate prepare an interview story about a failure. As I mentioned earlier, this question has become extremely common—I hear from my corporate clients that they find it very effective to separate the B.S. artists from the solid candidates.”
So what are tips for the greatest failure question?
• Pick a real failure. Again, don’t lie or make something up.
• “Don’t raise red flags,” Skillings writes. “At the same time, you don’t have to confess your deepest and darkest secrets. Don’t choose a failure that was the result of a serious personal mistake (totally forgot to attend the meeting) or character flaw (probably shouldn’t have called the client ‘Sweet cheeks’). A team failure can work well because you share responsibility with others (just make sure you acknowledge your role and don’t try to pass the buck completely.”
• Focus on what you learned from your failure.
Stratos Genomics Sample Interview Questions
1. Do you really ‘want’ to work 55 hours each week?
Tricky one, isn’t it? This is an actual question, and Glassdoor has three responses from other people and one from the person who was asked the question, for a Biotech Laboratory Assistant job that paid about $47,500 + competitive benefits a year.
The three answers by other people were:
1. Yes. To do this caliber of work.
2. No, this doesn’t allow for a good work-life balance.
3. Will there be opportunities to take time off work during downtime to compensate for the long work weeks?
The person who posted the question answered at length, but it was also the reason he cited for turning down the job. He or she also gave some very good advice: “Long story short, don’t sell yourself short, or cheap because companies will take advantage of it.”
But is there a good answer to this question or questions similar to it?
LiveCareer provides some thoughts. One needs to be: If you’re not willing to work 55 hours per week, don’t take the job.
Are they asking this question because you will always be working 55 hours per week? Or is it a question about productivity and time management? Is it something that happens occasionally or all the time? Are you being paid hourly? Salary? Overtime pay?
LiveCareer notes, “Unless you know exactly what the company expects, you don’t want to be too specific on how much you will work. Feel free to give examples of past experience where you worked extra hours for the sake of a project.”
Highlight your time management skills, and be confident—even firm—on how many hours you’re willing to work each week and how often.
And common mistakes to these types of questions include:
• Avoid stating an exact number of weekly hours when possible.
• Do not show distaste for overtime or a longer than average workweek.
• Do not imply that overtime signifies inefficiency.
• Do not forget to factor in the industry you are a part of.
The key to a successful job interview is to be yourself, be on time, dress professionally, be enthusiastic, do research so you know something about both the position you’re applying for and the company, and ask yourself why you want to work for that company.
Think about what you would be looking for if you were the person conducting the interview. Technical qualifications are a given, and if they called you in, you probably already qualify on that count.
What else are they looking for? A lot of times they want to see how you would fit into their company’s culture. That’s reasonable. Not all companies are a good fit.
And be likable.
Don Tinker, a senior associate in Life Sciences for Hobson Associates, an executive search firm, conducted a survey of hiring executives. He found that, when two candidates are basically equal, “They’re going to go with the person they’d want to have a pint of beer with.”
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