How to Land a Biotech Job, According to Experts
Searching for a job in the biotechnology sector can be difficult. Every company has different expectations and interview processes, and you want to make sure you will be as happy with the company you choose as they are with you.
To help clear up some of the mystery that comes with applying to a new job, we sat down with Associate Director of Talent Acquisition Jennifer Metivier and Chief People Officer Jennifer Peterson to discuss what type of candidates they prefer for the company they recruit for, Obsidian Therapeutics. They let us in on the tips they have for incoming talent and what they hope to see in the future of both the company and the biotech industry.
Obsidian is a bioengineering company that focuses on patient-specific engineering of cell and gene therapies. The company hopes to use these complex therapies to deliver safe, effective changes for their patients who deal with certain tumors and cancers. The goal is to see adoptive immunotherapy in action using engineered tumor infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapies and other cell and gene therapies.
Obsidian has been in the business of cell therapy since 2015, with offices and labs in both Cambridge and Bedford, MA. This biotechnology company has less than 100 employees but expects to grow as more cell and gene therapies are needed for cancer patients.
Here’s what Metivier and Peterson have to say about landing a position with a biotech company.
Like many other biotechnology companies, Obsidian casts a wide net for potential candidates. Open positions within the company can be found through the company’s job board, and may also be advertised on sites like BioSpace and LinkedIn.
Recruiters frequently use LinkedIn to proactively find potential candidates that may be a fit for their company. Metivier emphasized that it is extremely important for anyone in the job market to make sure their LinkedIn profile is as updated and detailed as possible.
While working in the bioscience sector, it's crucial to be detailed about your previous job duties because job titles might differ from company to company, even if the duties are similar. Job title inflation is an issue among biotechnology companies, meaning the same job title at two different companies may not have had the same duties associated with it. The more detailed you are in your experiences, the easier it will be for recruiters to find you online and understand your experience and career trajectory.
Another place recruiters look for candidates is at conferences.
"[Conferences are] a great place to network and learn more about an organization. It's a place where we encourage our teams to talk with people, get to know people and maybe have some exploratory conversations that could lead to interest," Peterson said.
Peterson also looks to interns for potential hires. Internships are a great way to start a relationship with a company and learn more about the company to see if it is the right fit for both the candidate and the company.
Interview processes vary, depending on the type, size and style of company you’re interested in. At Obsidian, the interview process involves a few rounds with different members of the company. The first interview will always be with the recruiter, where they'll discuss the candidate's interest in the company, their experience and where they hope to see themselves in the future.
Metivier noted candidates should be prepared to discuss gaps in their resume along with reasons for leaving companies and expectations for their role, beyond just the title.
Also, candidates should be able to articulate their roles in previous teams and give detailed examples about their experience and duties while still being concise and answering the questions asked. There may be situational and behavioral questions, so it's always a good idea to have a few examples in mind that you can pull from to answer their questions. A list of commonly asked interview questions can be found on the BioSpace website.
During all stages of the interview, it's important to clearly articulate what your experience has been and what you can bring to the company. While much of biotechnology involves working as a team, it's important to use "I" statements instead of just "we" statements to show what you brought to the team and what you could bring to the company.
Though experience and education are important, Metivier emphasized the candidate should also resonate with the company's cultural pillars as well. It's not just a job; they hope the candidate would be passionate about the work they would be doing and understand and respect the culture surrounding the workforce there.
The last round of interviews is usually very inclusive – the hiring managers want candidates to meet as many people on the team as possible to gauge the culture fit and, if hired, make onboarding easier.
"I think one of the important points to call out is that what we're not looking for is a carbon copy of the people on the team. It's not about fitting in," she said. "Will someone bring what we're looking for in terms of collaboration and curiosity and a voice? Where they're willing to speak up and contribute and ask questions – will they be a really positive contributing member of the team?"
For any lab-based position, experience in a lab setting is a must. Experience with lab equipment, knowing how to set up a lab correctly, knowing what tools are used for what and what lab safety is are all baseline expectations for any lab position in the company.
But lacking a lengthy resume with hands-on lab experience doesn't mean you're completely out of the running for a position. That's because soft skills matter, too.
An ability to communicate and evidence of successful collaboration on a team are both examples of soft skills that Peterson and Metivier mentioned they are looking for in their hires.
"You want to make sure that someone has that ability to communicate well and be concise and be detailed and organized," Metivier said.
Peterson agreed, saying, "In scientific roles, the attention to detail and the rigor with which they approach their work is so critical to success."
Though every candidate is different and comes with a different background, there are a handful of red flags that both hiring managers have noticed among candidates that don't appear as strong in the interviews.
Hopping from job to job will never look that appealing to a company looking to hire, though it is not necessarily a deal-breaker. The key to working around a past of bouncing around companies is to be honest with the hiring manager about your reasons for leaving.
Honesty is important, Metivier said. When discussing why you chose to leave a job, it's okay to say that the company wasn't working for you or something negative was happening. Sharing that information exemplifies introspection and understanding of the importance of honest communication.
Another understandable red flag is careless issues in the resume. Hiring managers want to see that you put thought and care into your application, so be sure to look through your resume and cover letters for typos and other errors.
Words of Wisdom and Advice
When you get that offer for the first interview, it's important to do your research. Hiring managers are looking for proof that you have familiarized yourself with the company. While it's okay to have questions, it sounds better to a hiring manager if your questions are detailed and show that you have looked into the company, rather than generalized questions that could have been answered on your own.
Asking questions during an interview is not just acceptable, but it's expected. You, as the candidate, should be interviewing the company just as they interview you to make sure it is a good fit for both parties.