How to Ace an Interview, Explained by a Pharma Recruiter

Woman Sitting in Interview

The biopharmaceutical industry is at an all-time high in value, and experts believe it will only continue to become more valuable in the coming years.

According to a report from Mordor Intelligence, biopharma companies as a whole are expected to grow around 7% between 2022 and 2027.

Not only is this exciting news for those already working in the biopharma or biotech industry, but it's also encouraging news for people new to the industry, as the need for talent will grow proportionally to the expansion of the sector. Right now is one of the best times to be in the job market for positions in this sector.

So, whether you are new to the biopharma field or are looking for a change in your career, there are a number of tips you should keep in mind before heading into that first interview. We spoke with Alison Senkovich O'Sullivan, the Senior Director of Human Resources at Athersys, about what she thinks everyone in the job market should know. 

Athersys is a clinical-stage biotechnology company based out of Cleveland, Ohio that focuses on regenerative medicine and therapies to enhance the quality of human life. Stem cell research and understanding are at the basis of many of their novel developments. 

Where To Find The Job

There are a number of avenues that biopharma and biotech companies will use to advertise openings in their organization. 

O'Sullivan said Athersys' talent acquisition team leans heavily on online job boards, as well as the careers page on the Athersys website. 

Within the last year, the company has utilized an applicant-tracking system to make hiring efforts more streamlined. Making the interview process as efficient as possible is important for Biotech and pharmaceutical companies because they are always looking for the best talent they can find.

"We know that we're competing with a number of different organizations to be able to find the best talent. and we know that when we have a candidate who is awesome that we don't want to lose, we have to move pretty quickly," O'Sullivan said. 

One positive aspect of job searching that's come from the pandemic is the flexibility that's now being offered with remote work. O'Sullivan mentioned that ever since COVID-19 sent everyone home, Athersys has been able to draw from different talent pools that they would not have had access to before, as individuals and organizations are more open to remote work. 

What to Expect In The Interview

Every interviewer will have a different style for how they get to know their candidates. But no matter what approach the interviewer takes, there are a few things you can do to be prepared for the questions you might be asked. 

One of the best tips O'Sullivan offered was to have a handful of examples already in mind that you could pull from to answer a variety of questions. These could be examples stemming from past projects you've assisted in, achievements you're proud of, situations where you've learned from your mistakes or anything else you think exemplifies your capabilities. 

O'Sullivan said the interviews at Athersys are largely focused on the background of the candidates, so it's important that candidates can articulate their achievements and experience in a confident way that is easy to understand. 

"We are asking very open-ended questions where we're trying to understand who candidates are, how they are accomplishing things, what they're achieving, how they're solving problems, how they're influencing outcomes and things like that." 

She noted that in the same way interviewers assess their candidates, the candidates should be assessing the company, too.

Beyond the job title, it's important to consider the work each biotech or biopharma company is doing. Almost every company is working toward creating something that will hopefully change people's lives for the better, which is why it's important to ask yourself if your values align with the company's values. 

"We're excited when we find a candidate who is really passionate about what we're trying to do here," she said. 

What Not To Do During the Interview

Though it sounds obvious, the worst thing you could do is go into an interview unprepared. 

Every interviewer is expecting the candidates to have done their homework by researching the company and preparing some examples in their head to exemplify their capabilities. 

Just because you don't have the perfect answer to every question does not take you out of the running, though. Being honest about your experience and the ways you hope to grow into the role might help land you another interview and another opportunity. 

No matter how prepared you are, there will likely come a moment when an interviewer asks a question that you have not considered or prepared an answer for. Rather than shutting down or giving a non-answer, it's better to explain what you do know in regard to the question and what you're interested to learn. 

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