10 Interviewing Tips for Jobs in Clinical Research
July 11, 2017
I’ve been working at Rho for nearly 10 years and in the industry for more than 15 years. During that time, I’ve interviewed a lot of people for a lot of different jobs in clinical research. Here are a few tips that can help you stand out in the interview process.
1. Get the basic stuff right.
Regardless of the industry or the job you are interviewing for, there are some basic things you need to get right. Show up on time. Dress appropriately. In most cases, that means wear a suit. Be polite and respectful to everyone you meet, regardless of whether you think they are involved in the hiring process. Shake hands. Make eye contact when you are talking with people. Silence your phone during the interview. Be prepared to take some notes. Even if you don’t use it, having a notepad and pen sends the message that you are prepared. Send thank you notes—emails are fine. This all may seem very basic, but I continue to be surprised by the number of job candidates who fail at one or more of these things.
2. Do your research.
The amount of information available today is astonishing. Take advantage of it. Before you ever walk in the door for the interview, you should learn as much about both the company and the people you will be interviewing with as you can. Start by reviewing the company’s website and social media channels. Search for news about the company including interviews with leaders of the company. This can be a great source of insight. If you have the names of the individuals you will meet during your interview, look them up on LinkedIn. Most people today working in clinical research will have at least a basic profile out there, and some will have a lot more. If you don’t have specific names, look at people with similar titles to the one you are seeking to see what kinds of experience they have.
3. Know or Learn the Industry.
Whether you are a clinical research veteran with 20 years of experience or are seeking an entry level position, make sure you are up to date with what is happening in the industry. Read up on current events in clinical research, make sure you are aware of industry trends, and brush up on applicable regulatory knowledge. There are a number of great free news sources that can help you with this. A few of my favorites are FierceCRO and FierceBiotech, Clinical Leader, and Applied Clinical Trials. Obviously, the depth of knowledge and awareness expected will differ based on your role and experience level.
4. Use Your Network.
It’s a small world. Do you know anyone who works at the company? Let them know you are applying and ask questions about what it’s like to work there. Even if you don’t know someone at that company, you likely know someone who knows someone or you know someone who works at another CRO that could be good sources of information and advice. LinkedIn is a great tool for identifying these connections. It will also let you see shared professional groups that might provide you with a connection.
5. Use Storytelling to Demonstrate Your Ability to Do the Job.
When you are answering questions in the interview, be prepared to provide specific examples from your previous experience. If you are a recent graduate, examples from school projects and classes are acceptable. Some interviewers will expect it, but, even when they don’t, telling a story that demonstrates your ability to do the job is much more powerful than providing a hypothetical answer. Think through your accomplishments and your best learning experiences. While it might not seem obvious, think about projects and studies where things have gone wrong. Showing that you understand why things went wrong and how you learned from it actually can have more impact than someone who only talks about positive experiences. If you want to learn more about using storytelling to better deliver your message, check out this presentation from Jeff Polish (and if you are ever in Durham, check out his live story-telling group The Monti).
Whenever possible, use experiences that demonstrate specific knowledge of the job. For CRAs, this might mean talking about experiences during site visits, working with investigators and site staff, and writing trip reports. For quality assurance professionals, it might mean talking about experiences with sponsor audits or regulatory inspections.
6. View Each Question as an Opportunity.
By the time you get to the interview, hopefully you have a good understanding of what your potential employer is looking for in the position. For job openings at Rho, information specific to the role can be found in the posted job description and general information about what we are looking for in employees can be found on our website, particularly in the Our Values section. While you should provide straightforward answers to the questions asked during the interview, each question is also an opportunity to demonstrate how you meet one or more of the desired qualities or skills for the job. For example, I may not ask a direct question about team work, but being a team player is an important quality for Rho employees. An astute job seeker could answer another question, like a question about their greatest accomplishment, with a story that shows how they worked with a team to achieve that accomplishment. It’s okay to take a minute and think about your answer before responding.
7. Don’t Bad Mouth Former Colleagues, Bosses, or Employers.
It never helps you to talk badly about former colleagues, bosses, or employers. It’s fine to share challenges, as long as you talk about how you overcame them. When you cross the line into complaining, it can create the impression that you were the problem or that you will be difficult to manage. We already know you probably aren’t that happy or you wouldn’t be looking for other opportunities, so you don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty of why you are leaving. And it’s a small world (see item 4), so there is always a chance that the person you are talking to knows some of these people or already has an opinion about your prior employers.
8. Know Why You Want the Job.
The reason may be obvious to you, but be prepared to articulate why you want the job. Be able to talk both about why working for the company appeals to you as well as why the specific role you applied for appeals to you.
9. Ask (Good) Questions.
Most interviewers will leave time at the end for you to ask questions. It is fine if you come up with some during the interview, but come prepared with a couple of questions. If you will be interviewed by multiple people, make sure you have questions for each. Some of the questions should be role specific and some should be about the company. Here are some good options:
- What do you like best about working at <company>?
- What qualities do you think it takes to be successful in <job role>?
- How would my success be measured if I were to be offered this job?
- What are the greatest challenges in this role?
Unless you are talking to a recruiter or HR representative, avoid questions about compensation, benefits, and company policies. Also, be cautious about asking questions related to requirements you may have—wanting to work alternate hours, what type of office space you would have, or upcoming time off for a planned vacation. Most of these can be discussed and negotiated when an offer is made.
10. Close the Deal.
At the end of the interview, if you really want the job, say so. Close out the conversation by saying in a relatively direct way that you want the job and briefly restating why they should hire you. It can be something as simple as “I’ve really enjoyed hearing more about <role> at <company>. I think my skills and experience would be a great fit and I would like the job.” Remember, send a thank you note referencing something you discussed in your interview. This shows the interviewer you were actively listening and engaged.
Want to work at Rho? Check out our job openings.