What not to do during a life sciences job interview

Monique Ellis our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 05/04/2017

Chances are, you’ve had your fair share of job interviews at various pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical device companies. You’ve probably been told many things that you must do in order to beat the competition. Yet, how often are you told what not to do? Many interviewees are often unaware of the subtle things that may be standing in the way of them and their dream job.

Aside from finding a technical fit for the role recruiters are also testing to see whether they can envisage you working alongside their team. Therefore, making a positive first impression is one of your strongest tools during the early stage of the interviewing process.

Body language

  • Don’t wear the wrong thing

Don’t turn up to an interview in a corporate company wearing something fashionably casual. Failing to make the right self-presentation choices will send a signal to your potential employer that you are not bothered about making the right impression. Do your research and find out what the appropriate dress code is. This is particularly important if you are interviewing for a customer/client-facing role such as a pharmaceutical sales representative or medical science liaison, as you will be expected to look your best a lot of the time.

  • Don’t come across as too eccentric

In some job interviews, exhibiting your individuality is a positive thing. However, overloading your interviewer’s senses with loud personal statements such eccentric clothing, hair styles and a lot of make-up or perfume/aftershave is not always advantageous.

This can extend to your behaviour, too. One of our candidates was interviewing for a senior role and when the interviewers left for a short period the candidate began to doodle on the whiteboard to pass the time. Needless to say that when the interviewers returned and were greeted with a series of drawings, the candidate was swiftly shown the exit!

Looking and behaving eccentrically can be distracting and take away from what really matters: demonstrating why you are the best candidate.

  • Don’t use your mobile phone

It may be an obvious rule that you should never answer your mobile phone during an interview. Yet, this also includes any sort of interaction with it, such as checking for messages or the time. Engaging with your mobile on any level suggests that the interviewer does not have your full attention, and this could show that you are not interested enough to be there. You should also avoid leaving it to vibrate or ring in your pocket. To be safe, turn it off completely.

  • Don’t get the handshake wrong

Avoid ending on a bad note after a great interview by giving a bone-crushing, or worse, a limp handshake. Some employers will not place much importance on a handshake, but others will, especially if you are applying for a more senior position or customer-facing role such as a pharmaceutical sales job. A good handshake will help to give you presence and can say a lot about you as a person, so it’s best to get it right.

Behaviour and manners

  • Don’t be over-familiar

Asking the interviewer personal questions or delving into your own personal life when answering questions can be off-putting. This could also extend to discussing matters such as salary, employee benefits and time off. Questions like this are assumptive and inappropriate at this stage and should be negotiated later in the interview process, usually after an offer has been made.

A consultant recalls a candidate who had interviewed extremely well during the first interview, only to ruin it on the second interview. The candidate began to act like they’d already received an offer by adopting a ‘matey’ attitude throughout the job interview. The employer was put-off by this display of over-familiarity and reconsidered his plans to hire the candidate.

  • Don’t interrupt the interviewer

This can be difficult to avoid doing, especially if you are eager to sell yourself as much as possible. Sometimes interrupting for a good reason is acceptable, however, continuously interrupting could be seen as poor manners. You run the risk of sending a message to prospect employers that you believe that what you have to say is more important than what they were saying.

  • Don’t dominate the interview and interrogate

This is most likely to happen with candidates who are quite senior and used to interviewing people themselves. As difficult as it may be to step back and hand the control over to the employer, it’s important to keep in mind that you are trying to give the best impression possible so taking the lead with questioning or talking too much is not the right way to go.

One of our recruitment consultants recalls a candidate who was interviewing for a senior role at one of the leading pharmaceutical companies. When asked what he could bring to the company, he proceeded to rail off a long list of things that he thought the company had done wrong, directly to the head of the company. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, so watch out for the blurred line!

Similarly, do not interrogate the person interviewing you with lots of short, sharp questions. Understandably, you will have many questions to ask about the company and position, but there will be plenty of time to address these during the course of the job interview.

  • Don’t name-drop

Once again, this can be harder to avoid as you may have worked with the interviewer’s manager or colleague, believing that this may help to build rapport or impress them. However, the majority of the time it is not appropriate to name drop in order to get ahead during an interview, as it is much better to gain merit by highlighting your skillset and experience.

Answering questions

  • Don’t fail to ask the right questions at the end

Don’t disappoint the interviewer by failing to ask questions at the end of the interview. This could suggest that you are not interested in finding out more about the role, or not interested in the position at all. Even if you feel that your main questions were covered during the interview, try to think of some other questions to ask to show that you are engaged. Having a few prepared beforehand can really help you not to panic. You could prepare questions about recent company awards or events, or ask about how the role would be affected by recent changes in regulations or pharmaceutical industry news.

A useful go-to question could be: “If I were to be successful, what challenges would I face in the first 6/9/12 months of the role?”. These sort of open-ended questions are extremely effective in showing that you are switched on and forward-thinking.

  • Don’t forget to prepare thoroughly

Preparing efficiently goes beyond having pre-prepared answers to competency-based questions. Failure to read up on the company’s background or important news can suggest that you’re not likely to be fully committed. Without realising, you may ask a question that has been answered on their website, and they’ll know instantly that you have not taken the time to prepare. It is not possible to know everything about the company and role beforehand, but doing some thorough research will impress your interviewer. Being up-to-date with industry regulations and news will strengthen your position further.

Also, don’t forget to plan beforehand where you are going and how to get there. Many candidates in our experience have missed a great opportunity because they went to the wrong office!

  • Don’t ramble and go off-topic

When nerves come into play, it’s easy to ramble. The best way to keep nerves at bay is to thoroughly prepare answers to potential interview questions, with a strong supply of specific, relevant examples to back them up. This will stop you having to search frantically through your bank of experiences. Resorting to examples that involve something your team achieved, instead of something you did, can be damaging and cause you to go off-topic without realising.

In the life sciences industry, several interview questions will require technical and role-specific examples to demonstrate that you can carry out certain tasks successfully. This is the case with many scientific/laboratory, quality assurance and engineering roles. Therefore, it’s important to have these prepared and well-rehearsed so that you don’t miss any vital opportunities to sell yourself. A good way to avoid this is by using the STAR technique.

For more career advice on how to prepare for your life science job interview, please visit our career advice page where you will find many blogs on interviewing or, if you are a contractor, feel free to download our interview guidebook.

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