3 ways to make a good impression in your scientific interview

Max Robinson our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 01/06/2021
3 ways to make a good impression at a scientific interview

You have impressed the hiring manager on paper, now you just need to prove you are the right person for the job at the interview. Interviewing for scientific roles can seem like a daunting prospect as you will have just a short amount of time to convince the interviewer that you have the highest-level of expert knowledge and can deliver innovative breakthroughs in medicine. The key to making sure you get this across is to be prepared, so it is important you know the main competencies you are trying to demonstrate. Whether interviewing for a laboratory role or an executive position leading scientific teams, here are three things to make sure you get across in your interview: 

1. Demonstrate your core scientific knowledge and experimental skills 

Demonstrating a strong scientific background is crucial when interviewing for any position with a research focus. For laboratory-based roles in particular, it is also important to show an elevated level of expertise when it comes to relevant laboratory skills and instrumentation.  

Therefore, a biologist should be able to talk in detail about the cell lines they have worked on and the challenges maintaining them, whereas an analytical chemist should be able to reel off the parameters that can be modified for a HPLC separation and the science behind what is happening in the instrument. If you are looking to secure a job as a biochemist, you should be able to talk through the workflow of expressing, purifying, and characterizing proteins and what to consider at each stage in a level of detail. Being able to provide intricate examples of your experience in the relevant laboratory skills, especially with any challenging laboratory work, is vital for any role that will involve bench work. 

When it comes to non-laboratory-based scientific research roles, it is often still important to demonstrate that you possess core technical and scientific knowledge in a specific research area. Many non-laboratory-based scientific research roles require a fundamental knowledge of disease biology, human genetics, or computational tools. The more confidently you communicate about the underlying science related to your previous experience, as well as the job you are interviewing for, the more likely you are to impress the hiring manager. 

Ensure you consider your use of pronouns when demonstrating your scientific knowledge. This competency is a demonstration of what you have done and your scientific knowledge. Therefore, when giving examples to illustrate this, make sure to use “I” instead of “we” when demonstrating your technical knowledge.  

2. Give examples of your capabilities to lead research projects 

Being strong in the lab is one thing, but demonstrating your ability to conceptualize, plan and execute a research project is a completely different skill. Hiring managers will regularly assess whether a candidate can offer more than just the ability to conduct experiments in the laboratory. They want to know that you will contribute new ideas; that you will find ways to improve their processes or products, and that you will successfully lead projects to advance their research. 

Whether your experience has been in exploratory biology, preclinical research or process development, the structure in which you talk through a research project is universal and similar to how we would expect a research paper to be written. When preparing to highlight this skill in the interview, make sure you cover the following points: 

  • Project title – What is your hypothesis? What are you trying to achieve? 

  • Introduction – Why is this project important? What has been done or is in the literature so far? 

  • Methods – How did you plan the experiments and why? 

  • Results and discussion – What data did you generate? What did it mean? Did you have to change your approach based on the data? Was more data needed? 

  • Conclusion – Summarize the findings. What are next steps or future implications? 

Practice being able to describe projects you have led concisely and effectively in 10 minutes. You will be surprized how easy it is to lose track of the topic or run out of time! 

The pronouns you use are also particularly important here. If you always use “I” you will fail to demonstrate your ability to work collaboratively. However, if you always use “we” the interviewer will be unclear about your contributions to the project. Getting a blend of “I” for your contributions and “we” for team efforts is essential in indicating your ability as a first-class researcher. 

 3. Emphasize your scientific curiosity 

Sometimes, it is not the answers that you give, but the questions that you ask that can differentiate you from the competition in an interview.

When interviewing for Scientific roles it is just as important to demonstrate your interest in the science behind the role/company you are applying for as it is to demonstrate a passion for your prior research endeavours. 

For example, imagine two candidates who had almost identical interview performances. Both have demonstrated similar skills and both have asked several questions about the company and role.  . However, one of the candidates shows a much higher interest and excitement around the science they will be involved with, asks engaging scientific questions, and discusses ideas for research projects and innovative approaches with the hiring manager. Who do you think comes across as the strongest candidate? 

Demonstrating your scientific curiosity has two key advantages; Firstly, it shows the interviewer that you have a genuine interest and passion for the research area and that you will approach your work with excitement; Secondly, the ability to ask good questions is a fundamental skill for any good researcher. 

It helps to demonstrate your scientific curiosity by first by doing your research. This could include the company website, press releases and presentations. Searching for the interviewers’ recent publications or performing literature searches relevant to the science of the role will put you in a strong position to engage in detailed scientific conversation.  

Then, once you are in the interview, be sure to ask thoughtful and engaging questions that will act as interesting topics for scientific discussion. For example, you could say, “I was reading your team’s recent publication and found your approach interesting and novel. I would be interested to hear your rationale behind this approach? Where are you hoping to take this research next? Have you considered these approaches?” Engaging in discussion like this is an effective way of impressing the hiring manager and demonstrating your scientific curiosity! 

Want to learn more about how to prepare for your upcoming interview? For more tips and advice on how to stand out at your interview, download our interview guidebook