Acing your pharma interview

So I have both scary and exciting news.

A recruiter reached out to me regarding a position at an international pharmaceutical company and now I have an interview scheduled!

The interview is really soon.

Like in three days soon.

I am not even board certified in medical affairs and just recently completed the modules for the program.

However, I can confidently say that I know 100% more about medical affairs than I did three weeks ago before I started the program.

It could be total coincidence that this connection happened at this time. However, the only thing that has been different about my LinkedIn is the fact that I have my articles written about my progress in the BCMAS program and how I am learning more about medical affairs. 

Honestly, I have not really had a recruiter contact me before and my CV moved to the possibility of an interview before.

Traditionally, I would search for recruiters for jobs that I want to apply to and message all the recruiters that might be associated with that company and position specifically.

It would be a hit or miss kind of situation. Some times I would connect with the right recruiter who would move my application to the hiring manager.

Or they’d just ghost me and I never hear back again. 

Side note, as physicians, we often think or are under the impression that “I got this because I have clinical experience”. Well, from my experience, that still doesn’t get your foot into the door.

What gets your foot into the door is finding that right connection. Although, there is always that rare instance where someone has over 17 years of clinical experience, 7 years in research, etc. But for someone, like me, who has not been practicing for a very long time and has no experience in pharma, I need to up my game and knowledge. 

Onto the pharma interview process! The first part is prepping. There’s pre-prep and then there’s prep.

Interview Pre-prep:

Work on your LInkedIn Profile

Now this phase is getting your social media profiles up to par in case a hiring manager or recruiter looks at your profile, they are so impressed that they want to hire you immediately.

Important to remember is that, when you’re looking at the profiles of people from other companies, they will see that you checked out their profile, so they might go and check yours out too.

If it looks like you might be a good candidate for a role they know about in their company, they may even reach out to you to see if that’s why you were looking at their profile.

It happened to me before! I was snooping around looking at profiles of employees in a certain role at a company, and then one of those employees actually messaged me and told me more about the role. 

I failed on this one because I did not think anyone was looking at my LinkedIn so it has two sentences on it. I think a redeeming factor is that I have listed on my LinkedIn, my experience learning about medical affairs, something connecting me to pharma is better than nothing, right?

Note to self: work on LinkedIn

Network with people who may have insider knowledge for potential companies that may be hiring

Internal referrals are gold. You meet the right person, hit if off, and the next thing you know, when their company is hiring, they shoot you an email asking if you’re interested. YES PLEASE.

If you don’t get an internal referral, you might still be able to connect with that person, be exposed to their network connections through the LinkedIn magic and meet more potential connections. 

Or you could even learn about the company from the insider point of view and possibly realize, this company is actually not a good fit and not what I am looking for.

Interview Prep:

This phase is the active interview preparation. To optimize this phase, here are some tips of what you can do:

Ask people who have already interviewed with similar companies:

Luckily I have a friend who is currently in the process of interviewing for a pharma company who gave me some advice (in fact, she even gave me advice specific to the company I was interviewing at!):

1. Do not talk about compensation

2. Show how parts of your resume demonstrate therapeutic expertise

Ask someone who currently works at the company or a company similar to the one you plan to interview at:

Friends who work at pharma companies recommended to me this advice:

1. Read over the job description and make sure you understand the role

2. Look up peer-reviewed journals that the relate to the therapeutic device/product/expertise area that you are interviewing in 

Google “tips for pharma interview”

1. Glassdoor company page has interview questions people anonymously post

2. reviews of the company

3. General interview questions found on the web

The Interview:

The interview took place over the phone and lasted about 45 minutes. 

It started off casually with greetings and us asking each other how the other’s day went. I am going to now list the questions and put comments in parentheses.

Before I tell you the questions, I want you to go into the questions thinking about how all of these questions are kind of asking the same question in many different ways. You will see that my interviewer has an ideal candidate in mind and through his/her questions, and he/she wants to see if I am this ideal person. 

The interviewer already knows what they want. Now they are fitting you into their mold to see how well you fit. Usually your job description will describe to you this exact person they want. Your focus is on using your experiences in a narrative that paints the picture that you are the ideal person they are looking for.

Go over your resume closely and for each experience you have listed, think about how you can use it in your interview to show you meet the therapeutic expertise, personality type, company mission, etc.

Questions I was asked:

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself?

Remember, you are crafting your narrative using your experiences to show how you fit the job description, the personality type of the role, etc.

For example, if it is a sales role, you want to portray yourself as high energy, competitive, a go-getter, up for anything, willing to go out and hunt for your next sale!

2. Why did you apply for this position? What did you like about it?

This question checks to see what you know about the role itself. Once again, the interviewer wants to see if you actually like the role because it is the right fit for you as a person.

3. What are your day to day activities like? 

This is another way for the interviewer to see if your current day to day activities are similar to what the role may be like. If not similar in exact activities, may be similar in pace.

For example, if you work in a super slow environment and you’re interviewing for a fast-paced environment, the interviewer would want to know if you keep up in this fast-paced environment or if you’d actually burn out.

4. Why do you want to move all the way out to the West Coast when you’re currently on the East Coast? (he’s trying to gauge if I really would take the big step to move across country to start this position)

5.  Have you ever been out here before?

A question to assess, would you really take the leap to relocate (for those not interviewing locally or in the same state). Is this place somewhere you actually like and would realistically want to live in.

6. Are you married, single, engaged? What does your significant other do for a living? (then he goes on to try to see if there are positions for my significant other at the company, as he explains it’s more likely we would both want to move to the new state together)

Another way for the interviewer to gauge if you realistically would relocate and take this position, if you are serious about the position.

7. What kind of training are you looking for? (then he goes on to tell me about their training process)

A way to gauge your experience related to the therapeutic expertise that comes with the role (remember that in medical affairs, each team works with a specific therapeutic department. Ex. vascular, oncology, etc)

8. What are you looking for in an ideal job?

Obviously, once again, a way to gauge if your ideal job actually is the job you’re interviewing for.

9. Tell me what your activities, like extracurricular and experiences, were in high school, college, medical school, residency, and now. 

This question caught me off guard because it’s been a long time since high school and honestly, I have never had anyone ask me about high school in a job interview that was after medical school. I still think it’s just the same question of trying to see if your personality and interests are the right fit for the role. 

10. This type of role prefers people who are pretty competitive and not similar to your current industry, who are more laid back, are you ready for this? Would this be a good fit? 

Another question to see if your personality is right for the role. If you are chill and laid back, a career in a high-paced stressful environment might be the best fit.

11. What motivates you?  What do you wake up for everyday?

Gauging to see if you are motivated by similar things that motivate people in this current position to see if you are a good fit.

12. Tell me about your career so far. What do you like the most about what you’re currently doing? What do you like the least about what you’re doing?

This question is similar to the “what is your ideal job” question. The interviewer wants to see if you will be happy and the right fit for this role. Make sure when you answer what you like least about your current job, that it doesn’t accidentally turn out to be what the role you’re interviewing for also does. For example, I accidentally said I did not enjoy the amount of commuting I do on a daily basis. The role I am applying for has commuting, but much less. Once I mentioned commuting as an issue though, the interviewer asked me more about what I did or did not like about my commute currently. 

13. This role is fast-paced, do you think you would like that?

More fit question.

14. What questions do you have for me?

Remember to always ask questions specific to this company because you are interviewing them and it can be a way for you to show you’ve chosen to apply to this company, and that you didn’t just click apply to every company (even if you did). 

15. What other offers or roles are you looking at?

After reading those question, do you see what I mean? My interviewer had an exact idea of what he/she wanted and was asking lots of questions to see how much I could fit into this role. From my daily current activities to even if I would be a good fit for the location of the job.

The Next-Step:

The next step is for me to talk to someone who has already been in the role that I am applying for. Not sure if this is also an interview, or if it’s mostly for me to have questions answered. Usually companies will have physicians interviewing talk to another physician in the company who is already doing the role so they can ask direct field-related questions.

He then informed me that he would follow-up with me in a few days.

I will keep you updated. 

P.s. This post is titled “Acing Your Pharma Interview”, but I don’t know if I did ace my interview, but I hope that by reading this article, that you ace yours!

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