The “How To Prepare For An Interview” series is supported by Gillette.
The biotech industry is one of the top for attracting VC money, and some say it’s recession-proof. Whether you’re interested in agriculture, pharmacy, medicine, or bioengineering, there are opportunities out there. You might find yourself designing drugs, fighting infectious diseases, engineering prosthetics, or regenerating tissue. But before you get the job, you’ll need to ace the interview. Here’s how to prepare for an interview in biotechnology.
Before you snag an interview, you have to find a job opening. In addition to checking classified ads or sites like CareerBuilder, keep tabs on the more streamlined sites like Medzilla, which only posts medical or biotech jobs listings. Check the websites of mid-size and large pharmaceutical companies, or even the sites of scientific magazines.
Once you find an opening, immediately make a connection with someone at the firm -- your application will likely be given more attention if you reach out.
Biotechnology is a rapidly growing field, and you don't want your most recent references during your interview to be from your college biology textbooks. Especially if you've been out of the game for a while, or if you're interviewing for your first job in the industry, make sure you know about current events in biotechnology and be able to discuss them comfortably. Subscribe to scientific magazines and biotech blogs -- you may be asked to reference a case study from the news.
However, be careful not to get too technical during the interview if you're not sure of the specifics. 'Referencing a particular source is a risky business -- if the individual has not been a regular subscriber or reader of that area, it could backfire,' says Dr. Dhiren Thakker of UNC's Eshelman School of Pharmacy. He recommends reading Drug Discovery Today, Nature, and Chemical and Engineering News.
Chances are your potential employer will have never seen you at work in the lab. Instead, they'll probably ask you questions to figure out how you'd fare on the job.
While it's common for an employer to ask a candidate to solve a hypothetical question, what's more common is a technical conversation the employer and candidate-- the employer will use that conversation to gauge the candidate's depth and technical knowledge, says Thakker.
Biotechnology involves the intersection of several disciplines, and it's important that a candidate knows something about the other related disciplines.
If you're interviewing to be a pharmacologist, you need to 'speak the language of a chemist,' says Thakker. Typically, drug discovery teams include chemists and biologists, so if you're interviewing for one position make sure you're at least conversant in the field of the other.
So when you're studying or working, make sure to talk to people in other disciplines. Many graduate students, according to Thakker, tend to get wrapped up in their own fields. If you're still in school, make sure to take outside courses, and talk to people with different backgrounds.
If you've ever worked in a lab, you know how important it is to be organised and efficient. No employer wants to hire a slob -- they want to see that you're meticulous in and out of the lab. So if you're a wreck or show up late to the interview, the employer might assume that's how you'd act on the job.
Biotech employers are also looking for communication skills -- how well can you communicate your results to a supervisor and a team? In addition to your technical knowledge, you'll be judged on your listening, writing, and basic communication skills.
In Big Pharma companies, 'bench level scientists' do most of the interviewing, says Thakker. The focus is more on candidate's technical and communication skills, and candidates are usually asked to give 30-45 minute seminars.
When interviewing for small biotech companies, however, you're probably going to talk to the CEO or someone in business development. Instead of giving a seminar, you'll probably have a one-on-one or a small discussion, Thakker says.
Biotechnology -- and many of its sub-industries, like pharmacology -- are very small worlds, says Thakker.
'Any time you talk to somebody, if they don't know you, they know somebody that you know,' he says. But if you send your resume to a company at which you don't have any connections, you probably won't get any traction.
The best way to meet people is to go to discussion groups, conferences, receptions and networking events, says Thakker. You might hear about job opportunities you wouldn't have found online, and you'll also hear what people in biotech are talking about.
Lastly, don't be afraid to ask your contact in the industry for help. Tell them you're trying to get your name around. If someone well-established in biotech can forward your resume to a potential employer (instead of you forwarding it yourself), that gives you a leg up.
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