You travel to another city for a day of interviews. Often, you will be parked in a room, and a parade of people rotates through. HR, your direct report, people above you in the hierarchy and people below. Lab people, lawyer people, likeable people, and some not so much. And they all are asking questions about you.
• What is your greatest achievement (getting a cab in the rain today)
• Why do you want to work here (I don’t, I just want a job)
• What is your management style (I strip everyone naked, then I throw them in a galley ship, chain them to an oar, and hire a drummer)
• Why did you leave your last job (the company ran out of money)
Over and over, you will review your thesis, your skill set, your publications, your grades, trying to put forth your very best you.
And then there are the “test” questions. Soft ball, hard ball… you never know.
Simple questions like easy infield fly balls:
“How would you handle being unable to meet a deadline?”
But there are some that come from out in left field:
“Can you estimate the annual dollar sales of band-aids in the US?“
Kind of an odd question, since the job I was applying for involved DNA diagnostics. But it is just a test on how much business savvy you might have, even though nominally you are a life science kind of person.
And every time I open my mouth when being interviewed, I feel like I am bragging. All the while, I feeling like I am selling myself, which I am and I worry that I am overselling or underselling.
I hate interviews. While I am outgoing, vivacious, funny and the life of the party (am I bragging?), I am rather restrained when talking about work. Perhaps it is a carryover from practicing medicine, where one becomes extremely conscious of the need to protect the patient privacy. I find talking about my “achievements” exhausting. Closing a study on time, anticipating poor enrollment, compensating for poor quality data collection, having papers and abstracts well received…I have no idea what really scores points with interviewers. And when you start talking at 9 a.m. and finish at 5 p.m., you get really sick of the sound of your own voice.
How do you promote yourself without preening? How do you evidence your intellect without sounding arrogant?
The Wall Street Journal published a piece on August 14th, “Are We All Braggarts Now?” by Elizabeth Bernstein. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444184704577587091630924000.html
Taking some tips from Ms. Bernstein’s piece, there are ways to show your best self without seeming to boast. Some of her suggestions:
1. Tell the story – what was the project, who was involved, who contributed to the success, what was your role in that success. By telling a story and crediting all deserving parties, you do credit to yourself.
2. Outsource – tell how you helped someone else to shine, how you helped your lab assistant, your department chair, etc. meet a benchmark or goal, with you as the facilitator or the strong right arm.
And some ideas of my own:
1. Imagine what someone else might say – describe what you think your colleagues might say about you, or what they actually said at the end of a project. Discuss how your co-workers interact to you, on and even off the job.
2. Name drop – but in a good way. You may mention key opinion leaders or thought leaders who have worked with you or on your project, experts who if asked, would provide feedback on the project and your performance. It is the academic /business version of the celebrity game.
3. Try to avoid “I”– talk of the “we,” the team, the colleagues.
4. Talk action – keep language focused on the tactics and strategies you devised, not you.
5. Evidence joy – your excitement about your past works, your good humor, your upbeat attitude, all suggest to prospective employers that you will bring the same joy to your new job. No one wants to hire someone who is sour, bitter or hostile.
6. Never embellish – stick to real work product, real assets, real outcomes. Nothing kills your chances like exaggerating your budget, bio, bibliography.
7. Open the crypt and show the bones – if there are skeletons, be prepared to exhume them with your own shovel. If you were fired, have your side of the story ready to report. Be prepared to answer questions like why you left your last job after 4 months?
Watching the politicians campaign this time of year clearly demonstrates the value of having scripted answers to stock questions. You cannot prefabricate answers to unexpected questions, but frankly most interviews cover a pretty routine set of questions. Every job website has a list of common questions like this one from Monster.com writer Thad Peterson.
• Tell me about yourself.
• What are your strengths?
• What are your weaknesses?
• Why do you want this job?
• Where would you like to be in your career five years from now?
• What’s your ideal company?
• What attracted you to this company?
• Why should we hire you?
• What did you like least about your last job?
• When were you most satisfied in your job?
• What can you do for us that other candidates can’t?
• What were the responsibilities of your last position?
• Why are you leaving your present job?
• What do you know about this industry?
• What do you know about our company?
• Are you willing to relocate?
• Do you have any questions for me?
will also find more specific life science related queries on biotech and
science spaces. Research and rehearse
before you walk in the door.