How to prepare for an interview at a biotech company

Biotech interview questions

When it comes to getting your dream job in biotech, it is vital that you understand the interview process because, at the end of the day, this is the part that will ultimately secure the role for you. This means that it is important to prepare for the interview in advance so that you know exactly what to expect and do not get hit with any surprises. 

For this article, Labiotech spoke to two experts – Janet Qi, chief executive officer (CEO) of PurMinds NeuroPharma, and Kate Aiken, chief people officer at Arcellx – to figure out how candidates can best prepare themselves for an interview at a biotech company. 

Table of contents

    What do biotech companies look for in successful candidates?

    According to a blog by Catalyst Life Sciences that lays out strategies for biotech recruitment, biotech professionals should ultimately have a unique combination of technical skills, soft skills, and potential for growth to excel in the field.

    When we asked Aiken what she believes biotech companies generally look for in successful candidates, she replied: “At Arcellx, successful candidates must be able to demonstrate to us that they have driven exceptional results in prior roles, they know what behaviors lead to trusting working relationships and successful collaborations, they thrive in environments with high autonomy and freedom, and they are always looking to learn and grow.” 

    Qi, meanwhile, said that, at PurMinds, they value innovation, collaboration, and a passion for improving patients’ lives. “We seek individuals who can contribute to our mission of developing novel neurotherapeutics and bringing them to market.”

    It is true that passion will go a long way towards securing a job in biotech. According to PharmiWeb.jobs (a job site for the life sciences sector), biotech recruiters will look for signs that indicate candidates are motivated to contribute to scientific advancements, improve healthcare, or make a positive impact on society. This is because passionate candidates tend to be more dedicated, proactive, and likely to stay engaged in their work. Therefore, being passionate about the role you are applying for is an important factor, and this will usually come across in the interview. 

    Nevertheless, there is plenty you can do to prepare yourself for the interview in order to become the perfect candidate with the ability to impress the hiring manager.

    Top tips on how to prepare for an interview at a biotech company

    While the comments above provide a general sense of what biotech companies are looking for in a candidate, below we have provided more specific pointers on what you can actually do to prepare yourself as best as possible for an interview at a biotech company. 

    Research the company and understand its pipeline

    Before your interview, one of your first steps should be to research the company you are applying to work for. By doing so, you can learn more about the company’s expectations and preferences for its employees, plus the interviewer may also ask you questions to make sure you have an understanding of the company’s science and pipeline. 

    “Before your interview, make sure you have a thorough understanding of the company’s research focus, pipeline products, and any recent scientific advancements they’ve made,” commented Qi. “For PurMinds NeuroPharma, candidates should be familiar with our programs like PUR101, PUR501, and PUR400, understanding both the scientific basis and the therapeutic potential.”

    Meanwhile, Aiken said that it is also important to read up not only on the company’s science, but also on the state and stage of the business and financing, the leadership, and the culture. “What shape is it in financially? What’s next in their pipeline? Research the people you will interview with on LinkedIn and know a bit about who they are and what they do. I’m always surprised when a candidate uses one of their precious questions to ask me to describe my role, because if you look me up on LinkedIn, it’s pretty well spelled out.”

    Ultimately, your research will allow you to give responses that show you have invested time into learning about its mission and values. 

    Demonstrate relevant skills and experience 

    Of course, as with any job interview, you will need to be able to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills and experience to take on the job. “Be prepared to share examples of when you produced exceptional results in prior roles and how you collaborated with others and worked through tough situations,” said Aiken. 

    Tailor your resume and prepare examples that showcase your experience in areas critical to the role you’re applying for, whether it’s R&D, clinical trials, or regulatory affairs,” commented Qi. As an example, she said that if you were to apply for clinical roles at PurMinds, you would need to highlight any specific expertise in neurological disorders or experience with regulatory bodies.

    Qi mentioned that you should also be ready to discuss past scenarios where you identified problems, proposed solutions, and implemented changes, especially in a scientific or technical context. She said that this demonstrates critical thinking and adaptability, which are key traits for success in biotech roles.

    And, perhaps one of the most important things to remember here, according to Qi, is that you want to be willing to admit that you do not know everything and that there is still a lot you need to learn. “You want to show that you are humble, and you are willing to learn. The last thing you want is to appear to be “knowing it all”, leaving an impression to your interviewer that you have a big ego. You don’t know what you don’t know, so being humble is important.” 

    It is also worth noting that experience is not everything, so, if you are still at the beginning of your biotech career, do not be disheartened. Some companies are looking for talent, commitment, and hard work over experience, as long as you have the right qualifications. According to Aiken, this is the case at Arcellx: “At Arcellx, we hire for talent, and that trumps experience. Of course, you need to meet the requirements for the role. But, if you can demonstrate that you are an A+ player with the learning agility, the attitude, and the aptitude to add to our culture and grow with our business, that will give you the winning edge.”

    In order to prepare for your interview, it is important to stay up to date with the biotech industry and follow any new developments that are taking place, as it is possible that you will be asked about current trends and techniques within the industry. 

    “Biotech is a rapidly evolving field,” said Qi. “Show that you’re informed about current trends and challenges, such as the integration of new technologies in drug development or shifts in regulatory landscapes, especially concerning psychedelic and neuro-medicine sectors.”

    Ask insightful questions

    Touching on Aiken’s previous point about being surprised when candidates use one of their questions at the end of the interview to ask her about her role at the company despite the fact they could have easily looked it up beforehand, it is important to prepare a list of insightful questions that will impress the interviewer. “…if I don’t have to answer a basic question like that, then we have time to get into more interesting questions about culture and leadership at Arcellx,” commented Aiken. 

    Therefore, make sure that the list of questions you prepare shows your interest in the company, for example by asking about their career growth opportunities, expectations for the first 90 days in the role, or current goals for the team. 

    Variations in the interview process depending on the job role

    Naturally, there will be variations in the interview process depending on what job you have applied for. Although the list of tips above can help you prepare for an interview at a biotech company in a more general sense, Qi provided Labiotech with some pointers on what to expect in interviews for specific job roles, as listed below.

    Research and Development (R&D)

    According to Qi, interviews for R&D positions often involve technical assessments or problem-solving sessions to evaluate the candidate’s expertise in specific scientific areas relevant to the company’s focus. She said that candidates might be asked to discuss their research experience, how they approach experimental design, or troubleshoot hypothetical scenarios.

    Clinical Trials and Regulatory Affairs

    For clinical trials and regulatory affairs jobs, Qi said: “Applicants for these roles may undergo competency-based interviews focusing on regulatory compliance, ethical considerations, and their ability to manage complex projects. Understanding of global regulatory frameworks, especially Health Canada, FDA, or TGA, would be crucial.”

    Business Development and Strategic Management

    Meanwhile, business development and strategic management roles might include discussions on market analysis, negotiation skills, and strategic planning. “Candidates could be asked to present case studies or past experiences where they contributed to business growth or managed partnerships,” said Qi.

    Technical and Manufacturing Positions

    For roles focused on drug production or technical operations, Qi explained that interviews could involve practical assessments of technical skills, understanding of manufacturing processes, or compliance with safety and quality standards.

    What not to do: things to avoid during the interview process

    Now, you know how to best prepare yourself for an interview at a biotech company. But it might also be beneficial to know what things to avoid doing during the interview. 

    We asked Aiken if there is anything that a candidate does in an interview that would instantly put her off hiring them. She responded: “If you answer my questions with what you think I want to hear, or if you give generic answers to my probing questions, I am not going to be impressed. I am looking for candidates who are frank and thoughtful and authentic, because that is a great indicator of someone who will be successful in our culture. If I ask you to tell me something that you know you need to improve upon, don’t say, ‘I need to learn how to stop taking on so much work,’ or ‘I need to be less of a perfectionist.’”

    Instead, she said it is better to share something that is a real vulnerability. 

    So, once you have done your preparation and are confident about the process, the best thing to do is just go into the interview and be yourself, making sure you answer every question as truthfully as possible.

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