The Complete Guide on “How to Prepare for Pharmaceutical Job Interviews

By: Claire Wilson. Last Updated: Jun 2022

image-of-3-candidates-being-assessed-against-a-checklist-implying-process-of-pharmaceutical-interviews

How to Prepare for Pharmaceutical Interviews

Whether you’re just starting pharmaceutical applications and are thinking ahead or you’re actually preparing for an interview you’ve got scheduled (yay!), we’ve got all the information you need. Everyone finds interviews nerve-wracking. It’s even worse if you’ve not done one for a while. It’s probably no surprise that the better prepared you are, the more likely you are to be able to control those nerves.

So in this guide, we’ve compiled all you need to know about pharmaceutical interviews. You can start at the top and work your way through it all, or you can use the links in the following contents section to jump to the most relevant area.

On this page you’ll find:

  1. How to Get Started
  2. Types of Interview
  3. What Interview Questions Can You Expect?
  4. On the Day of Your Interview
  5. How to Follow up an Interview
  6. 8 Tips to Set Yourself Apart
  7. Things to Remember

Click on a link above to jump straight to that section, or scroll down to read them all!

1. How to Get Started

Whether you’ve done 1 or 100, the process for preparing for an interview doesn’t really change.

Interview preparation should fall into 3 categories – yourself, the company and the process.

Use the information below and our “Interview, Now What?” template (linked at the bottom of the page) to help guide your preparation.

Yourself

You have to know yourself inside out.
This sounds like common sense, but it’s often harder than it first seems.

You have to be able to line yourself up against the job specification and critically analyze where your strengths and weaknesses are. Take time to think about (and practice) clear and concise ways to explain both.

You also have to make sure you can comfortably talk through your work history. Stumbling to remember your own past doesn’t make a great impression and may even lead people to wonder how honest you’ve been.

It’s understandable that some of your older experiences may be hard to recall so review the facts before going into your interview. It can be helpful to keep a copy of your resume for yourself to refer to during your interview, just be careful not to use it as a crutch.

If you’re changing industry, it’s important that you not only tell the interviewer what your roles have been before but also how they gave you transferable skills relevant to the position you’re interviewing for.

You may think it’s obvious, but there’s the chance your interviewer knows very little about your previous role, so spell out the similarities. Don’t leave them guessing.

Additionally, you should be able to give a confident overview of yourself in 2/3 minutes, many interviewers use this as a way of beginning an interview and letting you settle down – be aware of what your key points are. (See more about this in the “Types of Interview Questions” section below).

The Company

Before you set off for an interview, you need to gather as much information as possible. You have to be able to show that even though you’ve not done this specific role in this company or industry before, you have a good idea of what it is and what it involves.

Have a look at the company’s website, social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and talk to anyone who knows something about the company. What you’re after is a well-rounded view of the company, what they do and how they function.

Not only does this help you look prepared and confident to the employer, it also helps you decide that this is a company you would enjoy working for.

Asking what you know about the company is often one of the opening questions in an interview – take the opportunity to do more than just relay a list of facts. Tell them why knowing this makes you want to work for them, what makes you a good fit or what can you add to the pursuit of their company goals.

You can easily use this question to get an excellent start to your interview. (Again, see the section below on interview questions for a more detailed discussion on answering this question).

The Hiring Process

Don’t be afraid to ask about the process – you’ve got to know what you’re preparing for. Consider these points as things you might like to know before an interview:

  • Are you only meeting one interviewer?
  • What is their position within the company?
  • Is there a set structure to the interview?
  • Will there be any assessments or psychometric tests within this interview?
  • How long is the interview scheduled to last?

Preparing effectively will give you confidence going into that all-important interview. But even if you’ve asked all the above questions, expect the unexpected!

Remember that no two interviews are ever the same and you can’t guarantee any part of it. Be sure to make the most of every opportunity given to you throughout the process and be clear on the key things you want someone to know about you.

2. Types of Interview

Every job selection process is different – you can’t just assume you’ll go for a face-to-face interview and a few days later you’ll hear whether you got the job or not. Companies use all sorts of techniques to ensure they pick the best candidate. If you know the process before you start then you’re in a better position to perform well.

So what types of interview can you expect?

Telephone Interviews

Why Companies Do This: Telephone interviews are typically used as a screening tool. They’re a way for HR to assess a large number of candidates in a short period of time.

What to Expect: Telephone interviews will typically be conducted by a member of the HR team (and not a line manager). They usually consist of a small number of set questions and are generally quite short. Don’t expect much of a conversation – the person conducting the interview is likely to stick to a script of pre-set questions and generally won’t ask any follow-up. You also won’t typically get any feedback on the call. It’s more likely that your success (or otherwise) will be determined once you’re off the call and you’ll receive further instructions a few days later. Competency-based questions are commonly used in this sort of interviewing – see the dedicated section below for information on how to answer these.

Top Tips:

  • Since a telephone interviewer is unlikely to probe any further than your initial answer, it’s important that you answer clearly and concisely but give enough detail to fully get your point across.
  • Treat it like an in-person interview – some people will even recommend that you dress as if you were meeting the person. Whether you do that or not, it’s usually a good idea to treat it like the person can see you. Many things can change the tone of your voice and if you act like the person can see you then you’re most likely to project a professional and friendly tone. As an example – smile, especially when answering the call. It might sound silly but it will change the tone of your voice.
  • Alternatively, some people will recommend standing during a phone interview as a way to keep yourself sounding alert and professional.
  • Either way, it’s about finding the process that makes you feel comfortable and able to present yourself in the best possible way. Speak slowly, clearly and at a good volume.
  • Make sure you’re somewhere quiet with good reception.
  • Also, make sure you’re free from distractions – make sure others around you know you’ve got an interview and not to disturb you.
  • Ask when you can expect feedback and what the next stage of the process is if you are successful.

Video Interviews

Why Companies Do This:  Similar to telephone interviews, video interviews are typically used as a screening tool for a large number of candidates.

What to Expect: There are different types of video interview – try to get as many details as possible from the company so you can prepare effectively. Sometimes you might speak to someone over a video call and sometimes you might be recording answers to set questions.

Top Tips:

  • For either type, you want to make sure you’re somewhere quiet, where you won’t be disturbed or interrupted, and where you have a good internet connection.
  • If you’re speaking to someone then you should prepare and treat it as an in-person interview.
  • If you’re recording answers then make sure you read all the instructions carefully and follow them. It’s more difficult here but try to imagine you’re talking to a real person who’s just being really quiet – remember that someone will sit and watch this, talk to them.

Psychometric Testing

Why Companies Do This:  This is another screening tool used by companies to assess a large number of candidates. These are usually done as a second round of interviewing (typically after a telephone interview). Companies primarily do this to identify candidates that are the best fit against a particular set of criteria.

What to Expect:  Some psychometric tests are carried out online and can be completed anywhere you have an internet connection but often these are combined with in-person aptitude testing at an assessment centre set-up.

Top Tips:

  • The main thing to remember is that while you will be successful or unsuccessful at this stage of interviewing, it’s not really about passing or failing. These tests are typically assessing personality traits and specific skills.
  • In tests that are assessing your personality type, answer honestly – if you’re a good fit for the company, that will be enough. This is genuinely the best idea and the thing most likely to give you a “successful” outcome.
  • Do not to try to second-guess the “right” answer. You’ll typically be asked similar questions in many different ways. Trying to guess the “right” answer will generally lead to you looking inconsistent – this is a sure way to be marked unsuccessful.
  • For tests of mathematical or language skills, a quick google search will get you some practice tests online. Some employers will also send a link to relevant practice tests – definitely make sure you complete any practice materials you are given.
  • This gets easier the more you do it. You can’t ever know the questions but you can practice the technique so that when you’re in a stressful interview environment, you’re more likely to remain calm and focused.
  • On the day, make sure you read all instructions carefully. It’s worth taking a little longer to read through things and understand fully. Trying to skim read and get to the questions quickly is likely to see you misinterpret or miss key points of information.

In-Person Interviews

Why Companies Do This: In person interviewing is the traditional method that most people think about when they consider interviewing. In the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, it’s typically used after some of the screening interview techniques outlined above.

What to Expect:  There are still a huge number of ways that in-person interviews can be conducted. Examples include 1-to-1, with a small panel of interviewers, with an HR representative, with the person who would be your line manager, conversational interviews or structured interviews with set questions and a marking system. The bottom line is that when you’re invited for an interview, you need to ask as much as you can about the process and what to expect.

Top Tips: The main thing to remember is that if you’ve been called for an interview – someone has read your background and thinks you might be a good fit. Sure, there may be some underlying concerns they want to ask about, but they’re interested!

The rest of this article is all relevant to in-person interviewing, so read on for all our top tips!

3. What Interview Questions Can You Expect?

There’s no way to know exactly what you’ll be asked, there are lots of ways they can ask you about your past work experiences and your reasons for wanting their job. But there are several interview questions that are asked so frequently, it’d be a mistake not to prepare for them.

Some questions can be a little tricky if you’re unprepared. Asking difficult questions is a great way for an interviewer to see how you cope under pressure, and often more likely to force you into an honest answer.

If at any point you are unsure about a question, don’t be afraid to ask for some clarification. It’s MUCH better to do that before you begin an answer.

Technical Questions

In a pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturing interview, you might be asked some technical questions. These will be at a level relevant to the job you’re applying for.

If you’ve worked in the industry, these should be no problem.

If you’re a GetReskilled student reskilling from another industry, you should revisit your course materials and your self-assessment questions as preparation for these. Technical questions are the main reason we recommend waiting until the end of your first academic module before starting applications. By the time you’ve finished your first module, you should have a good enough understanding of industry basics to be answering technical questions for entry-level jobs.

Again, if you’re coming to an interview without any industry experience, the interviewer knows that so it’s not a dealbreaker. You just have to be able to show that you’re learning from your course and have a good theoretical understanding of the industry and the regulations in place.

Non-Technical Questions

It’s helpful to think about non-technical interview questions in a few different categories (as we’ve done below). No matter what you’re being asked, it’s worth taking a second to consider why you’re being asked it. Time is of the essence in interviews – if an interviewer thinks a question is worth asking, there must be a reason.

Openers/Ice Breakers

Your first impression. An interview will often begin with a question or two to break the ice – things that are easily answered and should put you at ease. But, as we discussed above, there’s still a reason for this. This is the time someone will be forming first impressions about you and the way you present yourself.

In general, try to be friendly, positive, clear and confident.

Let’s now consider a few different questions of this sort and how you might answer them…

“Tell me a little about yourself.”

We’ve spoken in other articles about the need for a personal pitch. But it’s not just a nice way to introduce yourself at networking events, it’s also a great base from which to answer the often-asked “tell me a little about yourself” question.

This question is typically asked at the start of an interview as a way to help everyone settle into the interview and provide a baseline of information from which the rest of the interview can develop. The interviewer is looking for you to give a brief overview of your work experience and/or academic achievements to date. They’re not looking for personal details such as your family circumstances.

You should approach this question as a place to layout your “Key messages” to the interviewer. What are the 4/5 things about your history that you think make you a good candidate for this role?

If you’re coming to pharma from another industry – discuss your previous roles briefly but, as with your CV, try to keep the focus on the transferable skills you used/developed and successes you had. Don’t get into too much detail about the duties/responsibilities of your previous roles unless they are directly applicable to the role you’re applying to.

If you’re taking a course to reskill into this industry (or have recently finished one), it’s worth highlighting this here. Similarly, if you have any hobbies, volunteering or non-work related experience that helps to demonstrate your suitability, you should mention them.

Essentially, you should bring anything that shows you as a strong candidate to the interviewer’s attention during this answer.

“What do you know about the company/what we do here?”

While this may be framed as trying to figure out what you know so they don’t waste time telling you it again, what they’re really looking at is how much you’ve prepared. It soon sorts out those who want “a” job from the ones who want “this” job. You should be able to give a concise answer to this.

Faltering in answering this question is an awful way to start an interview and a terrible first impression to have to try to overcome. Luckily, it’s one of the easiest questions to prepare for and you can easily turn it into an excellent opportunity.

Most companies have a website; most company websites have an ‘About us’ section. As an absolute minimum, you should know the content of that page. You can also look for the company’s presence on social media (e.g LinkedIn, Facebook, etc), as this will often give you big clues about their current strategies. Also, put the company’s name and ‘news’ into a search engine to see if there’s anything current you should know about.

But once you’re in the interview, do more than just relay a list of facts back to the interviewer – take the opportunity to shine.

When discussing what you’ve learned, you should tell them why knowing this makes you want to work for them, what makes you a good fit or what you can add to the pursuit of their company goals. You can easily use this question to get an excellent start to your interview – make sure you make the most of it!

If you find information difficult to come by, tell the interviewer what you did to try to find out.

e.g. “I know you do x, y and z. I took a look over your website and some articles about the plant to try to get some further information but I couldn’t find any more specific details. I’d be really keen to hear more about the site and how it fits within the company structure.”

Informational questions

In these questions, an interviewer is trying to get to know your CV and past experience. They are trying to get a more rounded view of you as a candidate and develop on what they’ve read on your CV.

“Tell me a bit more about your role in…”

If an interviewer is asking specifically about a previous role, you should see it as an opportunity to show them similarities, not just relay facts.

If it was within the industry – give an outline of your duties and responsibilities, paying particular attention to where you identified crossover with this current role (taken from the job advert). Try to have examples of successes and achievements that you can discuss. The easiest way for someone to imagine you being successful in their team is to hear about successes you’ve had in other teams.

If it’s a role from another industry, give the interviewer a brief overview of duties and responsibilities within a broader context of the team/company goals. Remember that the interviewer might know very little about your previous industry to stick to simple, clear language and avoid jargon.

Try to keep the focus on areas of similarity – in this case, that might be discussing transferrable skills that you gained or developed, rather than actual duties. Make sure you’ve considered all the transferable skills that your previous jobs developed in you to maximize the opportunity to show cross-over or relevance here. You should also be discussing any success or achievements you had in this role (for the same reasons outlined about).

Gaps in Your CV

You should try to avoid gaps on your CV wherever possible.

Make sure that you’ve included ALL work experience, academic experience and volunteering to create a full timeline on your CV. There may be instances where a gap is unavoidable though. If this is the case, it’s up to you whether you highlight and explain it on your CV or leave the gap unexplained.

Either way (but particularly if you’ve left the time unaccounted for), an in