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Making the Match
Consider post-doctoral training in industry
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Article Source: naturejobsAsk the Experts: How to get Hired

by Grace Wong

Nature Biotechnology  Vol 22, #11 1481-1482 (2004)

Grace H.W. Wong is chief scientific officer at ActoKine Therapeutics. gw@actokine.com

Practical advice from 43 biotech experts for job-hunting scientists

No skills. No publications. No experience. No job!
This article will offer you suggestions from 43 biotech scientist experts
who have achieved success in the biotech industry.

1. Amgen

Paul Kassner, PhD

Criteria: Communication is one of the most important aspects of a scientific job in either industry or academia. A brilliant and creative scientist who is unable to pass on his knowledge and insight is of little value to a company or to a university.

Mistakes: The most common mistake is not being prepared for questions. The audience will ask questions that range from detailed technical questions to opinion about results and interpretations by other researchers in the field. The candidate should be an expert in the topic of his/her own research and should be ready with an answer for any question. During the one-on-one interview sessions, the candidate should be prepared for questions that focus on - job desired, strengths and weaknesses, career goals, as well as scientific interests.

Advice: Be prepared. Give a practice seminar to your peers both within and outside your area of expertise. Use the experience to better organize the flow of your slides, adjust the content within your slides and prepare your answers to questions that people will have. Have friends and colleagues conduct practice interviews. Use the time to practice (out loud) the answers to some common interviewing questions, as well as get a feeling for the type of questions people might ask. The better prepared you are for the entire interview experience, the more relaxed and confident you will be on interview day. This will allow your true personality and abilities to show themselves, and will give you the best opportunity for a job offer.

2. Genentech

Diane Pennica

Diane Pennica PhD
Senior Scientist

95 papers
36 patents

Criteria: I always look for people who have a spark in their eyes, are highly motivated, passionate and excited about doing research. They must bring to the interview an attitude that suggests they can't wait to get into the lab to do research.

Mistakes: Not showing any enthusiasm for their previous work.

Advice: Follow your passion, learn everything you can about your project and always have an "I can do it" attitude, even if you have no idea whether something will work. Don't give up easily and don't get discouraged when things fail because when you eventually do make a discovery, it makes all the hard work and long hours worth it.

3. Genentech

Andrew C. Chan

Andrew Chan MD PhD
VP  Research
Head of Immmunology

50 publications

Criteria: 1. Publications that demonstrate a record of scientific innovation, high impact and rigor. 2. Biological breadth. 3. Scientific fearlessness. 4. Commitment to drug discovery and passionate about translating cutting edge science to patient care.

Mistakes: 1. Inability to critique their own work. 2. Do not defend their own scientific opinions and speculations well; confuse speculation vs data. 3. Inability to relate their work to other biological systems. 4. Can't see the forest from the trees. 5. Didn't do their homework and/or didn't talk to individuals who have some knowledge of the company.

Advice: 1. Take the highest impact projects. It takes the same amount of hard work to complete a rigorous low impact project as a high impact project. 2. You have to be committed to drug discovery and really enjoy meshing cutting-edge research with drug discovery. 3. You have to enjoy your work and appreciate that you are doing something important for humankind. There are a lot of other less difficult things to do in life than drug discovery.

4. Genentech

Thomas D. Wu

Thomas D. Wu MD PhD
Senior Scientist

Criteria: Problem-solving skills, which include not only technical ability, but also personal attributes such as independence, flexibility, sound judgment, intuition, and perseverance.  (2) Communication skills, as shown by the candidate's seminar and ability to answer questions.

Mistakes:Not selling oneself.  The job candidate naturally has the greatest familiarity with his or her own skills and qualifications, and therefore needs to convey how they match a particular position. Of course, to do this well, the candidate must understand as much as possible about the position and the company.

Advice: A good interview should end up being a conversation. Be prepared to discuss your background and credentials, and be able to provide specific and relevant examples.

5. Genentech

Hans-Peter Gerber, PhD
Scientist at Genentech

40 publications

Criteria: Ability to resolve and de-convolute complex problems as demonstrated by high impact publications and during interview

Mistakes: To overstate and misinterpret own data.

Advice: Know the company and the research programs of the departments.

6. Biogen-Idec

Jeffrey Browning, PhD
Distinguished Scientist

Criteria: Enthusiasm and passion for science and a good publication record. "A candidate needs to convey to me their passion for science in some manner.  I'll fish for that enthusiasm during the interview, but usually it is quite obvious."

Mistakes: Not being excited about science during interview.

Advice: Present a poster at a good conference to practice telling your scientific work to other scientists one-on-one.

Quote: "Cutting edge science is a harsh profession and only a deep love of the topic and process can get one through the daily tumbles."

7. Biogen-Idec

Linda C Burkly, PhD

Criteria: Quality of their prior experience and training, evidence that they performed high quality work and have seen projects through to completion, passion for science/their specific discipline, high level of motivation and energy, good writing skills and communication skills.

Mistakes: Failure to be inquisitive about the position they are applying for or the projects they might be working on, vague personal goals, demeanor that is very reserved such that they fail to communicate their enthusiasm

Advice: Bring energy, passion, questions, previous papers and offer to explain/discuss.

8. Serono Boston

Steve Arkinstall, PhD
Head of Serono Institute
Head of Discovery at Serono

Criteria: Discovering drugs is all about good science and creativity. Scientists need to be experts in their field but this is not enough. I look for strong candidates with real competence in their own area but who also those who can readily "think out-of-the-box" when challenged. Something else that is often underestimated is the ability to communicate clearly and understand the value of teamwork.

Mistakes: Don't research the company or organization ahead of time. Too focused on their own expertise without embracing the bigger picture.

Advice: Research the organization, their strengths and their challenges. Drug discovery is a complex process with many steps with many teams working together. The scientist needs to communicate their own talent but also understand their value in the context of the goals of the organization overall.

9.Serono Geneva

John DeLamarter PhD
Director of
Science and Discovery

Criteria: Most importantly I am interested in qualifications. Does the scientist have the training and the track record to fill the position for which I am hiring. Next is their ability to fit in. Team work is always important.

Mistakes: Talking to me about salary and hierarchy as the first or most important mistake. Also not being able to orally demonstrate that what you claim is true. Serious hesitation by the interviewee on these issues is a bad sign. You should make sure that your CV emphases the aspects that make you a good if not the best candidate for the job on offer. This means understanding the job. Why are they looking for someone and what is it that will convince them that you will fill their needs.

Advice: My advice to the candidates called to an interview is to show they want to take the job and work in the place for which they are interviewing in a convincing manner.  After all, if you are called your background is seen as acceptable for the job so now you have to convince the interviewer that you will be happy and productive in the environment on offer.

10. Human Genome Sciences

Paul Moore PhD
Research - Lead Product

Criteria: A basis of knowledge and technical expertise to fufill job expectations and a track record of accomplishment - primarily based on publication record.

Mistakes: Poor communication skills.

Advice: Take as much opportunity in your present position to learn as much as possible, gaining a sound base of skill sets. Also take opportunity to collaborate with other labs where possible - to network but to also expand your accomplishments.  Consider how your skill set can be applied or developed further so that when you apply for a position you can portray in your application why your an excellent candidate. Shape your application letter appropriately to meet the expectations of the job opening.

11. Vertex Pharmaceuticals


John Randle, PhD
Program Executive

Criteria: Relevant formal training, relevant experience in a similar context, good attitude and communication skills, curiosity about the job, the company.

Mistakes: Being aloof or shy, not an interview mistake, per se, but I cringe when I see a CV showing that the person has changed jobs several times after only one or two years.

Advice: Work hard at becoming as qualified as possible by gaining as many experiences as possible, prepare for the interview by learning as much about the position and company as possible, learn to present yourself well, talk about yourself with confidence but not arrogance, be interested in prospective employers.

12. Raven biotechnologies

Gordon Vehar, PhD
VP of Research,

Factor VIII (Kogenate)
tPA (Activase),

At Genentech

35 publications
36 issued patents

Criteria: Ability to work on a team; ability to problem solve; flexibility; the broader the set of skills the better, combined with a strong technological basis in at least one area; ability to speak clearly and get their thoughts across.

Mistakes: Being late. Inability to make eye contact with talking with someone.

Advice: For young scientists, I would recommend first going on job interviews at places that are not of the highest interest. This would allow the person to become familiar with the interview process, how to pace you through the day of a lot of talking (frequently rare with a bench scientist), get over the nervousness of spending a day with strangers, practicing the scientific presentation and handling questions, etc. This will allow the applicant to be much more comfortable when on an important interview. Also: use the work "I" frequently. Many times it is not clear what the applicant did and what was done by others; make clear your individual contribution to the body of work

13. AGY Therapeutics

Robert Swanson

Karoly Nikolich, PhD
Founder and
Chief Scientific Officer
Former Genentech

Criteria: Competence, clear communication, confidence. I like scientists who understand the bigger context of their work, are able to conduct their experiments using the best techniques, and are able to draw clear conclusions that they communicate clearly with a strong dedication, belief, and confidence.

Mistakes: I often meet scientists who are good, did good work at the bench, but cannot explain how their work may be relevant to a disease or a concept. I also find that there are many scientists who are wishy-washy, do not tell their stories with enthusiasm, excitement. Part of appreciating a good set of experiments is the joy with which a scientist explains introduces their problems, challenges, tell the solutions, the results and finally provide a punch line what it all means.

Advice: I think the first two points implicate my suggestions.

14. Avalon

Kenneth Carter, PhD
Former HGSI

Criteria: I look for Smart people with good publications records and/or good references. I believe that good publications not only indicate a person's scientific prowess, but also give a strong indication of whether they can finish a project - which many smart scientist's struggles with. Also, because we are in an industrial setting, I always look for people who work well with others and therefore we at Avalon rely heavily on checking references.

Mistakes: There are many things that you cannot control about the interview process, but you can completely control your actions. I believe the little things can make a big difference. Show up on time. Act interested. Know at least a little something about the job. Pursue aggressive but polite follow up. Many times I see good scientist not pay attention to the small things, perhaps because they think their brains or background with see them through. But in a competitive job search, the small things can make a difference.

Advice: Figure out what you want to do and go do it. Follow your bliss. I almost never interviewed for an advertised position and at no point in my carrier have I been hired for a job that was being advertised. It is much better to work hard in a scientific area that you are interested in and follow your nose through good work, good relationships, and good networking. As the TaodeChing says - "If you are on the right path opportunity will show itself", but this sometimes requires patience.

15. ActoKine

Grace Wong, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer

87 publications
27 patents

(Post-Doc at Genentech)

former Millennium
AstraZeneca & Serono

Criteria: Strong passion for scientific discovery. Not afraid to pursue creative ideas and apply new techniques to practical applications for improving human health. Willingness to speak up on controversial issues and to take risks in following up new leads generated by serendipitous observations. Not afraid to solve problems independently. Vigor and speed in the conduct of research projects.

Mistakes: Exhibiting stronger motivation for money and free time from work than for science. Insufficient efforts to work diligently or think creatively. Vanity about own scientific achievements and insufficient recognition to the contributions of coworkers or other researchers in the same field. Lack of respect for peers and little loyalty to mentors.

Advice: 1) Find out your true calling by candidly recognizing your strengths and weaknesses. Don't accept uncritically the advice of others. Will you be truly happy as a scientist? Listen to your heart and you will understand. 2) Select projects that genuinely interest and excite you. 3) Find a honest, highly regarded, secure and influential boss. 4) Be ready to work beyond the call of duty and continually learn new skills that may open up in the future. 5) Keep steady contacts with good scientists. 6) Be ready to seize unexpected opportunities. 7) Keep your expectations modest and realistic and be on guard against counter-productive ego-inflating attitudes.

16. Chiron

 Rino Rappuoli, PhD
 Chief Scientific Officer 

364 publications
47 patents

(Discovered vaccine drugs)

Criteria: Quality of science, passion for their work, commitment to achieve practical results. Excellent publications are linked to excellence in science.
Mistakes: Being formal, not genuine,
Advice: Be natural, engage in conversation, show your passion

What is difference between academia and industry? In academia you can publish on any subjects which is trendy. The paper is the ultimate goal of the work. In industry you can only work on the problem you want to solve, even if not trendy. The publication is not the end, but the beginning (the scientific basis) of the real work. 

What is difference between biotech and big pharma? Big pharma have processes and critical mass. Many average-good scientists can sustain a pipeline. Biotech does not have enough mass, so the scientists need to be excellent in science and application of science

How were you originally motivated to become a scientist? The ideal job not only to do science but to use science to solve problems

Any hurdles you had to overcome? Keeping the above vision even in non favorable circumstances

17. Chiron

Alex L. Harris PhD
VP, Research

Applied Biochemistry
Chiron BioPharmaceuticals

50 Publications

Criteria: 1. Well organized and thought-out seminar. 2. Potential for being a "drug discovery scientist" - someone who understands the drug discovery process and why we are "here". 3. Prior experience in the area of expertise we are looking for (obviously)

Mistakes: 1. Poorly organized and "rambling" seminar including poor time management of that presentation. 2. Making "demands" during the first interview

Advice: 1. Do your homework - learn about the company you are visiting. 2. Design a seminar/presentation that demonstrates your scientific, organization and judgmental skills. 3. Be flexible.

18. Cephalon

Jeffry L. Vaught, Ph.D
Senior Vice President
& President,
Research & Development

Criteria: Energetic, highly communicative, team oriented, flexibility, a fundamental understanding of how to use technology to answer key biological questions, breadth of knowledge, not -techno centric-

Mistakes: Arrogance, not focusing their seminar to the job they are interviewing for, not researching the organization and know to whom they are speaking and info about the group/company,  assuming their science will carry-the-day without considering their personal presentation and answers to career questions

Advice: Prepare: this is a key. 1) Think carefully about, plan and practice your seminar and the message to be given (and speak within the time frame allotted 40 - 45 minutes), this is critical to engender enthusiasm  2) do some homework on the group you are interviewing with and be prepared to ask questions  3) be flexible (assuming you want to be) 4) dress appropriately. While we are living in a business relaxed society, it still is important to make a good first impression and appearance is one aspect.  At the very least, sport coat and tie for men and business attire (dress slacks or business suit) for women.

19. Avalon Pharmaceuticals

Reinhard Ebner, PhD
Sr. Scientist

40 publications
400 patents filed

(Post-Doc at Genentech)
Former HGSI

Criteria: "I look for a hard worker, proven best by a record of achievement and problem-solving; someone with good concrete as well as abstract reasoning capabilities; position-related prior experience cannot hurt, but honest enthusiasm for the research process is more important than specific area of expertise."

Mistakes: Candidate-position match is not made obvious: When applying to a position, one should tell the truth and never lie; but it is also important to tailor the application to the open position, i.e. give the prospective employer the impression that they have a good chance of getting what they are looking for. poor layout and spelling errors in cv; list references but fail to inform them before they are contacted; References are outdated or in a poor position to judge applicant's qualification. In particular, if your current supervisor is not listed as a primary reference, be ready to explain why (e.g. personality conflict), but do not go into any detail; same for significant gaps in resume; letting an interviewer and future coworkers know about interests and hobbies outside of science is ok, but emphasizing them or using them to distract is not; let the interviewer take the initiative in this; being late or sleepy.

Advice: Be yourself. if the interview involves giving a seminar, practice that in front of peers or friends; including one funny slide cannot hurt, but incorporating an example of how a technical challenge or conflicting data were resolved is more important;if publication list is poor, be prepared to present a record of achievement in other ways; be prepared to describe medium- or long-term career goals; dress well but professional;

20. Suntory

James Strickler, PhD
Former Serono & GSK

Criteria: Training, productivity (as evidenced by papers and/or patents), enthusiasm, and intellectual curiosity.

Mistakes: The most damning mistake is to show a lack of enthusiasm.  If the applicant is too reticent about their own background, interests, and accomplishments and appear to show little or no interest in the job they are applying for, they will not fare well. They should also appear professional and responsible.

Advice: Learn how to sell yourself.  By that I don't mean to come across as a 5th Ave. advertisement but is prepared to discuss yourself, your attitude to your responsibilities, and what you have accomplished. A good candidate can take control of the interview process by relating the job duties to their experience and asking questions to learn more about the job and the company.

21. SomaGenics

Roger L. Kaspar, Ph.D
VP,  Biology

Criteria: 1) necessary background and expertise in the area of interest; 2) the applicant should fit in with the culture of the organization; 3) Communication and organizational skills, 4) high energy levels, and 5) the ability to work in a team.

Mistakes: 1) not taking the time to understand the needs and culture of the organization. If the applicant can identify the goals of the organization and demonstrate how their skills will help the organization achieve its goals, they will have a tremendous advantage over other applicants.

Advice: 1) Make sure that the environment at the organization is right for you and that it is a place where you can be happy.  One person's dream job may be another's nightmare. 2) Make sure that you also take time to interview your potential employers; 3) you need an appropriate environment where you can flourish as well as help your future employer meet its goals.

22. Gilead Sciences

Craig S. Gibbs, PhD
Senior Director

Corporate Development
(Post-Doc at Genentech)

Criteria: Most important basic criteria are intelligence and technical skill and knowledge relevant to the job description. These are usually pretty easy to fulfill what is more difficult to find is passion, creativity, leadership and communication skills. I tend to look for these latter attributes since they are harder to find.

Mistakes: Not doing enough homework on the company and the background of the managers that will be interviewing them. Not preparing their seminar adequately, not practicing enough it so the delivery is flawless and not tailoring it to suit audience. Not answering questions directly. Giving long winded answers to questions and not letting the interviewer ask follow-up questions.

Advice: Find a position where there will be an opportunity to expand your skills and responsibility. I.e. a new position where 50% of the work is already familiar to you but 50% will involve new challenges and learning.

23. ARIAD Pharmaceuticals

Roy Pollock, Ph.D
Principal Scientist

Criteria: 1) Having the requisite qualifications and experience. Good communication skills. Good social skills. A genuine interest in, and some knowledge of, the position.

Mistakes: No eye contact. Answers to specific questions filled with irrelevant details. Not having any questions to ask me.

Advice: Use any contacts you have - a CV from a known source will always go to the top of the pile. Be prepared to give a brief synopsis of your background, strengths and what you are looking for in your next job. Be prepared to explain why you want the job. Don't take rejection personally, and don't stop looking and applying until you have a written offer in hand.

24. RX-Gen

Steven R. Gullans PhD

100 publications
21 grants

Criteria: 1. Passion for research. 2. Very strong recommendations 3. Ability to communicate 4. High likelihood of being a team player 5. Likelihood of being an independent, creative scientist.

Mistakes: 1. Indicating that they plan to work for only 6-12 months before returning to school. 2. Showing very little interest in our area of research.

Advice: 1. The very best candidates have read our papers and know a lot about our work before they arrive. 2. Demonstrate your love of research and discovery as well as your zest for life.

25. Ariad  Pharmaceuticals

Tim Clackson PhD
(Post-Doc at Genentech)

Criteria: The most important criteria for hiring scientists is a track record of being able to follow through on a project (which usually is reflected in publications)

Mistakes: Not doing research on the company or the science/projects-- candidates should be up to speed with information on the company's website at a minimum. Not admitting if you don't know an answer-- trying to bluff your way through. Not having questions to ask me.

Advice: A scientific flexibility and curiosity since projects and priorities always change, and good interpersonal and communicaitons skills. I would advise applicants to focus on these aspects when "packaging" themselves for interview.

26. CuraGen

Martin Leach PhD
Vice President of Informatics

Criteria: Experience, technical depth, positive personality and breadth of knowledge so that they can be applied to projects in other 'topics' in the future.

Mistakes: 1. Being verbose and not 'to the point' - keep it succinct. 2.Not answering questions clearly. 3. Inability to think on the spot or 'out of the box' when asked challenging questions.4. Lack of research about the department or company

Advice: 1. Do research on the company prior to interview. 2. Be able to refer to accomplishments with technical depth. 3. Be relaxed, polite, and 'positive'.

27. CuraGen

Yuan-Di Halvorsen, PhD

Criteria: Candidates demonstrate the experience and expertise that meet the needs of the position.

Mistakes: Candidates describe tasks that they would not do because they do not fit into the job description. Candidates present seminars that are narrowly focused on one project but fail to connect with the field in general.

Advice: Be positive. Do not complain about the current position. Be familiar with the literature and related works by other scientists.

28. Amersham
Life Science

Anton Beletskii, PhD

Postdoc at
Abbott Bioresearch

Criteria: Good technical match. Good management skills. Ideally, during interview applicant should tell stories of how they started a project, and using skills relevant to the position, lead the project to completion. Able to deliver results, publications. Friendly and outgoing personality. Mention your past team projects and collaborations and propose potential areas of collaboration.

Mistakes: Unprepared for the tough questions and standard traps during interview process. a) Sloppily-prepared interview presentation. b) Presentations exceeding 45 minutes and boring. c) Self-depreciating humor. Negative comments and goofy humor. d) Not researching background of the company and the people. e) Not keeping social talk short or unnecessary details which may work against you (talk about common friends and places).

Advice: a) To prepare a good resume. b) Prepare short and captivating slide presentation. Practice your presentation religiously before interview. d) It is a numbers game, so persistence is critical. e) Often knock on doors and go face-to-face with employers, f) Don't be upset by rejections, it is not personal. g) Follow up persistently with your contacts even if they fail to reply. h) Do not stop looking until your first day on the job.

29. Cell Signaling

David Merberg PhD
Director of Informatics,

Former AstraZeneca

Criteria: Scientific expertise, problem-solving ability, creativity, ability to work with people, and of course work-ethic.

Mistakes: 1. Not preparing adequately - scientists should do their homework and learn as much as possible about our organization.  Also, they should be prepared to talk about their previous work. 2.  Displaying a lack of respect to some of the people who are interviewing them, particularly if the interviewer is in a more junior position.

Advice: Be ready to listen.  Don't monopolize the conversation in an interview. If you are interested in working at a company, focus on the value you can bring to the organization.  What are the problems in this organization?  How has your past experience prepared you to solve them?

30. Serono, Geneva

Timothy Wells PhD
Head of R & D

Criteria: Someone who be excited about what they are doing, and able to explain it in simple terms to scientists outside of their field.  We need people who can be multidisciplinary team players - who can explain their passion without being patronising.

Mistakes:Be prepared and do your homework - many people have no idea about us when they walk through the door. Listen to the questions and try to answer them - rather than just talking about what interests you.

Advice: A job interview is similar in many ways to a dating agency.  You need to be sensitive as to why you and the company you are interviewing with would make a good team.  Try to see yourself working for the company, and see what you bring which would really be special.  Seeing the world from their point of view is always good practice.

31. Millennium

Keith Robison PhD
Sr Scientist II,
Computational Biology

Criteria: A key consideration is imagining how a scientist will fit into the organizational culture.  Is this person creative?  Can they communicate?  Can they work independently?  Do they have high aspirations & high ethics?  Do they share the company's vision?  Can they successfully integrate a wide variety of priorities & projects?  Are they excited about their work?

Mistakes: It's hard to relax when you are interviewing, but some candidates are too 'buttoned up'.  I like to hear their scientific visions.  Also, too many have too local an outlook - they know how their work is important but don't have much idea of how it does - or more importantly could - fit into a much larger picture.  Ask lots of questions!  Everything should be fair game in your interview - the science, the organizational culture,etc

Advice: Interdisciplinary training is increasingly important.  If your focus is the bench, you still need to understand a lot about computation & physics. Collaboration & teamwork are increasingly critical - drug discovery projects and many other systems biology efforts are too large and/or require too manydifferent skill sets for one person to tackle them.  Also, communication is critical - you must be able to communicate your ideas & results to your colleagues & managers.  Written, presentation, and verbal skills are all important.  Emphasis should be on vocabulary and a strong comfort level with spoken communication, not eliminating an accent.

32. Genzyme

Glenn A. Miller PhD
General Manager

Criteria:  Scientific background and skill set compatible with the position are the most important criteria.  A broad range of skills is an important element in any hiring decision involving an area that might need multiple ways of addressing a problem in the future. The ability to work in a team environment and good interpersonal skills.

Mistakes: Academic scientists often underestimate the level and quality of science going on in the commercial sector.  Talking down to the interviewer or implying that the applicant has finally made the decision to forego the academic life for the perceived benefits of the commercial sector is never a way to make a favorable impression.  Not having looked at the corporate web site or annual report to understand what the company's main areas of interest are and how the applicant can fit into those areas.

Advice: Do your homework. Understand why you are applying to a particular company and how your skills and interests will further the company's goals and programs.

33. MedImmune

Michael S. Kinch, PhD
Director Biology

Criteria: I look for individuals who are self-motivated and passionate about their work. Successful individuals set realistic goals and then strive towards achieving these goals regardless of setbacks. Furthermore, they should possess a balance of curiosity, a desire to learn and critical thinking skills, such that they do not hesitate to question both new and established ideas.

Mistakes: An inability to recognize that research is about testing hypotheses, not proving ideas. Many ideas are ultimately disproved but much can be learned by evaluating "negative" data with an open mind.

Advice: Follow your passion. Identify where you want to be in 5-10 years and then determine what you need to do today to achieve these goals.

34. MedImmune

Herren Wu, PhD
Senior Director

Antibody Discovery &
Protein Engineering

Criteria: Intelligent; passion for science; related expertise and integrity.

Mistakes: Mediocre presentation; not enthusiastic; didn't know much about the company they were interviewing; didn't know their own strength and weakness; couldn't say "I don't know or alike" for questions they couldn't answer.

Advice: Good oral presentation is the key (including question handling); show strong interest for the position.


Spin off of
Pasteur Institute

Dean Hum, PhD
Scientific Operations

Criteria: 1. Strong technical and scientific knowledge (publication and patents) and the ability to interact within a team. 2. Strong knowledge of the drug discovery process.  3. Innovative spirit and the ability to propose new programs.  4. Be dedicated to science and passionate.

Mistakes: 1. Not being curious enough about the jobs, the background and the philosophy of the company.  2. Too focused on their own experience and scientific background. 3.  No clear knowledge of the difference between academic research and research in industry.

Advice: Be documented about the job/company you'll apply for and try to predict the needs of the company.  Be open, motivated, and smiling during the interview.

36. Inspire Pharmaceuticals

Edward Brown, Ph.D.
Senior Research Chemist

Criteria: Scientific knowledge and technical ability that fits the job requirements. Motivation level. Experience working independently and in teams, and examples of productivity in both environments. A balance between self-confidence and the need to ask for help in new situations.  Honesty. Good communication skills and people skills, or the potential and willingness to learn these skills quickly.

Mistakes: well-rested, interested in the science, and energetic in an interview. present his talk while seated in a chair. You do not have to be super-human to get a job.  Not speak badly of previous co-workers or employers.

Advice: important balances between science knowledge, technical skills, and people skills, persistence, risk-taking, honesty, creativity, self-assurance, helpfulness, loyalty, responsibility, kindness, assertiveness, ego-awareness, positive attitude. Though a technically-outstanding resume may get you an interview, it is likely that your personality and people skills will the job. Interview is two-way street. 

Quote: If a candidate is good enough or lucky enough to have a number of job offers to choose from, the best fit will be the one that matches a person's career goals and that elicits the most excitement, interest, happiness, confidence and comfort.  It is all a balance.  When presented with several similar job offers, choose happiness and excitement over cash.  When all is said and done, there is really no comparison.

37. Biotrove

Colin Brenan, PhD
Chief Technology Officer

Criteria: Important criteria I look for in hiring a scientist is a natural curiosity and an intellectual flexibility- I value innovation and these qualities are oftentimes the source of innovation.  I also rate a "can do" attitude highly because I look for problem solvers that thrive in adverse conditions.

Mistakes: A big mistake is arriving at an interview ignorant of the company's business. This tells me that the applicant has not taken the effort to find out about us and what we do so why should we be interested in them? A second problem is an inability to concisely answer questions or give a concise presentation (eg job talk). The ability of an employee to effectively communicate peer-to-peer and with senior management is valued and I typically ask applicants to give a short presentation to assess this ability.

Advice: Key advice to prospective applicants in an interview is to relax and show me who you are. Be positive, enthusiastic, answer questions about yourself and your experience honestly and to the point and, finally, be knowledgeable and have an interest in the business of the company in which you are interviewing.

38. Genzyme

Rich Gregory PhD
Senior VP
Head of Research

Criteria: For first time industrial hires, evidence of scientific creativity as evidenced through publications in peer reviewed publications, excellent communication skills demonstrated through seminar presentation and 1 on 1 conversations, and an understanding of the differences between academic and industrial research. Particularly the importance of teamwork and and an understanding that individual scientific goals are secondary to team and corporate goals. Personality matters - is this someone I would enjoy working with?  For someone coming from industry for a more senior position I would say that a demonstrated ability to work productively in teams, evidence of leadership skills and communiation are most important and publication is more secondary. Communication skills, good publication record and a good fit for the group. For Genzyme, we emphasize collaboration and team work.  We also feel it's important to be able to influence others and deal well with ambiguity. 

Mistakes: Coming in flat. I hate interviewing candidates who do not show enthusiasm for the process as well as enthusaism for science in general.  If someone is excited to be here and has done their homework on the position and the company I am inclined to be less stringent regarding publications, etc.  I am also not impressed by arrogance. If they have done their homework they should know the science here is excellent. Someone who conveys the opinion that it would be an honor for genzyme to have them is unlikely to get my vote. Seminar materials not being recent or relevant to the position for which they are interviewing. Scientists underestimate the importance of fitting into the group both from a technical and a cultural perspective. Scientists with excellent technical skills may be eliminated as candidates if they aren't team players.

Advice: The advice below is good.  I would also suggest that when coming from academia that people be sure they are really interested in moving to industry.  The requirements for success are different.  Sometime's I will ask "why industry?" and will get the answer that the candidate is exploring their options and has not definitely decided on industry as a career path.  That person probably just wasted my time. I don't have time for "exploratory" interviews. On the other hand I am happy to take a phone call from someone who is trying to figure this out and wants a sense of what indutrial biotech research is all about. Prepare well for your seminar and interview.  Target your seminar to the group and position for which you are interviewing. Don't underestimate the importance of a good seminar. Be enthusiastic about the opportunity.  Ask questions to convey your interest.  Interviewers like to think the person is excited about the possibility of working in their group and their company.  Be aware that your interviewers are also going to be your co workers. Convey to them your ability to work in teams and independently. It's always advisable to have done some "homework" about the Company before coming to interview - find out what you can about our history, products, culture, etc. 

39. Amgen

Roy Black, PhD

Criteria: Initiative, intelligence, breadth of knowledge. 

Mistakes: Displaying excessive concern about job security; not having done basic homework on the work we have published. 

Advice: Decide what aspect of the scientific enterprise is most important to you:  doing experiments, running a lab, teaching, publishing, having medical impact.  If doing experiments or having medical impact is most important, industry may be a good choice.

40. VLST-corp

Steven Wiley PhD

Former Amgen-Immunx

Criteria: The most important criterion by far is direct work experience with the candidate and/or recommendations from trusted people.  The biotech community in Seattle is pretty small, so usually it’s pretty easy to find someone who has personal experience with the candidate.  Anyone can say anything during an interview. It is simply human nature to go with those you know and trust rather than take a chance on someone you don’t know. 

Mistakes: You don’t want to appear to be personally under ambitious or over ambitious.  You come off as under ambitious, you will appear to be either unmotivated or uninterested in work, and are just looking to take home a paycheck.  On the other hand, it is fine to express enthusiasm for the project, but if a relatively junior person says that they would like to be directing a group, it sounds like they are more interested in moving up the ladder than in contributing to the collective effort.

Advice: Present your skills in an honest, open fashion.  Don't try to oversell yourself but be sure that they are aware of your capabilities and past accomplishments.  It is important to project a good collaborative attitude.  You should be the kind of person that people will want to work with every day. People with big egos do not fit into that category.  Over the years I've seen many candidates rejected for coming off as overly egotistical, and there is little or no correlation with having a big ego and being a good scientist.  Also, be certain to make sure that they are aware of any references you think will be helpful.

41. Regeneron

Scott Mellis, PhD, VP

Criteria: Real experience in solving scientific questions. Interest in solving new and varied questions and ideas for how this can be accomplished.

Mistakes: Sharing information they shouldn't be discussing. Other people's IP must be respected.

Advice: Study the company you are going to interview with. Learn about their science, administrative structure, and challenges.

42. Sequenom

Franz Hillenkamp PhD
Former VP

University of Muenster

Criteria: I go almost entirely by my personal impression in the interview. Adaptability, openness and ability to react sensibly to challenges in the interview are the most important criteria. Second come recommendations from colleagues who I know reasonably well (not so much those who have a high reputation in the field, but whom I do not know personally) AND who have had enough contact  with the candidate to give a fair evaluation. I pay very little attention to exam grades and standard letters of recommendation.

Mistakes: Try to oversell themselves and not admit if they do not know something they are asked. I like to challenge candidates with question for which they presumably do not have an immediate answer and see how they deal with it. I do that also with candidates in exams.

Advice: Be open and be yourself.

43. Intradigm Corporation

Frank Y. Xie, PhD

Criteria: a team player and flexibility. A scientist with out these two characters is unlikely to be suceeful in biotech industry, though he/she may be sucessful in academic enviroment. In biotech industry, almost any single project requires contributions from people with multiple discipline (within one team, even from multiple teams). Biotech industry is much more dynamics than tranditional pharmaceutical industry. For example, many biotech company became sucessful one, but usually not on their original business ideas. As the consequence, a scientist in biotech industry should be willing to work on different projects that may require distinct knowledge and skills.

did not prepared well for the position, in particularly the interview seminar. A sucessful candidate usually prepares himself/herself well specific for that position and makes the interviewers feel he/she is the right one for the position. Biotech industry is "short-sight" and is always looking for someone that can carry the project right away. The company is not willing to hire someone and spend time to train he/she for the project. For example, when a candidate gives a interview seminar, select the topic and information (project and techniques) as close as possible to the requirements of the postion. You can give a wonderful seminar, but still lose your chance, if you can not make a tight connection between your talk and what they are looking for.

Advice: Know what you are doing. Be prepared and be confidient. A nice personality help a lot.

I hope the advice from 43 biotech experts will guide you through a successful interview.
An offer for your "dream job" will arrive soon.