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Get a Foot in the Door
Making the Match
Consider post-doctoral training in industry
The best preparation for a scientist job search
Ask the experts: How to get Hired
Advice from Academic Experts
Advice from Biotech Experts
Advice from Big Pharma Experts
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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

Advice from 19 Big Pharmaceutical Experts
Input is based on the following three questions:
1) What are their most important criteria for hiring Scientists?
2) What are mistakes scientists have made during candidate job interviews?
3) What key advice can they offer to Scientists seeking employment

1. Aventis

Robert Allen Lewis, MD
 Site Head of Aventis Resarch,
160 scientific papers

Criteria: I favor hiring scientists who have enough in-depth knowledge in their field to be able to think aloud through a complex problem during the interview.
Mistakes: The greatest mistake a scientist can make during an interview is to shift the agenda to anything other than science - especially to exploration of negative feelings about elements in the applicant's personal or employment history.
Advice: My best advice to scientists is to learn to be succinct in answering questions.  If asked to consider a complex scenario, I would advise the interviewee to build the description in a way that is structured so that the interviewer can follow the line of thought easily.  Creative thinking can occur in either disciplined or undisciplined minds; the difference becomes evident if the scientist is able to focus a concept into testable hypotheses and then to prosecute those through appropriate experiments”

2. Merck

Lex, Van der Ploeg, PhD
 VP, Site Head
Merck Research Institute,
300  Publications
 40 patents

Criteria: Great intellect; proven accomplishments; willingness to work with others and collaborate efficiently; excellent communication and interpersonal skills; In the pharmaceutical industry, the true motivation is to pursue drug development in support of major medical needs.  Industry scientists need to do what is necessary to move the major objectives forward without getting distracted by irrelevant details.  They should continuously learn and develop skills in any area needed to advance the projects

 Scientists have to be clear on their career goals; motivation to join an organization needs to be well thought through so that there is a high likelihood of an excellent and productive long term match; match accomplishments with job-requirements to assure a likely fit; well rounded seminar with excellent data is a must; candidates should not be defensive in response to questions or issues in data; it is key to be clear about assumptions and issues in hypothesis; interview both ways (the scientists that is looking for a job should be sure that he/she knows what the job opportunity and colleagues present to them and what working at the new job will entail, again to ensure that working together and collaborations will be successful). 

Provide a well organized CV without errors and omissions; a short and to the point personal statement facilitates making it through an initial triage.

3.  Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, LLC

Scott Wadsworth, PhD
 Research Fellow

Criteria: Whether or not skills fit the position, publication record, enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity, verbal skills, and interest in our project/company.
Mistakes: Can't answer questions during their seminar.  Don't understand the project they would work on.  Don't ask me any questions.  Act intimidated. Seem distracted, unenthusiastic.  Can't give a good reason for interest in a big pharma job.  Can't tell me what their 5-year plan is and/or can't tell me what kind of position and work environment they are ideally looking for (these answers can be somewhat vague, but the person should give the impression that they have given this serious thought).
Advice: 1) Send CVs to company websites, whether or not you know there is an open position. This pool is accessed first by HR, sometimes before advertising the job.  2) Seek out people from industry at meetings and ask them about job openings, and what its like to work at their company (big pharma vs. biotech vs. CRO, etc).  3) Know what kind of company, position,and work environment you are ideally looking for.  4) Always carry business cards and CVs to meetings.  5) Gain in vivo experience.  6) At interviews, dress well and appropriately, give a good seminar, be enthusiastic, always have questions ready for the interviewer, always research the company and the interviewers beforehand (ask for their names in advance). 7) Send a thank-you letter (email acceptable but not preferred) re expressing your interest, telling how you would fit in to the position and the organization, and offering to provide any additional information needed.

4. Novartis, Basel

Juerg Meier PhD
VP, Executive Director
BioVenture Fund

Criteria: Good solid education with leading professors of the field
Mistakes: Seem to have too much interest in their own goals and research instead of filling needs of the hiring company.
Advice: Have some flexibility and interest to employ your expertise to the problems of the new employer.

5. Eli Lilly

Thomas Seng-Lai Tan, PhD
Senior Scientist

Criteria: Broad-based skills and industry experience, problem-solving and communication skills, team player, publications would be an added bonus.

Lack of attentiveness, enthusiasm, and relevant questions. Negotiate salary and benefits.  Negative or bitter about previous mentors or employers.

Recommend summer research project or internship in industry; establish contact with decision-makers and seek out mentors in the industry; postdoc training is not necessary for a job in biotech/pharma.  But it does not hurt to have one, especially in a good and reputable lab.

6. Novartis, Boston

Jacky Vonderscher, PhD VP
 Global Head of
BioMarker Development

Criteria: 1) good track record in sciences (publications or patents or positions hold) 2) Vision on the defined field's future directions; 3) management skills (organized, decisive, open-minded); 4) inter-personal skills (team player).
Mistakes: 1) don't show passion for what they want to do; 2) give too general/generic answers; 3) didn't prepare and understand the type of job offered.
Advice: 1) get all elements about the offered job to understand that it is fully corresponding to your wishes; 2) If not sure about the content of the position please ask; 3) give the impression you know what you want and what you don't want; 4) be offensive but get quickly a sense where the no cross line is beyond which you would be perceived as rude, sticky or even impolite.

7. Hoffmann-La Roche

 Lee Babiss, PhD
 Vice President of Preclinical Research and Development

Criteria: We look for several core competencies including; 1) technical expertise, 2) know how in their field of expertise, 3) proven track record of success, 4) understanding of all facets of drug discovery, 5) ability to work on multidisciplinary teams, 6) ability to lead, 7) ability to be a member of a team, 8) ability to manage and 9) finally their overall person-the right fit.

 1) Too much credit for the work that they have done as a member of a team, 2) not being able to articulate what their top career successes have been, 3) not giving direct answers to questions, 4) too many sentences, not understanding that they are assessing us as much as we are assessing them, 5) not asking the key questions that they want answered, and 6) finally not being honest.

1) Remember that they should be assessing the opportunity / company as much as they are being assessed, 2) Present a balanced view of yourself and identify key strengths and areas for development, 3) provide concise answers to questions, 4) ask questions that show that you have thoroughly researched the opportunity.

8. A Big Pharma
 Michael A. M, PhD
 A Group Leader,
Principal Scientist,
Global Program Manager 
 for CNS Discovery in the Molecular Sciences Department

Criteria:  1. Ability to describe clearly and concisely their work or a piece of their work, demonstrating good verbal and presentation skills. 2. Ability to answer question pertaining to the work as well as the ability to be objective about it. 3. Ability to think on his or her feet without stumbling over them. 4. Demonstration of some passion, energy, and self confidence. 5 Assertiveness not aggressive and defiantly not passive. 6. Ability to be a team player as well as a team driver.  

1.  Too passive in interviews. 2.  No eye contact. 3.  Dropping too many names. 4. Using one word answers and not embellishing answers a little to demonstrate reasoning skills as well as scientific thinking. 5. Not speaking clearly or speaking too softly.  6. Long presentations and leaving no time for questions.

1.  Be honest and consistent with your answers, the interviewer will compare notes, 2.  Be friendly and tastefully energetic and be prepared to engage in small talk especially while walking from place to place. 3. Keep good body posture, when walking, walk along side the interviewer, not behind; when sitting, do not slouch in the chair. 4.  Dress appropriately but not the time to make a fashion statement and nothing too loud or revealing. However, splash of color tastefully done works well. 5.  Take your time to think the question through, then answer as assertively as possible but do not ramble 6.  When giving a presentation, try to tell a story and keep it focused. Do not try to be all inclusive; it may come for disjointed and incomplete. It is better to describe a part of your work well, than all of your work poorly.

9. GlaxoSmithKline

John.C.Lee, PhD
Site Director
High Throughput Biology Discovery Research

Criteria: creativity, understand the pharma business, communication skills.

Mistakes:  too focused on telling what they know, failed to speak to the big picture.
Advice:  Prepare a succinct resume, highlight skill sets and experiences; don't forget to include patents, peer review activities and awards for scientific achievement.  Give a clear and logical seminar, not so much in telling the story but also illustrate the value of the story.  Be prepared for the interviews; know who you are talking to and what their interests are.  Talk about your leadership skills and your understanding of working in a matrix environment.

10. Beaufour-Ipsen 

James Leung PhD

Criteria: Integrity, excellent technical knowhow in relevant field, strong self initiative.
Mistakes: Overselling of skills and previous contribution, failure to show a passion to excel.
Advice: Be truthful to yourself and come out of the shell to share your passion without overhyping.

11.  Pfizer

Siegfried Reich, PhD
VP, Drug Discovery

Criteria: Scientific caliber, perseverance, and enthusiasm for research and making drugs. 

  Overstating qualifications, not being honest, not asking thoughtful questions. 

Be prepared, be honest, bold but not cocky, make sure your enthusiasm and energy is clearly communicated and often.

12. Pfizer

Ted Johnson, PhD
 Associate Director
Medicinal Chemistry

Criteria: Evidence that they are willing and eager to learn new skills and concepts.  Evidence that they are able to work on a team.  Evidence of persistence, problem solving, and general interest in science.  Evidence of following good scientific methods to solve problems. Be open minded. Look at problems from all points of view. Be able to accept points of view other than your own.
Mistakes: Pretending they know something that they don't.  Trying to sell themselves as an expert. Arrogance. Do not anticipate basic questions in the seminar presentation.
Advice: Be persistent, don't lose hope.  Finding a good job can be difficult. Don't limit your search to a few large companies. Be open minded and look at all possibilities.  Make sure you show what you know without coming across as arrogant.  Show enthusiasm and excitement in the prospect of working in the company that you are interviewing in.  Be friendly and warm.

13. Bristol-Myers Squibb

Martyn Banks PhD
Group Director of Lead Discovery & Profiling, Bristol Myers Squibb (Wallingford CT)

Criteria: They read the job description carefully and have the right qualifications and experience.  I can waste a lot of time reviewing applications from individuals, who invariably are over qualified or who do not have the requisite industrial experience.  Invariably, we are looking for scientific and technological prowess coupled with important behaviors e.g. leadership skills, an ability to work in diverse teams, an ability to motivate others etc.

Be honest.  Don't give the answer you think I want to hear. Normally we have a series of people interview candidates and some candidates tell a slightly different story to the same question from different interviewers.  We do compare notes. Don't argue with the interviewer. Speak clearly but don't be verbose. Present a positive non verbal style. Be interested, ask questions, and seek clarification.

Build a goal oriented career plan for yourself, research the area of interest, try and find what skills are required for the job e.g. is industrial experience important.  Research the company and the job you're applying for; there is nothing worst than interviewing someone who obviously knows nothing about your company.

14. Wyeth

Christopher P. Miller, Ph.D
Associate Director,
Applied Genomics

Criteria: Must have strong oral and written communication skills. Must have strong scientific credentials and publication record (especially for PhD level scientists). Must be able think on their feet and anwer questions. Must be enthusiatic and passionate about science. Must have clear reasons for wanting to be in industry as opposed to academia.
Mistakes: Not demonstrating enough passion or drive. Not asking questions or showing enough interest. Being poorly prepared
Advice: Show their enthusiasm and passion be clear and concise in how you ask and answer questions prepare themselves by researching the company they are interviewing with demonstrate they know the issues facing the biopharmaceutical industry provide specific examples of how their efforts in previous roles had tangible impacts on projects

15. Wyeth

Moitreyee Chatterjee-Kishore Ph.D
Principal Scientist
Group Head-Inflammation
Functional Genomics

Criteria: Obviously this greatly depends on the job and the responsibilities associated with it. However, there are some basic things I look for : a) ENTHUSIASM: As the interviewee describes previous work it is easy to read whether the work evokes enthusiasm in the person. Usually, people who loved what they have done previously and thoroughly understand why they have been doing the particular experiments or other work can give you a succinct, well thought out and enthusiastic response. people who have in general been dissatisfied with particular work setups in their previous jobs, yet love the field, can talk about their work giving indications of what could have made things better. I try to formulate my questions to bring out these issues in the open. b) INTEGRITY: I like to ask interviewees to describe a tough situation that they found themselves in where they have made a mistake and describe what it took to right it. It is sometimes difficult to answer such a question, but an honest person should be able to do this easily. c) ADAPTABILITY: In pharmaceutical research these days, change is the name of the game. This is sometimes not as evident to or well understood by people who are moving for the first time from academics to industry. However, I think one can tell if a particular person would adapt to the Pharm. world of changing priorities by asking the right questions. I ask questions to feel for this adaptability by asking about how particular moves in the interviewee's life went, e.g. moving from the life of a graduate student to that of a post-doc., or from one previous job to the other. d) BACKGROUND RESEARCH regarding the hiring company is important and it is easy to see when an interviewee can interject this information into the conversation - there can also be too much research- see below! However, one does need to understand and be able to convey how their experience is commensurate with the requirements for the position advertised.

a) TOO MUCH RESEARCH- I have had an occasion where a person had actually gone through my resume on some website or other and kept talking about how interested he was in my background !! b) SEEMING UNINTERESTED in the proceedings - I have had one person comment on how we should change our interview strategy since according to this person it was too long and tiring! c) PRESENTATION - the job may require lab. work in full protective gear and no one may bother what you wear when you work here, but do come to the interview looking like you did not just roll out of bed and get here! Presentation also includes the presentation of previous work, some successful interviewees bring in nice files with slides of their data (if permissible by previous employer) that they can take the interviewer through. d) FOLLOW Up: Sometimes the difference between 2 good candidates is the follow up- not just a thank you letter. I have had a follow-up letter that showed that the interviewee had listened carefully during the interview and had formulated some thoughts based on that to come up with potential solutions to some problems being discussed during the interview.
Advice: However, I think one of the most important things is to weigh your expertise and experience against the job requirements and present yourself without under or over selling yourself. Easy to say but I think it is a cultivated skill.

16. Novartis

 Alexander Kamb PhD
Head of Oncology

Criteria:  I prefer athletes to roll players.  I look for intelligence, flexibility, interest, and a reasonable personality.
Mistakes:  The most common trait that harms an applicant's chances are lack of enthusiasm.  An applicant who conveys bitterness or negativity is also unlikely to get very far.

Don't worry about your particular profile of talents.  It takes all kinds in science: those with broad experience and knowledge, those with deep, specialized training, those with encyclopedic command of the literature, and those with vivid imagination.  Some see forests and some see trees.  It's important to have both types in an organization.  Most importantly, though it sounds trite, make sure you do what really gets you excited.  If you do, you can't help but succeed, because success comes with hard work, and if you love your work, you'll work hard without even noticing.

17. Abbott

Joanne Kamens, PhD
Group Leader

Criteria:  Intellectual ability and ability to execute on plans.  Proven ability to work constructively with others.
Mistakes:  Not seeming excited about the job!

Advice: Every job you interview for should be the perfect one you want!

18. Novartis

Dejan Bojanic PhD
Head of Lead
 Discovery Center

Criteria:  Musts - Good scientific abilities. Good people and listening skills. Collaborative nature. Energetic. Goals driven. High integrity. Wants - Experience in area we are hiring in. Excellent knowledge of the business.
Mistakes:  Not knowing what they want. Not showing drive to succeed. Not being prepared.
Advice: Do the research before applying. Meet informally with scientists working in the area. Start networking early.

19.Bristol-Myers Squibb

John T. Hunt, Ph.D Executive Director, Oncology Drug Discovery

Criteria:  I place great value on a candidate’s demonstrated ability to work well in a team setting, as this is the predominant working environment they will experience in the pharmaceutical industry.  At the same time, a demonstrated ability to be creative within the context of an applicant’s scientific program is equally as important.  That being said, top candidates exude a certain passion for science.  It’s that unspoken signal that sends a message to the interviewer that this candidate can be expected to maintain the enthusiasm and tireless work ethic researchers must possess over the long time periods it takes to develop new therapeutic agents.

In many cases applicants are so intent on demonstrating their technical accomplishments in what may be a relatively brief interview that they make it difficult for the interviewer to fully explore their range of abilities or their less quantifiable personal attributes.  In a similar vein, while graphics may be useful to explain a candidate’s research to an interviewer, if used too extensively they may lead the interviewer to believe that the candidate does not have full command of his/her own research material. Finally, I always leave time at the end of interviews for the candidate’s questions. Individuals who do not have questions convey an image of being unprepared for what is a standard part of any interview or uninterested in the position or the company.     

In the context of a job interview, be attentive to the interviewer, and let the interviewer find out what they need to about you.  Be specific with your answers and offer examples that directly illustrate your point, opposed to long, unfocused responses.  If your answers are not expansive enough, the interviewer will probe further.  Above all, be enthusiastic about your work and what motivates you, and be inquisitive about the position and company you are interviewing for.  In a broader sense, network as much as possible and use your mentors for assistance in this pursuit.  Furthermore, seek out experience that demonstrates your commitment to science, such as internships and, for younger students, research coursework. Recommendations from supervisors who have seen you do research are much more valuable than those from course teachers.

Copyright 2004 Student Vision