Getting Hired: Interviewing with Novartis

Most employers desire similar traits and qualities from their employees; top skills, creativity, experience, reliability, and the ability to work independently and in a team. This is nothing new for job seekers.

But each company has a different culture and unique approach to employment. They often place emphasis in different areas. Let’s take a look at one of the top international pharmaceutical companies in the world, Novartis International AG.


Based in Basel, Switzerland, Novartis is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world by both market capitalization and sales. In 2017, the company reported revenue of $50.135 billion dollars, compared to 2016 revenues of $48.52 billion. Novartis employs approximately 126,000 people worldwide, with products in over 155 countries.

The company has three major operating divisions: Innovative MedicinesAlcon (eye care) and Sandoz (generics). Innovative Medicines has two business units, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, which commercializes patented primary care and specialty medicines, and Novartis Oncology, which focuses on oncology, hematology, and rare diseases. The Oncology product portfolio has treated over 25 conditions worldwide and the Global Clinical Pipeline currently has 30 new molecular entities.

Novartis’s global research operations are called Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research (NIBR) and have its global headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. NIBR supports the Innovative Medicines division and collaborates with the Sandoz division.

Culture and Employment

Quite some time ago, Grace Wong, writing for Student Visionasked executives at several large pharma companies for hints about what they are looking for in new employees. In 2004, when Alexander Kamb was the Head of Oncology, he gave this advice to job seekers: “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 an encyclopedic command of the literature, and those with a 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.”

In a more recent sourceNovartis’ Glassdoor profile indicates that 62% of people who went through the interview process at Novartis had a positive experience and reported it as having average difficulty. Online applicants were ranked as the highest ones to receive an interview (40%), followed by candidates who utilized a recruiter (19%).

A candidate for the position of a Scientific Associate who accepted an offer said it was also a positive experience and an average interview. The applicant interviewed at the company’s South San Francisco office and said the interview, “consisted of attending meetings with two people in the department at a time over the course of a day. Questions were primarily derived from my presentation but there were a few retrosynthetic analysis questions”.

Another candidate for a Clinical Research Associate position in Richmond, Virginia, who accepted the position, said, “I was contacted by a staffing agency regarding the position. They presented my credentials and qualifications to Novartis. Two weeks later, I was informed that Novartis had an interest in me. I had an initial phone interview and then two weeks later an in-person interview. One week later I was informed that due to internal events that I was no longer able to be considered for hire. Then, 10 days later I was contacted again, asked if I was still available and interested in employment.”

Some interview questions reported by interviewees:

  • Tell me about a time when you made a mistake? What did you do in response and what was the outcome?
  • Tell me a time when you had a conflict with your team member and how did you solve it?
  • Why pharma, why Novartis?
  • What has been your biggest contribution to your current job/group?

Some questions could be quite technical, depending on the role as Novartis has a wide variety. A Software Engineer who accepted an offer with Novartis in Cambridge, Mass. indicated that one question involved “OOP principles and basic navigation through directories and command line interface, CLI navigation and bug detection. A program was shown and I was asked to see where it could have gone wrong.”


The Novartis careers page currently has 3,086 positions posted globally. Examples include:

Associate Director, Strategic Market Access in East Hanover, N.J. The position calls for a degree in a scientific or health discipline, with a BA/BS being the minimum and an RPH/PharmD, MBA preferred. Ideal candidates should also be able to speak towards at least 5 years of pharmaceutical industry experience. This role will be responsible for Oncology Market Access deliverables with the Business Franchise and Brand/Disease teams. A person who takes on the role will find themselves working across and leading key initiatives involving pricing, reimbursement, access, and distribution.

Manager, Bioanalytics for Novartis Technical Operations in Morris Plains, N.J. This position calls for a Masters of Science or Ph.D. in chemistry or pharmacology and a minimum of eight years of experience in the biopharma industries conducting QC testing, release testing and laboratory coordination.

Manager of Lab Operations in Cambridge, MA. The position calls for a BS/MS in Biology, Chemistry or Engineering discipline with at least 2 years of managing a team. Major responsibilities include the implementation and management of lab operations support, supporting HSE guidelines and the maintenance of relationships with the scientific community to ensure their changing research needs are aligned and supported by NIBR business processes.

For those who are open to the idea of relocation and travel, Novartis has job openings all over the world, including Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, Peru, Ireland, Brazil, Mexico, India, Switzerland, the U.S., and others.

Come join our team and start making a meaningful impact alongside industry respected names! Polish your resume, practice your interviewing skills and contact us at or by calling (925) 884-3811. Feel free to browse our current opportunities by clicking here.

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Ready to take the next step in your pharmaceuticals career? Reach out to the Compass team today and find your next great opportunity in the pharmaceutical industry.

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