A job interview is more than an interview—it should be a conversation. That means, as much as you are being interviewed, you should be interviewing as well. This conversation should be a two-way street, where both parties have to decide if the role will be a great fit.
In fact, one thing that recruiters and hiring managers often use to eliminate candidates is whether or not they asked questions during the interview. With that in mind, let’s look at various categories of questions that you should consider asking during a job interview within the biopharmaceutical and biotech industry.
Company Culture – Google, after all, has a different company culture than HP. A company like Genentech, part of Swiss international conglomerate Roche, has a different culture than Amgen. So, potential questions you may want to be answered are:
• What are some of your favorite aspects of working here?
• Can you give a quick tour or can I meet some of the people I might be working with?
Research & Development Investment – Doing a little research beforehand will provide an answer, but it’ll also help you determine which types of questions to ask. In this case, financial reports and research provide a wealth of useful information. Questions to ask:
• How much does your company spend on R&D?
• How does that compare to similarly-sized companies?
Patent Support – On the off-chance that you don’t know this, patent expirations are a huge deal in the biopharmaceutical industry, because a company can be making billions of dollars off a drug, have it fall off the patent cliff, and be battered by generic competition. It’s useful information to know about the company you might be employed by. You should be curious about:
• How many patents does your company get approved each year?
• Are there any major patent cliffs facing your products soon?
Profitability – Some of this information can be found in annual financial reports, but on a department-by-department basis, it’s unlikely to be found in published materials. This is the type of information a recruiter probably won’t have access to, and in bigger companies, it’s unlikely that anybody but the department manager might know, but asking the questions shows interest in the overall business of the company. Try to find out:
• What’s the gross profit margin of the department or division that I will be working in?
• Are this department’s revenues growing or decreasing?
Leadership Development – A good employee is typically interested in development and growth, and it shows an interest on your part in a long-term career with the company. It can also show ambition, generally a positive trait in potential candidates. Potential questions include:
• What are the opportunities for advancement?
• What kind of leadership training or scientific training opportunities are available to help me move into leadership and/or management positions?
Employee Experience – This is related to culture fit, in that you’re looking to find how being an employee at this company compares to being an employee of the company’s competitors. Examples:
• What are the best reasons to work here compared to companies A, B or C?
• What are the top reasons people come here and stay here?
Diversity – Companies are generally eager to give the impression that they like a diverse workforce, that they present equal opportunities to all sexes, races, and nationality. Examples of questions include:
• Can you give me an example of how the company has a diverse workforce?
• What do you do to promote diversity in the workplace?
Bureaucracy – All companies, even small ones, have their own bureaucratic environments. Large companies, almost by definition, are large bureaucracies. Potential questions include:
• How much freedom would I have to initiate projects?
• How many layers of approval would it take to get a new $100K project idea approved?
As always, there are countless questions of a less general nature that can or should be asked about the specific job you’re interviewing for. Examples include:
• What qualities or skills do you look for in candidates for this company? How do I compare?
• What challenges can I expect in the first 3-6 months on the job?
• How has this job been performed before and what would you like see be done differently?
• What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the current team I would be joining?
• How does the company evaluate your success?
• What are the next steps in the hiring process and when can I expect to hear back?
Even though it’s a good idea to ask questions and be curious, be careful about taking over the interview. You also never want to insult your potential new employer or ask questions you could’ve easily covered during your research. And, of course, be upbeat, confident and clear. It’s okay to take a moment to think before answering and be aware of your non-verbal cues.
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