groups » Training and Career Development » For Research Careers Month: Interview tips

Hello, as part of careers month I would be specifically interested in the interview process. What do you look for in a candidate during the interview? Could you give examples of typical questions that you ask? Thank you!

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  • Thank you Astrid. Our academic institutional interview process can be a bit daunting as we usually have a panel of around 5, including very senior staff. We sometimes also conduct a competency test (e.g. for a data manager we may ask them to demonstrate some particular activity). Interviewees shouldn't be intimidated though as we're only there to get to know them and find a good fit with our team in terms of qualifications, experience and some practical issues (like when available to start). Top of our agenda is to fill gaps in the CV; where it wasn't clear what your roles and responsibilities have been. This is exacerbated if it is clearly a cut and paste from a job description and because the terminology for roles in different institutions can vary (e.g. a research nurse in one site may be a study coordinator in another). We typically ask "what is it about your qualifications and experience that makes you suitable for this post", probing for specific details. We then ask topic-specific questions. For our phase 1 trial it was "How do you think a phase 1 trial is/may be different from later phase trials in terms of project planning?", "What are some challenges in recruiting and retaining participants in healthy volunteer trials?", "How could you contribute to ensuring the quality of data collected by the clinical team?" Finally we usually wrap up with "Where do you see your career in 5 years’ time?". We're just looking for honest answers, but most definitely if you don't have the experience for this role, some evidence of having looked into it. Who we select may then depend on the specifics of the trial(s) themselves. E.g. while we had CVs from those working in industry (as CRA for instance), for this particular trial we ideally needed someone with hands-on experience in the ward who could start the job from day one with minimum supervision. If we couldn’t find that person in the interview short-list we would have recruited someone with different but relevant experience (e.g. from industry or a clinical trial lab) and train in ward-related skills. If you have no experience (and we have still invited for an interview) at the least we would look for someone who has taken themselves on a GCP course, or (perhaps) spent some time at a research site/industry. Hope this helps. Please message back if you would like something more/different.

  • @Astrid The two most common interview styles used in the clinical research environment are behavioural-based questions and Competency-based questions. In my opinion, and every time I have interviewed candidates, I have used these styles. They are perfect for industry roles because 1) as a clinical research associate/manager/assistant we have a LOT of face to face interaction with our clients and with the investigators. 2) We work a great deal of time as a TEAM. 3) We sometimes need to portray a sense of calm in difficult situations. I want to be sure that the person I am hiring has good interpersonal skills and can work pleasantly with the site to get things done. The competency-based questions help to confirm the candidates competency when engaging in everyday activities and also demonstrate your problem solving skills. read up on these two styles, there is a lot of info on the web. Lastly, always have at least two GREAT points/talents about yourself, and also 2 "faults". An interviewer will sometimes ask you to state these to them... so be prepared. Make sure the faults are not faults that would be detrimental to any working environment - so for instance a personality trait could be "perfectionist" for example. I have included a link here: http://www.interview-skills.co.uk/competency-based-interviews-questions.aspx to some questions you might find handy to practice. Good Luck!

  • @Astrid: To add a bit to Pauline's comments. Always do research into the institution/organisation and position that you are interested in. Three questions that we nearly always ask are; "What interested you in this position" and "What are your goals/ambitions over the next 5 years"; "What do you think you will add to the group/institution/project". Best lesley

  • Astrid_Erber Astrid Erber April 11, 2014

    Thank you so much, Pauline, Elizabeth and Lesley - that was very useful!

    Perhaps one small related question, since Elizabeth mentioned GCP courses: How much emphasis do you put on a candidate's education and formal training? Some candidates might have had great opportunities attending a university etc.., others not so much, but might have more practical experience instead. Is there training that you would definitely recommend?
    Thank you!

  • For freshers of-course Knowledge of ICH GCP,what is that of high interest in Clinical Research?perhaps for experienced professionals interpreneur Knowledge.

  • Thank you Astrid. The issue about education and training can depend on the role being interviewed for. For instance, if it's a very hands-on role such as trial coordination / project management at an investigational site then someone with relevant experience but less academic qualifications may be preferred over a recent graduate with a PhD but no coordination experience. Meanwhile, someone with a Masters in Public Health (Clinical Research) could be viewed positively for academia/public health project management roles, as usually there is theory but also practical training through the thesis. For an investigator taking the medical lead in a trial, therapeutic area-specific qualifications and training is important. For applicants who don't have experience in clinical trials, a GCP course is important because it orientates one to the key principles, functions and terminology etc. There are various other face-to-face courses available, such as in clinical trial project management, while for no cost this site has some great eLearning which can be put onto a professional CV. It would be ideal to put the theory gained from these into context by at least observing someone in the chosen role at work - this helps with speaking knowledgeably at an interview and showing how maybe a different skills-set would be transferable into clinical trial work. Maybe Pauline can comment on industry roles (e.g. clinical research associates), as I am not up to date as to what employers are looking for there in terms of education and training.

  • rrazgallah Rabie Razgallah April 18, 2014

    All these tips are relevant; however, interviews can miss good candidate skills, just because we may be impressed by one other runner (whatever the reason is). How can we ensure an objective assessment of the interviews? Do you think, a testing period would be useful to appraise candidates?

  • Thank you Rabie. I agree, it can be challenging to ensure objectivity; in our interview process we used pre-prepared verbal questions, although there will be a need to probe differently according to the response. Where relevant, however, we do set assessments. For instance, when selecting a pharmacoepidemiologist who required experience in systematic reviews, we gave candidates a published paper and asked them to complete a simple data extraction form. For a data management/analyst position candidates were given some variables and time to develop a small database and run a simple statistical test. These were then scored objectively. Candidates do, however, need to know this in advance so that fact that there was a test was specified on the advert.

  • GHN_Editors The Editorial Team April 29, 2014

    Hi everyone, I thought you might be interested to read " An Interview Panellist’s View: How to Behave at Interview" from the website www.jobs.ac.uk (which contains many such articles and useful resources for job hunting). Their advice:

    1. Clothes
    For an academic job, formal dress for an interview is essential. However, you need to wear clothes that you are comfortable in. Buying a new suit for the event sounds like a great idea, but you can feel as though you’re wearing someone else’s clothes! It’s more important to be relaxed and confident than it is to be overly polished.

    2. Posture, body language
    This is really important: if you look uncomfortable and hesitant, this will fill your interviewers with worry. However much the panel try to ignore these cues, they will influence the way that they judge you. If you are going for a teaching job, paying attention to your posture and body language is especially important because you need to present yourself as confident in front of a class of students. Even if what you say is correct, when your body language betrays hesitation and nerves, the panel will take away this message.

    3. Be yourself
    Interviewers above all want to know that you are the sort of person that they can get on with on a day to day basis, so just be yourself. Use humour and wit in the same way as you would normally. Sometimes, nerves can make a candidate appear overly serious or even unenthusiastic. Enthusiasm, and presenting an attractive personality counts for a lot.

    4. Eye contact
    Nerves can affect our willingness to make eye contact. When you answer a question, start by directing your answer to the person who posed it, but then change your gaze and look at other panel members in turn. Do not allow your gaze to flit about and do not avoid eye contact altogether as this gives a subtle impression of untrustworthiness.

    5. Thoughtful pausing and asking for clarification
    Some people think that when they hesitate when answering a question, this gives the impression that they are unsure of themselves and their material. The opposite is true. Think of how a normal conversation works; there are natural pauses while you think of a response. Do the same in interviews: this will show that you are thoughtful, and giving considered answers and not simply repeating memorised passages without a moment’s hesitation.

    6. How to finish
    Last impressions count as much as first impressions. You want the panel to turn to each other when you leave the room and say ‘that was a good interview’. Usually the last question that a panel will ask you is whether you have any questions for them. Make sure you have a couple of good ones (you need more than one in case they have already obviously answered your first question during another part of the day). Once this question has been answered, you will leave the room. Make sure that before you leave you thank the panel for offering you the opportunity and make eye contact and smile at each of them. Gathering your notes hastily and fleeing, or sighing because you are relieved that it’s over, both give the wrong impression.

    http://www.jobs.ac.uk/careers-advice/interview-tips/1863/an-interview-panellists-view-how-to-behave-at-interview/

  • I went for an interview clinical research assistant and this question was asked "do you love to work hard or are you a hard worker?" What is the best answer to this question.

  • Hi Benyeogor,

    Wow, that is an excellent question, and lots of fun too! :)
    I would answer this question by saying... "a little bit of both"...

    I would be careful in saying that "I LOVE to work hard", but rather emphasise that you love what you do... I.e. the field you are interested in. One will always achieve higher success in something they enjoy doing. My father always said, that if you love your work, you will never work a day in your life. I have found this to be very true!

    By being a hard worker, may imply that you are good at what you do, but doesnt necessarily mean you enjoy what you do. I think this is the "difference" the interviewer was perhaps trying to get at with this question.

    So, in closing, I would suggest the emphasis on the fact that you are applying for the role because you are interested in the field and will therefore LOVE working hard, and in turn will be a hard worker...

    Hope that makes sense in your mind...

  • jobygeorge05 Joby George April 30, 2014

    Nice informative discussions,I'm a research nurse from india,recently I had an opportunity to attend a telephonic interview ,one question i liked very much from the interviewer is that Why i need to hire you apart from so many other candidates?what is the best answer to give in this context.

    Thanks,
    Joby George

  • Hi Benyeogor, interesting interview question that has got me thinking..

    I also think a bit of both, it really all depends on the type of work and that it something that you enjoy doing.

    A response could be: "I am naturally a hard worker and work towards achieving the goals of the study/trial/research. I love working as a clinical research assistant, and I am sincerely committed to my tasks in this position and not deterred by hard work."

    Good luck with the interview, I hope it works out well for you. Lesley

  • Hi Joby - Some things that you could respond with, but it really all depends on your personality to this interview question: Why i need to hire you apart from so many other candidates?
    I feel that I would be an asset to your organisation as I am a dedicated and committed worker. I meet all the requirements for this position and in addition have ...years of experience/.....training in .....area. I take pride in my work and take deadlines and other milestones seriously.

    Good luck! Lesley

  • jobygeorge05 Joby George May 22, 2014

    Thanks a lot Lesley for your valuable inputs.I thank once again all the contributors for this wonderful informative discussions on this topic which is one of the key topics to enter into the professional career path.

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