Recently, I attended a panel Q&A discussion at the American Biomedical Research Conference for Minority students (#ABRCMS2017) with speakers from several biopharmaceutical organisations (Biodesix, Genentech and Novartis) sharing their personal experiences as candidates and recruiters and offering advice on how applicants can be standout candidates.
The discussion was aimed at delegates from all aspects of the bio and medical sciences and included undergraduate, postgraduate, post-doctoral candidates and faculty members.
According to the speakers, there is no one size fits all approach to recruitment and attraction of candidates by employers in the biotech sector however, these employers generally are attracted to stand-out attributes and skills.
The panelists included –
Dr Alex Gaither (Novartis),
Dr Garry Pestano (Biodesix),
Jonathan Zarzar (Genentech) and
Pam Leung (Genentech)
The range of the questions were on CV/resume, culture fit, personal branding and interviews. I have collated some of the questions asked in the session and included some of the responses from the panel.
For advice on writing a great CV, do read our previous post here
Question – Should I provide CV or resume and is there any need for the covering letter?
The employers generally advised that it is important to provide the #CV and #coveringletter when contacting an employer. One of the employers mentioned that if it is relating to an application, the employers would normally indicate what you as a candidate would need to provide e.g. CV and covering letter or completion of an application process.
One bit of advice offered was for candidates to “Build your CV as early as you can” as this should be an ongoing process to remember the activities you have taken part in and a record of the skills gained
Differences between with academia and industry. Are the skills required similar or different?
This is a very common question asked by students and according to the panel, they look at it differently.
“Obviously your record of accomplishment is important but what we really want to know is how much more can you do?”…”When we hire, in our thinking, we are looking for the person a year or two in advance”…”We also want to know that you can last for the years ahead” – Alex
” if you are determined, you can pick whichever path you want to follow and go for it.”- Garry
Can you expand on culture-fit and what it means?
This question was asked because one of the employers had mentioned that sometimes there is a hidden conversation around “culture-fit” in some organisations he had encountered.
“I have worked with some brilliant scientists that are unable to work well in a team”….we really cannot have such people. You need to be able to fit our culture of teamwork, be a team player and be excited about developing the science and pushing the industry/organisation forward….What we want to know is how well you are going to react and move the company mission forward” – Alex
“You get to work with people in other areas and sometimes you might be the only scientist in your team so the skills you need to have are; how to negotiate, get data from others, communication etc… sometimes we do bring in consultants to help transition our culture and help us create values to shape our culture. Culture allows you the opportunity to have a safe space to excel” – Garry
A short presentation about the importance of branding was delivered by Jonathan (Genentech). He talked about the “elevator pitch” but also mentioned the importance of defining the concept of YOUR personal brand and highlight how it can benefit you at the job or workplace.
For articles on elevator pitch and how to use the elevator pitch to land a job, the Forbes article by Nancy Collamer is a good place to start.
Anything you do not recommend someone talks about with regard to his or her personal brand?
the idea of a personal brand is about “messaging”, “getting yourself through the door…..think about it in terms of aligning yourself to what the company or your contact is looking for” – Jonathan
“we all have a brand; how we dress, how we carry ourselves and how we engage, these are all parts of that brand. It is something you need to pay attention to; it is the eye contact, level of voice, tone etc. Like it or not, we are constantly being watched and assessed by someone.” – Garry
“every single interaction in a professional space is a part of your brand” – Alex
How do you know it is too much information (TMI) in terms of branding?
“don’t talk about money; don’t continuously talk about what you did in the past; do not always revisit where you were especially if you are at an interview – recognise why you are there!” – Alex
“there is a fine boundary on what you should be sharing and maybe what you should not” – Garry
Should I be applying to a company where there is a lot of competition and many applicants?
“if you did not choose not to apply to university or a specific programme even though it was competitive, you should not shy away from applying for a competitive position.” – Garry
“actually attending a meeting or conference already puts you in a competitive space, you are likely to be recognised, and you can make a good impression, which can go a long way” – Alex
Phone and/or video interviews. Any advice?
One of the key suggestions given here was the importance of preparing like you would if you were going to a face-to-face interview.
Also, speak slowly, it is easier to talk on the phone. Also, make sure you do research the company. (Pretty simple!!) – Jonathan
Interviewers tend to ask, what your biggest weakness is. How do you advise applicants to answer this question?
According to the employers, this is a question that can often trip a lot of applicants and candidates however they remarked that it is a question that candidates can be smart about and be creative.
“it is about recognising what you need to work on and telling the employer what you are planning to do to” – Jonathan
“there is no right answer. What I am impressed by is the creativity in those responses. This question can show how you think, your behaviour and also create interesting conversations or further discussions at the interview.” – Garry
How should students explain gaps in work history when applying for jobs?
biotech is looking for more people at the moment so sometimes we do not look at these when we recruit – Jonathan
The other speakers suggested that it is dependent on the circumstances!
Do you accept international applicants for internships?
“Genentech does accept international interns. We have about 500 interns and constantly looking for the best” – Pam
Quite a fascinating session and lots of great advice I wish I had as a student. The #ABRCMS2017 is a great four-day conference which had over 4000 student delegates from over 350 colleges and presenting in twelve STEM disciplines. You can find out more and see information about the conference, organisers and sponsors by visiting their website here
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About the writer – Emmanuel Adukwu, Ph.D. is an academic, scientist innovator and content writer and co-owner of the aspiring professionals Hub . He has a PhD in Microbiology and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK). For more about Emmanuel, visit the about us page here.