Written by: Tavis Mendez, Ph.D.
I had started applying for research scientist positions during my industry transition journey.
I reached out to recruiters, started going to networking events, and felt like I was making real progress.
I followed the protocol for a successful job search.
Finally, I started getting calls for interviews.
First it was phone interviews with recruiters, human resources, and hiring managers.
I applied the interview skills I developed, including highlighting my transferable skills, and made it through to the next stage.
When I was invited for an on-site interview where I would meet with a panel of scientists and managers, I was hyped and ready.
I rehearsed all of my answers and dressed to the nines.
I knew the 4 types of interview questions to expect: credibility, behavioral, opinion, and competency.
I studied the most difficult R&D interview questions too.
I felt confident and prepared — and it showed.
I blasted through every question they asked me like I was born to answer them.
But as the interview ended with each member of the team, I noticed something strange.
Everyone asked me, “Do you have any questions for us?”
I had none.
I thought they would be impressed that I understood the hiring process and the company culture so well that I didn’t need to waste their time with more questions.
But that awkward silence remained.
Some would look at each other with bewilderment.
I noticed the looks, but didn’t know why.
And then I never heard back from them again.
After speaking with some friends in industry, it became obvious that I was still ill-prepared, despite the leg work I had done in advance.
I failed to study the company and ask questions that showed I had done my homework.
I was only focusing on myself and my need for the job.
I had set myself up to fail from the start.
All that preparation was wasted and I was frustrated.
Once I realized I had missed this important step, I formulated a new plan.
I intensified my research on companies, and I realized there was so much more to a job than winning a position and looking the part.
If I wanted to thrive, I needed to find a company that suited my professional lifestyle.
I needed to act the part by asking questions to the people I had worked so hard to get in front of.
Why PhDs Need To Ask Questions In Their Industry Interviews
It may seem as if going through an interview process means you are the only one in the spotlight.
You are anxious to make a good impression, so you lay out the answers to potential questions beforehand.
The day you arrive, it is imperative that you answer all the questions honestly and concisely.
What you may not realize, though, is that an interview is a two-way street.
You are also interviewing the interviewer.
The reality is that the biggest challenge that businesses face right now is hiring the right people.
According to a report cited in Fortune magazine, businesses are adding $2.5 million to their payrolls to accommodate new hires.
Combined with a low 4.6% unemployment rate and 175,000 – 200,000 new jobs being added per month, your increased job search success ratios just went up.
Which means you don’t have to settle for just any job. You can take on the role of interviewing employers, in turn, to assess if the job is right for you.
It is important to ask questions about the position, company, and about those you will be working with.
Despite how miserable you might be in academia, you don’t just want any industry job as a way to escape.
You want the right job.
A recent Gallup poll found that 70% thought negatively about their jobs, despite incentives.
Is it worth the effort to transition into industry if you are only going to be miserable again?
You also have to think about your career and where you want to go, and develop a set of questions that serve your interests and future growth at the same time.
Don’t underestimate the value you will provide the company. The moment you stop being desperate to find any job, is the moment your confidence will become infectious.
Hiring managers and recruiters will respect you more and see that you care more about the job title, valuing the company, its culture and your success as part of it.
You don’t want to be somewhere that stifles you and fails to challenge you.
6 Important Questions To Ask At A Job Interview
Out of all the questions you could ask in an interview, it’s important you ask the right ones.
The first set of questions can be formulated by researching the company itself — dig into their drug pipeline, look at industry trends, and then ask questions that build on the knowledge you have gained and show you have done your homework.
There are other questions that may seem trivial, but are important to figure out whether the company culture is right for you and whether they will support your professional aspirations.
So it is crucial that you prepare for the interview to avoid common mistakes.
It may seem overwhelming, but competition will be fierce, so you must do your best to set yourself apart from everyone else.
You know you have the talent and the skills.
It all comes down to how you perform at an interview.
Here are 6 questions that you must ask at an industry interview…
1. Why is this position open?
This question might give you a peek at the company culture and its treatment of its employees.
Depending on the response, you may be able to delineate several possibilities.
Perhaps the environment is nurturing and the previous employee was promoted.
Or, the company is growing and is in need of great individuals to help the company succeed.
It could also mean that the company has a churn and burn mentality and employees cannot seem to hold their positions for too long before quitting or getting fired.
These are a few scenarios that can cause an open position.
Asking this question will save you from entering a company run by people similar to your academic advisors that tried to ruin your PhD career.
It is your job to figure out which one it may be and avoid wasting time and career growth by getting locked into the wrong one.
You do not want to accept a position where you will be treated unfairly.
Pay attention to your tone when you ask this question and the body language of the interviewers when they respond.
Some interviewers may see this question as an invasive attempt to expose bad company culture.
If the interviewer frowns upon this question, this is most likely a red flag.
2. What do you like/dislike about this company?
Here is an interesting question that will open the mind of a current employee.
Many employees are willing to talk about their experiences, especially if they are trying to woo you into the open position.
This question will definitely give you a peek into the company culture and work ethic.
Ideally, you will also walk into the interview with some knowledge of this as well, based on informational interviews with other employees.
Are they getting too much work, or too little?
Do they enjoy their work?
What is their opinion on communication with the managers and the other co-workers?
You will seriously need to weigh your options once you have this question answered.
Will you fit in the role the way you would like?
These are things that are important to you and how you will thrive in the company.
3. Where do you see the company in 5-10 years?
A look into the future of the company is always in your best interest.
If you’re going to work there, you want to know there’s future growth and potential.
If there is no clear plan on where the company is going, it might not be the place for you if you’re focused on challenge and growth.
This is particularly important in start-up companies, where scientists are also business developers and CEOs, and long-term plans may not be as structured as in large pharmaceutical companies.
A recent poll by CB Insights showed 23% of start-ups fail because they assemble the wrong team for the job, while 17% fail because they lacked a business model.
This will also give you a chance to add yourself into the equation by showing how you can help the company achieve their goals.
Don’t be afraid to give ideas, even if the subject is not your area of expertise.
This will give the impression that you are willing to grow with the company and are invested in their success.
4. How do you measure success?
Who doesn’t want to succeed in their role at a new job?
This question again hints to the employer that you not only want the job, but you want to do it well.
Knowing how your performance is measured is essential for meeting expectations.
You probably want to know what it takes to complete tasks for your prospective employer.
This is a chance to foresee the relationship you will have with your boss, and if your work ethic matches his/her expectations.
Will they be reasonable when difficulties arise and lend a helping hand?
Or will they just hand you your task and expect it to be done the next day regardless?
How will they evaluate your work?
Will they give you feedback to help you improve your working style or will they just scream at you and wonder why the task wasn’t done?
These are answers you need to know before accepting a job offer.
You are hard-working and want to succeed, but not be filled with the same academic stress that haunted you in graduate school.
You don’t want to be stuck in the same position forever, so how you race toward success will determine whether you will advance in your career and whether you will get a promotion in the future.
5. What are the biggest challenges in this role?
This question is imperative.
This question on its own will give you a glimpse at what the team is missing and whether someone in your role may be able to fix it.
If the challenges are too ambitious or unrealistic, you need to know in advance so you can counter with more reasonable objectives.
Being able to respond to over-the-top expectations and creating dialogue around finding solutions gives you an opportunity to shine and show your critical problem-solving skills.
If you also have a knack for project management, this question can reveal quite a bit of information that you will need to troubleshoot any problems in the pipeline.
It may surprise you to know that employers can ask you this question as well.
They will assess how well you know the job at hand and whether you can foresee potential areas that will need improvement.
Think of this as a conversation to test your business acumen.
Can you discuss potential roadblocks in a project?
Even if you do not know the project in its entirety, can you draw parallels with similar projects you have been involved in and share ways you had to troubleshoot problems.
6. Are there any reasons why you wouldn’t hire me?
Have you ever wanted to know what kind of feedback you get face-to-face with an interviewer?
This is the chance to do so.
You will also be given an opportunity to expand on any concerns that the interviewer may have, so any hesitation can be put aside before walking out the door.
Many interviewers don’t really expect this question in the first place.
Once this question is asked, it will reveal to the hiring manager that you are open to feedback and improvement.
Of course, if you have no response to some of the concerns that are given, you will be sabotaging your own chances of getting the position.
So be prepared, study the position, and know your strengths and weaknesses before entering the job interview.
Rather than concur with any weakness they point out, tell them how you can improve and steps you are already taking to get there.
Interviewing is the most crucial and time-consuming aspect of the hiring process. They already know you have the skills on paper, but are you the type of employee that will fit the company culture? Between preparing for and delivering interviews, much of the time is focused on you, but you must give yourself the opportunity to turn the tables and ask questions to the employer. You are fighting for a better future for yourself. You must know exactly what you are getting yourself into. Asking questions at your interview is one of the best ways, in addition to informational interviews, that will give you the information you need to make a decision on your career track AND impress the interviewer.
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