What type of job roles/titles would be appropriate at postdoc level in a pharma company?
The typical role titles for someone in R&D at postdoc level when they join would be Senior Scientist in a particular specialism. This is a pretty standard job title across the industry. The next level up from that would be Associate Principal Scientist.
Could you describe the recruitment process in the pharmaceutical industry?
Applications typically are via a CV and covering letter. Both documents need to be tailored to the specific job you’ve applied for, not just a generic CV, you’re just not giving yourself the best chance if you do that.
The CV needs to be revised towards the things that organisation is looking for. Think about how you ensure that whoever is reviewing your CV can see how you meet the criteria that will have been shared in the advert. If you can show that, you’ve got the best chance of progressing on to the next stage.
For the covering letter, think of the information in the advert and clearly set out: ‘here’s the evidence you need to decide to bring me in to interview’, and spell it out as much as possible, for example ‘you said you wanted someone who’s worked in teams, here’s an example in my covering letter of where I’ve made a contribution to a team’.
The covering letter should respond as clearly as possible to the advert.
Can you describe the the interview process?
Recruiting a scientist is probably very similar across all large pharma companies. Typically, there will be a technical interview with experts and a values/competencies interview conducted by a couple of line managers. For a specialist role, they are looking for the technical expertise and specific knowledge that the scientific training should bring.
The technical interview process will involve experts in the field asking probing questions to look for the in-depth knowledge the candidate is required to have. They want to see the foundations that a successful career can be built on.
They will also look at the applicant in terms of their broader skills. They will be looking for competencies and values. They are looking for people with people skills, people that can communicate, share their ideas with other people in a clear and compelling way, and seek to engage with other people in a constructive and positive way, to build on ideas and shape understanding rather than to dictate and tell.
In pharmaceutical R&D it is not about being the ‘knower’, the person with all the answers, it’s about being someone who wants to contribute to the combined learning of the team. They will be looking for those subtle, difficult to measure ‘softer skills’ that enable people to build constructive working relationships. They will look for the whole range of soft skills; different types of thinking – strategic thinking, analytical thinking, conceptual thinking, people who can use logic to understand and build ideas.
Most large, knowledge-based companies will have a set of core values, usually prominently displayed on their website. In a values interview there will be questions asked that look to give the applicant an opportunity to demonstrate from examples in their past where they’ve shown that value, shown that that is a behaviour that they can display, with some evidence to support their statement. For example, ‘Yes, I am entrepreneurial, and here is an example of a situation where I’ve demonstrated that…’.
The company values will typically be used when recruiting any role across the whole organisation, globally, regardless of whether the role is in sales, HR or finance etc. The examples an applicant gives of where they’ve demonstrated these values in their past will obviously differ depending on the role they are applying for.
Companies regularly update and refresh their values, so when doing your homework make sure you know the current values of the organisation you are applying for.
In addition to the technical and values interviews there may be a requirement to give a presentation, but this varies across departments even within the same company. The presentation could be about something very technical or it could be very broad.
Applicants aren’t expected to spend six weeks doing a literature review; they are expected to come forward with a recognition that ‘this broad-thing’ is complex with many drivers and interviewers want candidates to highlight some of the main factors they think are important going forward.
The recruitment process could also include less formal settings for interaction, for example, going for lunch and having a tour of the facilities. This will include the opportunity to talk to other members of staff at different levels within the organisation and ask them questions.
It’s good for applicants to talk to people who’ve recently joined the department and work in a similar role to the one they’ve applied for to get their perspective. It’s really important for the applicants to be able to talk to people who may become their future peers, who’ll they be working alongside and will be coaching them and mentoring them and making sure they have a good induction at the company if they get offered the job.
During the interview process the applicants will also be introduced to the business. This will typically include what the business is about, some of the headline messages (interviewees should have done some homework on this, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise), the broader aspects of the business, corporate social responsibility, and ambitions to be more inclusive touching on all aspects of equality, diversity and inclusion.
If you are offered the job you will undergo security screening (this is standard practice for most jobs in any organisation) and typically this will include your online activities.
Could you give us some examples of questions you expect applicants to ask at interview?
Applicants should ask probing questions at interview, not from a negative point of view, but from a seeking to understand point of view. I have a policy – be curious first, critical later.
Questions about how the industry works, things like what makes a successful pharmaceutical company? Questions like how the ethical aspects around a pharmaceutical company are balanced? How are decisions made around which diseases to treat? These are the type of probing questions applicants could use to demonstrate that eagerness to better their own understanding.
Other questions commonly asked are around opportunities to progress. Things like ‘tell me about the career structure’, ‘tell me about how my career might develop?’ ‘How can I broaden the knowledge I already have, that I’ll bring to the company?’ ‘What key areas would I get experience in?’. These questions around progression do need to be carefully phrased, as there is a risk the applicant could come across as somewhat presumptuous, asking about progression before even being offered the job.
However, it is good to indicate some ambition and interest in the organisation for the longer term. Typically, in a large company when recruiting a postdoc, the interviewers would have in their minds the thought ‘can this person progress in our organisation?’. Thus, it is important for an applicant to show that they are ambitious, not necessarily in terms of promotion and progression but in terms of enrichment and learning and making a bigger contribution.