Here’s some practical, impartial advice about how to approach interviews, from Media Contacts who are experts in recruiting communications specialists.
Whether you’ve been in the MedComms industry for years or are looking for your first job, interviews can be daunting. Getting the right job boils down to the potential employer being convinced that you’re passionate about them and their work, that you would be an asset and to you being sure this is the right company and job for you. The interview process has to make these things happen and, in each of the steps below, you should have that end in sight. During lockdown, of course, everything is online and Zoom interviews have become the norm, but all the principles of interviewing remain the same.
It’s essential that you know lots about the company you’re interviewing with and their successes, but it’s important to remember that this is also your opportunity to interview them: It’s a two-way process.
- Have a credible and thought out reason why you want to work in MedComms – not just why you don’t want to do what you’re doing now. ‘I want to combine my science knowledge with my creativity,’ isn’t enough – you could do that in various industries. As a starting point think about the work an agency does and why that is interesting to you.
- Find out as much as you can about the company. What therapy areas do they specialise in? How long have they been around and how many employees do they have? What sort of clients do they work with? Have they won any awards recently?
- Don’t just look at the agency’s website – look at their clients’ sites as well.
- Can you delve any deeper? Do you know why the owner started the company? Can you find out any recent news about them, or their clients? Google is your friend!
- Have a look at the management team, check out their LinkedIn profiles, Twitter feeds etc. Also do this for whoever you are due to meet in the interview.
- If you are working with a recruiter, they should know their clients well, so ask them for as much information as possible.
- Prepare a list of questions that show that you’ve done your research.
- Do you have anything non-work related in common with your interviewer? Do your homework on the people you will be meeting as well as on the company.
- If you have a job spec, make notes matching your relevant experience against each criteria. Have specific examples to hand which prove your abilities and show you can do the job they are looking to fill. Have you worked with any similar clients, have you worked as part of a collaborative team or written for different audiences perhaps?
- Search “How to prepare for competency-based interview questions” and follow the advice. This will make you a stronger interviewee whatever interview style is used.
- Ask a friend/family member to conduct a practice interview with you. This can go a long way to settle nerves.
- Make sure you’re up to date on any industry specific news. We’re all pretty much up to date with covid-19 nowadays, but what about other diseases? Which drugs have recently been launched? How is Brexit affecting the pharma industry? How is new technology affecting the industry? What about the new NICE regulations?
- This rather goes without saying, but make sure you leave plenty of time, have downloaded relevant software and made sure video links are working, It’s a good idea to exchange phone numbers in advance too, in case of any technical hitches on the day.
During the interview:
Beyond the obvious things, such as being on time, dressing smartly (even if their dress code is casual, they will want to know you can scrub up for clients), smiling and a good, firm handshake, there are a few things that can help you stand out from other candidates.
- Use positive body language, sit up straight, smile, make eye contact – but don’t do a meerkat impression!
- Use specific examples of your achievements wherever you can.
- Be sure to avoid being negative about previous employers. You may well be asked why you’re looking to leave your current job, but make sure you have a constructive reason. Perhaps it’s a small company with little opportunity to progress, or you’re keen to work with bigger brands.
- Explaining why you want to move job is also the perfect opportunity to talk about why you’re keen on the company you’re interviewing with. Which of their clients are you especially interested in? What projects have you been impressed by?
- Sometimes people feel a little uncomfortable talking about how great they are for an hour. If this is you, invoke others – “My boss tells me that my writing style is great and colleagues often ask me to help explain more technical elements of a drug.”
- Ask your own questions. Remember that, while this is an opportunity to show that you’ll be an asset, it’s equally important for you to find out as much as you can and whether this job is for you.
- Ask at least a couple of questions which start with “If I were to work here…” It helps to get your interviewer to visualise that eventuality.
- You may well be asked about salary. If you’re working with a recruiter, they should have given you some guidance as to how to answer this. If you don’t want to be too specific, thereby potentially scuppering your chances of negotiating when you get an offer, say something like, “I understand the position is being advertised between £25K and £30K, that’s the ballpark I’m looking for…” Or, “What do you think would be a fair salary for my skills and experience?”
- At the end, ask your interviewer(s) if there’s anything else they’d like you to cover or clarify. This is your opportunity handle any concerns they may have.
- Finish with something along the lines of, “I was very excited to be asked to interview with you and, now that I’ve met you, I’m keener than ever.”
- If you’re working with a recruiter, ensure you call them straight after the interview to give your feedback, so that they can follow it up quickly for you.
It’s worth bearing in mind that not every interview will be in the same format. Although not so long ago most were face to face with a panel or just one hiring manager, you may find that you’re asked to attend a group interview on Zoom, but are more likely to speak to someone via Skype or have a telephone interview. Below are a few tips to help you with these.
A group interview has the added test of assessing how you interact with a group. Will you be collaborative? Quieter than the others? Demonstrate leadership skills?
- Try to be the first to speak when the first question is asked of the group – this will not only demonstrate your confidence and enthusiasm, but should help you to relax.
- There’s likely to be some form of debate – a problem given to the group to solve together. This is your opportunity to show that you listen. Don’t just say what you think, ask the other members of the group questions and respond intelligently.
- If you get the opportunity to speak to any of the other candidates before the interview as you wait to go in, do so. This will help build rapport which you can use to your advantage during the interview and will show your collaborative nature.
In some ways a Skype interview is very similar to a one-on-one format, but you are at one remove from your interviewer.
- Make sure you’ve tidied the area around you and your computer and that no scantily clad toddlers are about to run behind you!
- Try to sit somewhere that ensures your interviewer won’t be blinded by sunlight.
- Dress as smartly as you would for a face-to-face interview. Psychologically, this should help you to perform well.
- Have a pen and paper to hand to make notes – and feel free to have reference notes in front of you as this just shows that you have prepared.
When it comes to telephone interviews you don’t have the advantage of being able to read the expressions and body language of your interviewer. Here are some pointers:
- Generally it’s best to stand for telephone interviews. This will lift your voice and help you to sound enthusiastic.
- Ditto, smile while you’re on the phone.
- You can use as many notes as you like in this format but be careful not to have too many as you don’t want to either get distracted by them or sound unnatural/robotic.
- Listen EXTRA carefully.
If you are applying to jobs in medical or healthcare communications and would like to chat about interviewing in some more detail or to get an expert eye over your CV, please don’t hesitate to contact Julia Walton at Media Contacts on +44 (0)20 7359 8244 or email: Julia.email@example.com