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Competency Based Interviews in Pharma Recruitment

Whether you are a graduate looking to build a career in Pharmaceutical Sales and Marketing or are experienced within the industry, Competency Based Interviews (CBI’s) are worth understanding and preparing for.  This interviewing technique has been at the core of Chase’s recruitment procedure for almost two decades now having proven itself successful over and over again.

It is an incredibly effective way of working through a candidate’s work history, getting to know their strengths and weaknesses and of bringing their CV to life during the initial interview process.  However, many candidates find it challenging.

A lot of the individual work Chase do with candidates is better explained face to face, but  we believe it will help everyone if they understand what each interview stage is aiming to achieve, what preparation can be undertaken in readiness for a career move and the types of questions that are worth preparing for in advance of the each interview.

The initial interview is usually a two way street.  It allows the candidate to get to know the hiring manager and company expectations while giving the hiring manager the opportunity to assess if the candidate is a good fit for the team they are recruiting for.

The Competency Questions that matter in Pharma Sales

When a candidate meets with a Consultant from Chase, the Consultant will use the time to try and best understand each candidate’s needs and skill set by utilising half a dozen relevant competency based questions, which aim to find out how their career has progressed to date.

A typical question might be, “Give me an example of a situation where you have had to deal with a difficult customer”.  From here, the Chase Consultant is looking for a robust answer that strikes a good balance between being concise and providing enough detail and context to illustrate their skill set. This could be anything from 1 to 5 minutes long (any longer and you are going into too much detail / any shorter and you are not covering enough detail).

The best answers are well rehearsed, well thought through and explain how the candidate handled the situation and what the business outcome was.   One of the best ways to structure these responses is to use the STAR methodology:

  • S – situation describing background
  • T – task to be accomplished
  • A – action you took
  • R – result or outcome of the situation

If the candidate can add further value to their explanation, it is around what they learned and in particular how they would approach a similar situation differently in the future, or even how their behaviour has changed as a result of working through this situation.

A Popular Situational Question

“Tell me about a challenging time when something did not work out as you had hoped”.  Similar to the above question, this is an opportunity to let the interviewer know what could be done differently, and what has been learned from the experience.  It is always interesting to hear if this situation affected colleagues, rather than just the candidate, and if learning outcomes were shared across the wider team or organisation.

Other questions worth thinking about preparing for

“How you have influenced a customer who showed some interest in your product but was not committing to buying / using it?”

“Give me an example where you have turned around a situation with an unhappy customer”

These scenarios should ideally demonstrate attitude, thought processes and how candidates can triumph over adversity.

The focus of these questions is on the how and the why – and always make sure there is a good balance between using I and we – it’s you that needs to shine at interview, however nobody can be successful all the time by working alone!


Competency based interviews in pharma are designed to be challenging.  Therefore Chase push hard and work closely with candidates to help increase the chances of success at every stage of an interview process.  Regardless of where someone is in their career right now in, it pays to plan for the next move and with thinking through competency based answers, as well as setting up an Achievement File to support career claims (which is a whole other topic that shall be covered separately!)

If you would like to comment on this article, please feel free to do so below.  Bear in mind that the opinions expressed by you in your comment, whether as an employee of Chase or as a professional within the pharma industry are yours alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Chase.