Blogs & more

Have a Winning First Interview

In Pharma and Healthcare there are likely to be somewhere between two and four stages to any hiring process which will consist of such things as; an interview with the trusted recruitment agency, a phone screen with an in house recruiter, a first round interview with the hiring manager, an assessment centre and a second or even third stage interview with more senior management.

Whatever the preferred approach by the hiring company, these different stages hold equal importance in my mind, as the employer uses each one not only to test you out in different ways but also to look for consistencies in your style, substance and character. It’s also highly likely that you’re competing in each interview stage against other people who, unfortunately for them, will start to drop out and become less in number as you start to become the preferred choice!

So let’s take a look at what’s required to get you through the all-important first round interview and onto the next (maybe final) stage.

The first stage of any job seeking process is absolutely key. Regardless of who is assessing you, as it’s the first impression you’re going to make and if certain themes or concerns crop up during this stage they might set the scene for the remaining stages and assessments. In fact many believe that most people make a decision about your suitability within the first 2 minutes of meeting you, so you need to bring your ‘A’ game!

As well as getting a ‘feel’ for you and your capabilities, the first stage will also be the time when the employer speaks to and ultimately weeds out the majority of the applicant pool.
Whilst the majority of the effort should be made by you (the candidate) in terms of preparation, the employer should also be selling their company and opportunity to you and set the scene very clearly about the expectations and opportunities associated with the job.

Some people spend very little time preparing for interviews, thinking ‘I’m good on my feet’ and ‘I’ll be able to win people over, I’m a first rate salesperson’. However if this sounds like you (either now or in a past life) then I urge you to keep reading. You’re going to need to step things up if you’re going to reach your potential.

At the other end of things there are those who spend literally hours and hours trying to second guess what questions they’ll be asked at interview, what to say, and how they’re going to force key messages about themselves into the discussion. This approach is likely to be equally as ineffective as failing to prepare, with the added downside of you losing hours of your life for no positive outcome.

After coaching hundreds of candidates through the first stage of the job interview process there are six key things I always urge they focus on to maximise the chances of making a good first impression and getting on the road to successfully landing their next job;

1) Know the job you’re going for in enough detail

This involves two parts; researching the company and then researching the actual position you’re applying for. And make no mistake, you need to have done your homework for both.
The internet will provide a good starting point for what you need to know about the company. This will include having a clear idea about what the company history, vision, strategy, values and culture are all about. This in turn should feed your responses and allow you to mirror the reasons why you want to work for that company.

However this is available to all and it will be expected that you will have researched thoroughly. You should think about what you can do to make yourself stand out. For example, have you spoken to someone currently doing the same / or similar job? Have you spoken to someone elsewhere in the Company? Have you spoken to competitors to see what they think? Have you spoken to customers to get their view? The more effort you go to the more positively you will be viewed and the more confident you will feel.

The other part is knowing the role you’re applying for really well. Before having an interview you should have written confirmation about the job description and remuneration, ideally sent to you via your recruitment consultant. The remuneration doesn’t need to be specifically agreed at this stage but both you and the employer should be clear about the ‘ball park expectations’ before you get into the detail of selling yourself as the ideal candidate.

Take time to read the job specifications and list out the top five or six points that you think they’re looking for.

2) Know why you’re applying for the job.

Again this is two part process. You’re going to have to convince the employer that from reading and learning about the company you’re really excited about the opportunity to join them. You should have at least two to three really convincing reasons for this that link back to their history, vision, strategy, values or culture. You should then be able to seamlessly make the link as to how these align with your values and career goals as a professional.

Once you’ve done this you’re going to need to get more specific. That means being able to refer back to the job specification (with the five to six key points mentioned earlier) with examples of things you’ve done or experience you have that will add value to the company. A simple way to frame this is to use the story telling model; Past predicts present, predicts future.

If you can show you’ve done something of relevance in the past then you’re going to have a good chance of convincing someone you’ve going to do it in the future. Things like sales figures, analysing your territory, dealing with difficult people, making decisions, building relationships and influencing are the subjects that come up most in interviews, so you’ll do well to have examples of success related to these things you’ve done in the past.

3) Use SCAR answers

There are different answer models that you can use, with the most common being STARL (Situation, Task, Action, Result, Learnt). However another one that works well is a slight adaptation of this – SCAR. This means you can give answers using the following structure for almost any competency based question that starts with; ‘Tell me about a time when…. you had to influence a difficult customer’.

The Situation… Was that I had a customer who was one of the most influential prescribers on my territory. However he only prescribed my competitors product and organised lots of speaker meetings across the region. This was having a huge impact on my sales.

The Challenges... I struggled to get an audience with this doctor as he was so wrapped up with the competitor. Plus he’d never actually used my product in a suitable patient group so his user experience wasn’t great.

The Action… I managed to get the doctor to speak to our National Key Opinion Leader about his experience with our product, with a view to him trialling it in a few new patients over the next three months.

The Result… The doctor found our drug to be really effective and he is now using it as one of his first few options for therapy. He also named it at a speaker meeting that was organised by a competitor and a couple of my customers prescribed it after hearing the endorsement. My sales started to take off and have kept growing ever since.

Using this model allows you to be really clear and consistent when providing answers, showing your experience to be authentic and well structured. It also means the interviewer can ask clarification points related to the specific components of your answer if required, so you don’t become derailed if you are challenged during the interview process.

4) Get clear about how the role will challenge you

Nobody’s perfect, so selling yourself credibly means having a good understanding of both your strengths and weaknesses. Or in this case, areas where you’ll be challenged in the role. If you make it sound like this job is going to be an easy ride for you that will not do you any favours in the interview. You’ll come across as someone who is either unaware of their development areas or unwilling to push themselves to be better.

If you struggle with this type of thing you can always take your main strength and turn it into a weakness that you are aware of. For example someone who works hard might have a weakness of taking on too much and not finishing things properly if they’re not careful. Alternatively you might have an element of the new job that you’ve not done before. By identifying it, embracing it as being new and having some early thoughts about how you will approach this will make you look like a really thoughtful and responsible candidate.

5) Ask relevant and insightful questions

Towards the end of the interview you’re likely to be asked if you have any questions to ask the interviewer. You should always prepare these in advance and use your judgement on the day to determine whether they’ve been covered or not (so you don’t end up asking a question regarding something that has already been mentioned). Some good questions you could ask include;

  • What are the most important attributes for someone to do well in this role?
  • What are your expectations for this role during the first two to three months?
  • What do you like best about working for this company?

Make sure you make a note of these answers, you might well have use for them at the next stage of interview!

6) Prepare a presumptive close

This is can work well when going for a sales role. For example;

“From speaking to you today everything you’ve said sounds really exciting. What are the likely next steps from here?”

If you’re going for a sales role this shows you have the courage to ask for commitment for a next step, especially as you’re doing it in a considered and elegant way, which is a great trait to have in Pharma and Healthcare sales.

7) Dress to impress

Finally it goes without saying that you’re going to need to dress well at interview. Iron your shirt, shine your shoes and don’t try to be overly ‘trendy’. Pharma and Healthcare can often be quite conservative industries and at the end of the day it’s the person you’re being interviewed whom you need to impress, not your peer group. From the moment you drive into the car park assume that their eyes are on you – so be prepared, follow the advice you’re given and make it happen!

If you’re interested in looking at your career options and would like to speak to a member of the team simply call 0131 553 6644 or email

Nick Johnson
UK Business Lead – Healthcare