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The Interview: Lights, Camera, Action!

Recruiting and HR professionals need to know all the common job-interview questions, such as: “You’re shrunken down to the size of nickels and dropped to the bottom of a blender. What do you do?”

Okay, maybe that one isn’t exactly standard fare, but you have to agree that Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson nailed it in the Google interview scene in The Internship.

However, let’s look at the questions hiring managers SHOULD be asking when recruiting clinical employees or pharma staff, as well as what they can discover from the answers about their candidates.

The Questions

First, you want to ask good questions, but not impossible questions or questions that reveal very little. The process begins well before the interviews fire up. Preparation is key, and the most important step is to identify the competencies your new hire must have to be successful in the job.

Be tough on yourself here; you can’t have more than one “top priority.” Make yourself identify the single competency that is central to the project or workload you are recruiting for. After you have that at the top of your list, allow yourself to identify two “nice-to-haves” for the position.

With this short list in place, you’re ready to craft questions and lead discussions that will reveal each candidate’s strengths with regards to the traits you have identified as being important to the job. But please, don’t go the “What is your biggest strength? Biggest weakness?” route. You won’t hear it, but inside your candidate will be groaning, and for biggest weakness you may be rewarded with an answer like, “I’m far too humble or I am a perfectionist.”

During the interview, it’s best to direct the conversation so it focuses on past behavior. Hypothetical situational questions that force the candidate to formulate answers on the spot don’t reveal very much that is worthwhile. These are questions that start out with phrases such as, “What would you do if….” Good answers to those questions just prove that the candidate can think fast during an interview. Folks who are good at these queries might make better novelists than professionals in the biotech, pharmaceutical, or medical-device industries.

You want to explore and see how your candidates have handled actual situations. Ask in-depth questions about previous specific job experiences, and be alert to where those situations overlap the core competency and two nice-to-haves that you have identified.

The Answers

As your candidates are describing previous projects, positions and teams they have served on, imagine they’re describing a movie. It won’t be as funny (hopefully) as The Internship, but it should be more revealing. “Watch” this movie from the director’s point of view and be alert for any “black holes”—places where the storyline loses continuity.

When you sense a gap, “rewind” the interview a little, and ask about it until you’re satisfied that you understand the situation your candidate has been describing.

As you’re listening and later, when you’re reviewing this mental “movie,” you should be able to pick out various patterns of behavior. You’ll know you have the right candidate when those patterns reflect your must-have competency at least three times as well as your nice-to-haves once or twice.

With this approach to recruitment in the pharmaceutical, biotech and medical-device fields, interview discussions are positive and revealing. Unlike the question in the movie scene we referenced at the top, which frankly we think was unfair: B.J. Novak never said whether the blender was on or off!

Big difference.