Behavioral Interviewing for Scientists

April 11, 2017

Behavior based interviewing is an effective tool used by many science industry recruiters and graduate/professional school admissions officers.   They differ from technical or scientific interviews because they are designed to give a glimpse into how you will perform in the future on “soft skills” by having you reflect and talk aloud about behaviors that you have done in the past. The answers that you provide will inform the interviewer about your potential for succeeding in their organization or school based on your experience in such areas as being an effective team player, ethical and professional, and using your critical thinking , leadership, communication, and problem solving skills.

Often interspersed with scientific interview questions, behavioral interview inquiries will usually start with, “Tell me about a time when…,” or “Give me an example of a time when….”  The best responses to require you to specifically describe actions and behaviors that you used in the past s and then describe the outcomes from this approach.   The SAR technique is an excellent formula to use to create the best answer. Memorize the following acronym and then recall it when you are answering questions.

S              Situation – the background to the problem that you are going to discuss

A             The actions (behaviors) that you took to address the situation from this role

R             The results of your actions

The more thoroughly you describe your behaviors the better the interviewer is able to visualize you fitting into their organization.   You can use examples from the lab, graduate or undergraduate school, internships, work, community, and leadership roles.  Industry and academic examples are welcome.  Here are a few behavioral interview questions for you to try:

  • Tell about a time when you had to make a difficult decision at work.
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
  • Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
  • Give an example of a time when you had to arrive at a compromise with members of your team.
  • Describe a situation in which you had to adjust to changes over which you had no control.
  • Give an example of how you set goals and achieve them.
  • Tell me about how you worked effectively under pressure.
  • What do you do if you disagree with your boss?
  • What do you do if you disagree with your co-worker?
  • How you would you deal with a co-worker who wasn’t doing his or her share of the work.

Your interviewer may ask additional clarifying questions such as:

  • What were you thinking at that point?
  • Tell me more about what you specifically did at that time?
  • Lead me through your decision-making process.

Although awkward, go ahead and answer their questions because they are attempting to understand the full spectrum of specific behaviors that you used in the situation.

To prepare for the behavioral interviews, identify several examples of past experiences in which you utilized the soft skills mentioned earlier.  Select examples where you accomplished something, overcame an obstacle, or something did not go as planned.   Feel free to choose academic experiences and non-academic experiences.  Next, practice answering the questions using the SAR technique.

For more practice, visit the OITE website  make an appointment for a mock interview with a career counselor to receive constructive feedback on your answers to behavioral interview questions.  We encourage you to visit our interviewing blogs or skills workshops.

OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.


Are you Ready for Video Interviews?

March 21, 2017

One of the current trends in the application process for industry positions is to use video interviewing. Currently, business, science, and technology companies are using video interviews as the first step in the interviewing process after a candidate applies for a position because it saves money and staff time for the firms to screen candidates prior to inviting them for face-to face interviews. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2016 Recruiting Trends report, there has been a 50 % increase in the use of video interviewing in the past year.  This trend could correlate with the relative decrease in employers coming to on-campus recruiting interviews and career fairs.   Also,  the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) is currently conducting a research study to pilot -test the use of video-interviews with its residency applicants.

In this post, we interviewed an NIH trainee who recently participated in several video interviews to gather a user’s impressions of the process and technology.

What type of company and position(s) did you apply?

They were generally biotech companies that had positions such as a Scientist 1 or Assay Development.

What materials did you use to apply?

I submitted a resume and cover letter through their website. Then you were sent an email with a link to the video interview. This company used HireVue software.  Before the question prompts, there is a short intro about the company mission and culture delivered by the company’s employees.

How did you prepare?

The video interview link came after I applied for the position. I followed the instructions given. You are allowed to complete a few practice questions (mostly behavioral) and to learn how to use the software.  I used Glassdoor to prepare for the interview questions. There was a combination of behavioral and technical questions.  Depending on the position, it may be more technical than behavioral.

Where in the interview process was the video interview?

This was part of the pre-interview process. It was sent after you applied.  I think it takes the place of the telephone screening interview.

How much time were you given to reply to the company?

I was given three business days to practice and then answer the interview questions.

What was it like to record the video interview?

It was both helpful and terrifying at the same time. It was helpful in that it is using a system that makes it convenient.  It was terrifying watching yourself (split screen) while you are answering interview questions vs. looking at someone else.  It’s hard to watch yourself interview.

How many questions were you asked?

You were given about 20 minutes to answer 7-9 questions (about 20-30 minutes). You are given 30 seconds to read the question and then between 1-3 minutes to answer the questions.  Some questions you are given are one minute and most others you have more time. Some questions have multiple stems in them, so you may feel rushed to answer everything in the 3 minutes.

What Questions were you asked?

I was given questions about why I chose this company, behavioral questions, compare and contrast technologies, describe how to develop or troubleshoot assays. I was asked how does product development differ from research and development in biotech.  For another interview, I was asked to summarize my molecular biology, troubleshooting, and optimizing skills.

It appears that the various teams in a company can select their own questions. For example, for some positions I was given one time to answer the interview questions.  However, in another interview, I was given multiple times to answer the question before submitting it.

After the videotaped interview, they presented a short video thanking me for completing the video interview, but the next steps in the process were unclear.

What would you recommend to others who are asked to complete video interviews?

Utilize the practice time to learn the software and practice questions. Be aware of your choice of setting, lighting, height of camera and monitor, and choice of dress for video interview.  You can have some have some notes in front of you.  You will see a split screen with the question on left, outline of self on the right, and countdown clock on the top right corner.

In the 2015 Science Magazine  article, Ace Your Video Interview,  by David Jensen, he recommends that candidates should be highly aware of their environment, appearance, and performance when using Skype technology for live video interviews.  For example, he described that shadows from lighting, animals in the background, and clutter are distractions that can cause a candidate’s interview to be less than stellar.  He also emphasizes that a candidate could be interviewed by several people.  It may be recorded as well.  Based on the experiences of our trainee and Jensen’s comments, here are some additional recommendations to how to prepare for pre-recorded video interviews:

  • Practice using any type of video-based software so that can get used to seeing yourself while you are interviewing. Check to see If there is a way to turn this feature off during your practice sessions with the software you are given. Please note that OITE does not endorse HireVue, SKYPE, or any particular any video interviewing products.
  • Be sure you are looking directly into the camera and that your background is free from distractions.
  • Practice your answers standard industry interview and behavioral questions.
  • Conduct company research in advance to learn about the company, its competitors, and trends in the industry.
  • Although it may end abruptly, send a thank you note after the interview. You may also record a thank you to the committee at the end of your video interview.
  • Dress in professional attire (at least from the waist up) because you are making your first impression with the employer.

While video interviews are not completely replacing the face-to-face interviews, you are likely to encounter them at some phase of the process in the future. If you would like to discuss any part of the process of applying for industry positions, have a mock interview, and /or review your application materials, feel free to set up an appointment with a career counselor. Also please remember to attend the NIH Career Symposium on May 11, 2016 where NIH alumni will discuss their transitions to a variety of careers in academia and beyond.


Five Steps to Evaluate Organizational Culture Before You Accept the Offer

February 28, 2017

One of the most important criteria to consider during the job, graduate school, or Postdoc search is to learn about the culture of the place where you are applying.   This means to gather information about the employee’s opinions of the work environment, the support and benefits that they receive, and the values that drive the organization. This is important because you will work and /or study in this environment for many years and you want to find a good fit for your interests and personal style.  But how do you assess this when you are applying?

Step 1: Learn about and list your values

  • Factor in your personal and work values into your career decision. For example, if you value work where you have multiple work assignments, a culture that values family, work-life balance, opportunities to publish, and/or working in an urban environment, then these will become the criteria that you use when considering multiple options.
  • Meet with a career counselor who will help you to identify a broad range of important work values through the use of career assessments around values, interests and skills

Step 2: Research the organization for information about their values

  • Look for a mission and/or value statements
  • Read the job description carefully for words that give you a glimpse into the culture. For example, wording such as collaborative, team, independently, diverse, fast-paced, results oriented, balance multiple priorities, etc. shed light upon the nature of the work environment.
  • Conduct informational interviews with alumni, colleagues, PIs, Postdocs, etc. Connect via Linked In who are familiar with the organization.
  • Listen to what your mentors and colleagues say about the organization.
  • Attend the NIH Career Symposium or the 2017 NIH Graduate and Professional School Fair so that you can meet NIH Alumni, current employees, and recruitment professionals who will give informational sessions and answer specific questions about their environment.
  • Explore employer surveys such as the ones posted on the AAAS , Corporate Quality IndexThe Scientist, Science Magazine.

Step 3:  Listen closely during your interview

  • Listen carefully to the questions that are asked during an interview. Is there a common thread that gives you some insight?
  • How were you treated when you arrived to the interview? Who greeted you, were they pleasant, outgoing, distant, stressed?
  • Was the host(s) welcoming, approachable, resourceful?
  • Were there any specific qualifications that the interviewer stated about their culture (i.e. fast-paced, long days, independent, work interdependently, cultural diversity)?

Step 4:  Ask Good Questions during the Interview

  • Ask interviewers to describe the environment.
  • Learn about opportunities for professional development.
  • Ask if employees work as a team, independently, collaboratively.
  • Ask the employers to describe a typical week.
  • Ask about work-life balance.

Professional/ graduate school and Post Doc opportunities:

  • Ask faculty and students to describe the culture?
  • Learn how the curriculum structured and how students study.
  • Review OITE blogs to learn how to select a mentor.
  • Attend the second look (medical schools) and or pre-matriculation program.
  • Learn about opportunities to become involved in the community.
  • Ask about students support services are available to support wellness.
  • Are there special interest groups or student organizations? Where do participants live? Is there family housing and partner benefits?
  • How is research, conference and publishing encouraged?
  • Determine how the school /department supports diversity and inclusion.

Step 5: Create a spread sheet to evaluate each opportunity

  • List the places where you are applied on the left column.
  • Write your personal values on the top row.
  • Place a check mark and any comments in each box for each organization.
  • Analyze your results to determine which organizations one(s) have the most values.
  • Note the organizations that have the closest match to your values.
  • Factor into any additional criteria.

Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with career counselors, Premedical school advisors, and wellness counselors who can further support you during this process.  Also see our events and services.

* OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.

 


Staying Sane During the Waiting Game for Professional School Admission

December 19, 2016

You successfully applied to a range of medical or dental schools and now are anxiously waiting to be contacted about interviews and (hopefully!) acceptances to these schools.  During this time, it is normal to feel anxious, worry that you have not provided enough information, or think that there is something else you can do to improve your chances.  Maybe you are tired of family or friends asking, “have you heard yet?”

Here are common challenges and strategies to help you maintain your sanity and manage stress during this time:

Common Questions

  • Is it okay to call or email the schools and ask for an application status update?
  • Call only once. Curb your desire to call repeatedly.  Sometimes schools feel like students put them on re-dial with the volume of individual calls!
  • I want to update my application materials. Is this a good time to do it?
  • Some schools accept updates to applications and will publish this clearly on their webpage. If you do send updates, it should contain only SIGNIFICANT additions (e.g., papers published, new clinical experience position, completed science courses with a grade, leadership).  Remember that the on the original AMCAS application, a description of each experience is limited to 750 characters—this limit remains. In most cases, an update should be a concise bulleted list.  If you have a publication, use the formal citation.  No lengthy letters with veiled pleas for acceptance. One update letter is acceptable, a second is pushing it unless it contains something amazing.
  • I have been placed on a waitlist for an interview or acceptance. Does this mean I won’t get in?
  • Being placed on a waitlist or in the hold file is not a rejection. This means that you still have a possibility for acceptance. Some schools are sorting through their acceptances and attempting to figure out their yield rate before extending more invitations to interview.  Schools with a high number of applicants are still reviewing applications as well.
  • Should I send a letter of intent?
  • Submitting a Letter of Intent at this point in the cycle is of little value. You applied to the school, so the committee knows you want to go there.  It is not going to move you into the ‘accept’ category if you are not there already.  Letters of intent should not be sent to all schools.  Rather, letters of intent should be reserved for the school where you can guarantee that if you are accepted you would turn down other offers that you may have.  Check out the US News article on letters of intent.
  • How long can I expect to be on a waitlist?
  • Expect significant movement from Waitlists and Hold files after 15 March. Another time will be around  April 30 of each application cycle year, when admitted applicants are required to choose a medical school to attend and decline multiple offers.  This way, medical schools begin filling these spaces. Still, many in April, May, and often up to one week prior to the first week of medical school.
  • I have begun to receive rejections from schools to which I have applied.  Should I plan to re-apply next cycle?
  • Each year, many students are not admitted to school and decide to re-apply to medical school and successfully matriculate in later years.   You should re-apply when you have significantly improved your application materials and experiences. Meet with mentors, career or professional school advisors, medical students, and admissions officers to get feedback on how to strengthen your applications.  You may need additional clinical hours, research, or leadership experience. You could work on strengthen your AMCAS application and personal statement.  You should be practicing your interview skills.  See the 2015 blog article, “So I didn’t Get in Medical School Now What

Step 2   Do’s and Don’ts in the waiting game
Here are some do’s and don’ts behaviors that many applicants may default to during times of high stress.

Don’t

  • Launch a social media rant about schools or admissions teams. Admissions committees and students check social media.
  • Complain to admissions officers or medical students about the perceived amount of time it is taking for them to reply to you for interviews or admissions decisions.
  • Contact each school more than once to check on the status of your application.
  • Re-take the MCAT yet without significant preparation. Your goal is to raise your score significantly before re-applying.

Do:

  • Surround yourself with positive and healthy individuals, mentors, groups, and activities
  • Meet with advisors, career and personal counselors who can support you through this period.
  • Continue to show your continued passion for professional school. This includes staying involved in a combination of clinical, research, leadership, service, coursework activities.
  • Prepare for interviews. Many professional schools are now using the Multiple Mini Interviews.
  • Stay emotionally strong and resilient
  • Practice healthy coping behaviors including exercising, healthy eating, and involvement in social activities and mindfulness
  • Utilize any cultural, spiritual, familial, and other personal support to maintain hope and develop coping skills and strengths.

Feel free to visit the OITE https://www.training.nih.gov to meet with medical school advisors, wellness or career counselors who can further support you during this process.

* OITE services are available to NIH intramural trainees only. Check with your home university or college and utilize the personal, career, and professional school advising resources they offer to you.


PhD in Depression?

August 31, 2015

According to data from a report out of UC Berkeley, almost half of STEM PhDs are depressed. Additionally, these graduate students reported a lack of optimism in regards to their future career paths. These data are limited to one college campus; however, the study’s author, Galen Panger, believes these results would be replicated elsewhere.   Panger viewed this study as a first step in expanding the conversation about mental health and wellness noting, “Graduate students have unique needs, and we need to expand the mental health conversation beyond mental illness and talk about everyone’s performance and everyone’s well-being.”

Why is graduate school a trigger for anxiety and depression? Graduate students often face many challenges in and out of the academic setting. In the lab, many report tense work environments with advisors as well as a pressure to produce groundbreaking results. Outside the lab, students face financial burdens and can feel isolated from family and friends who don’t quite understand the stressors of academic rigor. These factors can quickly add up, especially for students already vulnerable to mental health disorders.

 
Comic strip of grad school timeline: Impressed! Oppressed. Depressed. Mostly Pressed.
Wellness and self-care are extremely important during graduate studies. A recent keynote presentation at the 2015 GPP Retreat highlighted several points about the importance of paying attention to our own health and well-being. Stress is bound to be a part of life, but it is also important to recognize when stress becomes maladaptive for you. Individuals receive messages of stress through three main ways: body (physical sensations), mind (thoughts/images), and emotions (affect/feelings). Some physical symptoms of stress can include headaches, insomnia, low energy and frequent illness. Emotional symptoms can include feeling easily frustrated, overwhelmed, hopeless or helpless, as well as general moodiness. The cognitive symptoms of stress can include constant worry and racing thoughts and/or feeling the inability to focus or remember. Long-term stress can have many health consequences, such as depression and anxiety.

Life will never be completely stress-free, so how can you more effectively handle stress on a daily basis? Three quick and easy tips to try and incorporate daily include:

  1. Stretching (even at your desk)
  2. Breathing (counting to 5 on your in breath, taking a pause for a moment, and then counting to 7 on your out breath)
  3. Getting up to move around (for several minutes every hour)

Stretching and breathing lower stress hormones and bring on a relaxation response; while moving helps to get blood and endorphins flowing. Practicing mindfulness meditation has been proven to help reduce stress and improve focus. If you are unsure of how to begin practicing meditation, check out these five steps to help you get started.

Another component of developing effective coping mechanisms is to help build resiliency. Resilience won’t make your problems go away but it can help give you the ability to see past them and find more enjoyment in life. Luckily, one can work on developing skills to become more resilient, including:

  • Be proactive
    Don’t ignore your problems or be afraid to ask for help. Identify what isn’t working for you and make a plan to take control of the situation to improve it.
  • Get connected
    Building strong, positive relationships will help provide the support you’ll need in times of stress. Continue to foster the relationships you have and, if needed, seek out new connections in your community.
  • Take care of yourself
    Make time for yourself and nurture your mind, body and spirit in ways you see fit. Try the tips of stretching, breathing, exercise and mediation.

Some of the top predictors of depression according to the Berkeley study were: insufficient sleep, poorer overall health, lower academic engagement, and lower social support. Prioritize your wellness and self-care. The OITE is offering a program on wellness in the beginning of October. If you aren’t at the NIH, you can participate in a MOOC, “How to Survive Your PhD” which will focus on building resilience during grad school. Let us know what tips work for you by commenting below.


MD/PhD: Is it Right for You?

August 4, 2015

A few weeks ago, OITE hosted NIH’s Graduate & Professional School Fair. One of the sessions focused on MD/PhD programs and how to decide whether it is the right program for you. If you missed it, the presentation can be found online.

The goal of most MD/PhD programs is to create physician-scientists who aim to spend about 80% of their time on research and 20% of their time on clinical care. Most MD/PhD programs are training you to enter research-oriented careers. If you have no interest in research, an MD/PhD might not be the best fit for you. Remember also that MD physicians can conduct research and many MDs pursue research fellowships during their training. Many MD/PhD applicants falsely believe that they will spend about half of their time in the lab and half of their time in the clinic. This is not true until maybe fifteen or so years into your career.

So, how can you decide? First and foremost, allow yourself ample time to gather information in order to make this decision. Before undertaking any further education, it is extremely important for you to consider your own interests and career plans.

Is doing translational research and making discoveries really important to you? If yes, perhaps you are leaning toward an MD/PhD. Are you more drawn to basic research and the idea of running a lab within the biological science field? If yes, perhaps you are leaning toward a PhD. Or maybe you are most interested in working with people in a clinical setting? If so, an MD or other medical training program might be the best fit for your long-term career plans.

Many prospective applicants wonder whether an MD/PhD is worth it for them. Some big considerations are the financial and time commitments. On one hand, an MD/PhD program is longer and generally takes seven to eight years to complete. However, on the upside, they are generally pretty well-funded. Another consideration is the level of competition. Medical school is difficult to get into and MD/PhD programs are even tougher. There are approximately 20,000 MD students and 600 MD/PhD students. These statistics aren’t meant to deter, but rather to highlight that MD/PhD students are a unique group. It is important to be focused yet realistic. Ultimately, your path will be decided through a mix of your interests, motivations and aptitudes.

The AAMC has a lot of resources about MD/PhD programs and they have even compiled a list of frequently asked questions. It is definitely worth checking out here. However, it can often be helpful to talk through your options with mentors or advisors. Do informational interviews with people who have an MD/PhD to see if this would be the right fit for you. If you are at the NIH, you can also meet with medical/graduate school advisors or career counselors within OITE.


You Didn’t Get Into Medical School – Now What?

March 15, 2015

Image of four circles in a square. The top two have a green check and green X mark. The bottom two have a red check and red X mark.First, take solace in the fact that you aren’t alone. According to the AAMC, there were over 48,000 medical school applicants in 2013. From that pool of applicants, less than half of them (20,055) matriculated into their first year of medical school.

Secondly, be heartened by recent reports like the one just released in March 2015, “The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections from 2013 to 2025.” The conclusion of this study suggests “that demand for physician services is growing faster than physician supply and that by 2025 demand will exceed supply by 46,100 to 90,400 physicians.” Presumably, this also means that medical schools will continue to add spots in their programs to help meet the demand for future physicians. Not only will the demand for physicians grow, but so too will the demand for other health-care related positions like nurses or physician assistants.

If you are really interested in helping people in a medical setting, then there are lots of career possibilities. Don’t let one rejection get you down for too long; however, it is likely that you are asking yourself what you should do now. Should you apply again? If you are willing to tackle the application time and cost yet again, then here are a few other things to consider:

  • What were the true deficits in your application? Can these be remedied by the next deadline?
    The other applicants aren’t going to be less competitive next year, so you must take ownership of this process in order to improve your application. That means that there must be a marked improvement in: MCAT score, clinical hours, new publications or awards, or an increase in your science GPA. These can be difficult areas to quickly improve in a year’s time, even though it can be done with dedication and focus.  However, if some of your mistakes included applying late in the cycle, having a poor personal statement, or bombing an interview, then you can take steps to help overcome these challenges more quickly and easily.

  • Did you overlook schools/programs that could be a good fit?
    Make sure you have a realistic understanding of your credentials versus the admissions requirements at various medical schools. Sure, it would be wonderful to be admitted to you first choice school, but it is important to honestly assess these chances. Perhaps during the first round of applications, you ignored osteopathic schools or you didn’t even consider other medical routes like becoming a nurse, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. Take some time to reflect on all of your options and open up your mind to the possibilities.

Whether you need help handling the stress and anxiety of this process, talking through your options, or better understanding the medical school application process, then come into the OITE*. Here, you can meet with wellness counselors, career counselors or medical school advisors to help you during your next step planning.

 

* OITE services are only available to NIH intramural trainees. If you are at a university, check with your school for the resources they offer.