Interview Insider: Tips on How to Get Hired From Merck & Co., Eli Lilly and Pfizer

This article was originally published here

March 30, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

It’s not a secret what companies want in new employees—highly skilled, hard-working, reliable, and it would be great if you were cheap, too. But aside from the obvious, companies are often looking for specific things during an interview or in a new staffer, some of which can be a bit more nuanced than “qualified.”

Here’s a look at three big pharma companies and tips for getting in the door.

1. Merck & Company

Headquartered in Kenilworth, NJ, Merck & Company (MRK) employs about 68,000 people worldwide. In 2016, it reported total revenues of $39.8 billion. Grace Wong, writing for Nature Biotechnology back in 2004, interviewed leading executives at more than a dozen biopharma companies, asking them what they were looking for in employees.

In 2004, Lex Van der Ploeg was vice president, Site Head for Merck Research Institute in Boston. He is now managing director of VDP LLC, an independent consulting agency focused on guiding research and development for the biopharma industry and private investors.

Ploeg said Merck’s criteria for employment was “Great intellect; proven accomplishments, willingness to work with others and collaborate efficiently; excellent communication and interpersonal skills.”

None of those are surprising.

Ploeg did note that, “Industry scientists need to do what is necessary to move the major objectives forward without getting distracted by irrelevant details. They should continuously learn and develop skills in any area needed to advance the projects.”

Glassdoor tracks interview behavior and questions, and the general consensus is that Merck’s interview procedures are straightforward and fairly easy. One scientist wrote, “The process was very straightforward. There were four one-on-one 30-minute interviews and one phone HR call. No seminar. The questions were very standard and typical of what you would expect.”

Questions included:

What two decisions in your life were you most proud of and least proud of?
What are your short and long-term goals here?
What are your salary expectations?

Two years ago, BioSpace interviewed Rosemarie Ruby, then associate director, Recruiting & Staffing for Merck Research Laboratories (MRK). She is currently Merck’s Director of Recruiting & Staffing. She said, “The hiring profile of our scientists and executives include those who value diversity, are innovative, collaborative and capable decision-makers. We are also interested in those who are fully engaged in Merck’s mission to translate breakthrough biomedical research into meaningful new therapies and vaccines that improve and extend the lives of people worldwide.”

2. Eli Lilly & Co.

Headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind., Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY) reported $21.22 billion in revenue in 2016. The company employs about 42,000 staffers. Back in 2004, Wong interviewed Thomas Seng-Lai Tan, then a senior scientist at Lilly. He is now senior director, head of Immunology at FORMA Therapeutics. His advice at the time was to “recommend a summer research project or internship in industry; establish contact with decision-makers and seek out mentors in the industry.”

He also pointed out that postdoctoral training wasn’t necessary for a job in biotech or pharma. “It does not hurt to have one, especially in a good and reputable lab.”

More recently, BioSpace interviewed Janice Chavers, director of global human resources and diversity communications at Lilly. “We use behavior-based interviewing, which is based on the assumption that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior,” Chavers said.

Those behavior-based types of questions include:

Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
Give me an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.

Chavers added, “In addition to those behavior-based questions, I always ask why someone wants to work for Lilly. If I could just offer one tip, I would say people need to know why the want to work for a particular company—and show some passion. Quite a few people I have interviewed have not been able to provide a strong answer.”

3. Pfizer

Headquartered in New York City, Pfizer (PFE) employs about 96,500 people worldwide, and in 2016 reported $52.8 billion in revenue. Wong in 2004 interviewed Siegried Reich, then vice president of Drug Discovery at Pfizer, and Ted Johnson, associate director of Medicinal Chemistry at Pfizer. Reich is now the senior vice president of Research and co-founder of eFFECTOR Therapeutics. Johnson is a Research Fellow at Pfizer.

Reich’s advice was to “be prepared, be honest, bold but not cocky. Make sure your enthusiasm and energy is clearly communicated and often.”

He also pointed out common mistakes, which are: “Overstating qualifications, not being honest, and not asking thoughtful questions.”

Johnson’s advice was to “be persistent, don’t lose hope. Finding a good job can be difficult. Don’t limit your search and look at all possibilities.”

He also warns against coming across as arrogant. Common mistakes including, “Pretending they know something that they don’t. Trying to sell themselves as an expert.”

Glassdoor indicates that the interview difficulty at Pfizer is about average. One person, who was interviewed for a job as a Professional Healthcare Representative, said an example of a question was, “Tell me about a time you successfully displayed your technical knowledge.”

The same person said, “The phone interview was about 30 minutes long—make sure to do your research on the company, why you want to work there, know about the products and climate. After that I did an in-person interview with the hiring manager and one other manager, which lasted about 45 minutes to an hour. I heard from the hiring manager that day and was told I would be doing a final interview with a regional manager the following week. I received an offer the following week.”

About two years ago, BioSpace interviewed Beth Keeler, Pfizer’s then vice president of talent acquisition. She is currently Pfizer’s HR Lead, Finance and Business Operations. She said, “At Pfizer, science is at the core of who we are. So it drives a good deal of our hiring decisions. However, we look for a combination of skills, core competencies and intangibles.”

She added, “Having the ability to be a leader of leaders [is key]. Successful pharmaceutical executives build careers off of high performing teams and if a candidate can demonstrate the ability to build and drive a leadership team to exceed business results while driving a collaborative culture that would be a key driver for us.”

Is your CV or resume fine-tuned? Good luck!

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