Interview Insider: Tips on How to Get Hired From Novartis AG

This article was originally published here

September 28, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

All employers pretty much want the same things—top skills, creativity, experience, reliability, and the ability to work independently and in a team. That should be no surprise.

But each company, and this of course applies to biopharma, has a different culture and unique approach to employment. They often place emphasis on different things. Let’s take a look at one of the top international pharmaceutical companies in the world, Novartis International AG .

The Company

With headquarters in Basel, Swizerland, Novartis is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world by both market capitalization and sales. In 2016, the company reported $48.52 billion in revenue. It employs approximately 118,000 people worldwide. Its products are sold in about 155 countries globally.

The company has three major operating divisions: Innovative Medicines, Alcon (eye care) and Sandoz (generics). Innovative Medicines has two business units, Novartis Pharmaceuticals , which commercializes patented primary care and specialty medicines, and Novartis Oncology , which focuses on oncology, hematology and rare diseases. It also holds approximately 33.3 percent of the shares of its competitor, Roche , although it exercises no control over its fellow Swiss company.

Novartis’s global research operations are called Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research (NIBR) and has its global headquarters in Cambridge, Mass. NIBR supports the Innovative Medicines division and collaborates with the Sandoz division.

Culture and Employment

Quite some time ago, Grace Wong, writing for Student Vision, asked executives at several large pharma companies for hints about what they are looking for in new employees. In 2004, when Juerg Meier was the vice president and executive director of Novartis’ BioVenture Fund, he said the company was looking for “good solid education with leading professors in the field.” He noted that the most common mistake he saw was with candidates who “seem to have too much interest in their own goals and research instead of filling needs of the hiring company.” Currently, Meier is a consultant to entrepreneurs and startup companies.

In 2004, Jacky Vonderscher was vice president and global head of Novartis’ BioMarker Development. He is currently president of Enyo Pharma. At that time, Vonderscher said the company looked for candidates with a “1) good track record in sciences (publications or patents or positions held); 2) vision on the defined field’s future directions; 3) management skills (organized, decisive, open-minded); 4) inter-personal skills (team players).”

In a more up-to-date source, Glassdoor indicates that 67 percent of people who went through the interview process at Novartis had a positive experience and reported it as having average difficulty.

A candidate for the position of Senior Administrative Assistant who accepted the offer said it was a positive experience. The applicant interviewed at the company’s facility in East Hanover, N.J., and said the interview was “very cordial, comfortable and friendly. No stress or pressure. I was called in for an interview shortly after applying and got an offer in less than a week.”

A candidate for a Clinical Research Associate position in Richmond, Virginia, who accepted the position, said, “I was contacted by a staffing agency regarding the position. They presented my credentials and qualifications to Novartis. Two weeks later, I was informed that Novartis had an interest in me. I had an initial phone interview and then two weeks later an in-person interview. One week later I was informed that due to internal events that I was no longer able to be considered for hire. Then, 10 days later I was contacted again, asked if I was still available and interested for employment.”

One of the interview questions was: “Tell me about a time when you made a mistake? What did you do in response and what was the outcome?”

A candidate for QA Analyst II who declined the offer for a position in Fort Worth, Texas, indicated, “It was a great experience over all. Direct supervisor for this position took me for a visit to a working area and gave me a brief idea about the work the person in this position will be doing. After that, I was asked about my previous job experience and skills related to this job. Manager also interviewed me and asked me about my expectations from this job.”

An interview question was: “Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with your colleague.”

Some questions could be quite technical. A Software Engineer who accepted an offer with Novartis in Cambridge, Mass. indicated that one question involved “OOP principles and basic navigation through directories and command line interface, CLI navigation and bug detection. A program was shown and I was asked to see where it could have gone wrong.”


The Novartis careers page currently has 3,067 positions posted globally. Examples include:

1. Clinical Study Manager for Global Drug Development in East Hanover, N.J. The position calls for a degree in scientific or health discipline and an advanced degree with clinical trial experience and/or project management. Under the direction of the Clinical Study Manager Group Head, the candidate will manage the day-to-day planning, executing and reporting on assigned Phase I-IV global drug development clinical trials.

2. Manager, Bioanalytics for Novartis Technical Operations in Morris Plains, N.J. This position calls for an Master of Science or PhD in chemistry or pharmacology and a minimum of eight years of experience in the biopharma industries conducting QC testing, release testing and laboratory coordination.

3. Clinical Study Manager Group Head for Global Drug Development in East Hanover, N.J. The position calls for a degree in a scientific or health discipline and an advanced degree with project management experience. It requires a minimum of eight years of experience in clinical research and/or project management.

And perhaps it goes without saying, but an international company like Novartis has job openings all over the world, including Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, Peru, Ireland, Brazil, Mexico, India, Switzerland, the U.S. and others.

Is it time to brush up your CV or resume? Good luck!

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