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Interview Insider: Tips on How to Get Hired at Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY), and Novartis AG (NVS)

4/28/2017 2:51:33 PM

Interview Insider: Tips on How to Get Hired at Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, and Bristol-Myers Squibb May 11, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Although sometimes it only seems like it, but it’s unlikely that there’s a secret password or special handshake that gets you hired at certain biopharma companies. It usually comes down to having the right skill set, a personality that fits the corporate culture, and good timing.

However, some companies are very specific about what they are looking for. Here’s a look at three big biopharma companies and tips for getting in the door.
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1. Johnson & Johnson

One thing to keep in mind about Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) is that it’s big—really, really big. In fact, it’s made up of about 250 subsidiary companies that operate in 60 countries. Its 2016 revenue was around $71.9 billion and employs about 127,100. In that respect, it’s very difficult to say exactly what each of those subsidiaries might be looking for or what their corporate culture might actually be like. Janssen, which is the company’s pharmaceuticals division, includes various Janssen (JNJ) divisions, as well as Actelion (JNJ), McNeil Nutritional (JNJ) and Ortho Biotech (JNJ), may have a very different approach and needs than its consumer healthcare division that includes Vogue International, Women’s Health and Baby Care.

In 2004, Nature Biotechnology interviewed a number of executives and scientists at several big pharma companies. In that article, Scott Wadsworth, at that time a J&J research fellow, noted that J&J looked at “whether or not skills fit the position, your publication record, enthusiasm, intellectual curiosity, verbal skills, and interest in the project or company.” Wadsworth is now director of Program Management for Envigo in the greater Philadelphia Area.

Glassdoor surveys people about their experiences with company interviews and provides feedback. For Johnson & Johnson, Glassdoor notes that about 65 percent of survey participants had a positive experience, with 22 percent neutral, and 12 percent indicating a negative experience. The interview difficulty was ranked as average.

A person who was applying for a platform director position noted there was an initial phone interview by a recruiter followed by a phone call with the hiring manager. “Afterwards,” the interviewee said, “there were two on-site interview days spaced about one month apart. The second interview on-site required a presentation.”

A sample interview question was a “case study based on analyzing a real world problem from the company and providing an interpretation of the data and a recommendation.”

2. Novartis

Another massive company, Novartis (NVS) has global headquarters in Basel, Switzerland and employs around 118,700 people. It has three operating divisions: pharmaceuticals, Alcon (NVS) (eye care), and Sandoz (NVS) (generics). Like J&J, it’s so large that it’s hard to broadly speak of each division as having a unified culture.

Back in 2004, Jacky Vonderscher, then vice president, Global Head of BioMarker Development, noted that common interview mistakes were not showing passion for what you want to do, providing too general or generic answers to interview questions, or didn’t prepare and understand the type of job offered. Vonderscher is now the president of Enyo Pharma.

Glassdoor’s surveys indicate that the interview difficulty was about average, and that 68 percent had a positive experience, 20 percent were neutral and 11 percent were negative.

One candidate who interviewed for a clinical research associate position in Richmond, Virginia, noted that the interview process began with contact by a staffing agency, which presented his or her credentials and qualifications to the company. Two weeks later, the person had a phone interview, followed two weeks after that with an in-person interview. The interviewee said, “One week later I was informed that due to internal events that I was no longer able to be considered for hire. Then, ten days later I was contacted again, asked if I was still available and interested for employment. And, I gladly accepted their offer.”

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

Some of the interview questions mentioned by other survey participants were standard types: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “What interests you about the job?” and “Describe your personality and the way you prefer to work.”

3. Bristol-Myers Squibb

Based in New York City, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) employs around 25,000 people. It manufactures prescription drugs in a number of areas, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis and psychiatric disorders. Its primary research-and-development sites are in New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Ireland, Belgium, Japan and India.

In 2004, Martyn Banks, then Group Director of Lead Discovery & Profiling, gave the following advice: “Build a goal-oriented career plan for yourself, research the area of interest, try and find what skills are required for the job, for example, is industrial experience important? Research the company and the job you’re applying for—there is nothing worse than interviewing someone who obviously knows nothing about your company.” Banks is currently an executive director at Bristol-Myers Squibb.

According to Glassdoor, the interview difficulty with Bristol-Myers Squibb is average, with 68 percent reporting a positive experience, 17 percent neutral and 13 percent negative.

A candidate for a senior principal scientist position noted that the process began with a recruiter. A quality assurance candidate, who accepted the position, indicated the interview ran about five hours. “I did not meet with any members of the group the position was posted for. This would have been nice to get a feel for the culture and environment.”

An interview question included, “Tell about a time you influenced change across a network.”

Other example questions included, “Explain a time when you showed leadership,” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” and “Tell me about your experience with this technique.”

Generally speaking, all of these companies appear to utilize behavior-based interviewing, which works on the assumption that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Typical examples include:

• Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.

• Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.

• Give an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.

These often focus on broad areas of employment skills, including teamwork, client-facing abilities, adaptability, time management, communication, motivation and values.

For science-based positions, especially in research and development, the process often includes giving a presentation or seminar. Although it applies to general interviews as well, it’s particularly relevant to presentations and seminars—prepare, practice, and practice some more. In the case of seminars, the people participating will not only be looking to see if you know your stuff, but also how you organize and present information, interact with people asking you questions, and your overall presence and delivery.

So again—practice, practice, practice. And good luck!

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