Thursday, December 15, 2016

What is it like to interview in the UK in industry?

So I know what it's like to do an industrial interview in the US in person. It's something like this:
  • You show up the day of, in your finest rumpled suit. 
  • You meet your host and maybe take a short tour of the facility. 
  • You give a talk of some kind. 
  • You answer some questions from your audience. 
  • You go to lunch with a slightly new group of people on the company dime.
  • You go back to the place and talk to various people for the rest of the day, usually in 30 minute portions. 
  • You might have dinner with a new set of people. 
There might be some differences in order or length, but this is the general structure. 

What's an industrial interview like in the UK? I've never been on one, so I couldn't tell you. I've heard rumors of examinations at the board, but nothing concrete. Readers, please, enlighten me. 


  1. Know at the bottom end of the spectrum (lab tech) the process is
    1. Phone or Skype Interview (20 minutes)- basic questions, Who are you ? Why us ?
    2. Turn up for on-site interview (45 minutes- hour) a few days later, three/four people round a table - usually the prospective boss, person from HR and A.N. Other (experienced member of staff) - more complex questions- teamwork examples, do you have experience of X ?etc.
    3. Quick 15 minute tour of where you'll be working, showing off new shiny kit.

    Never had meals with people, but like I said , just have experience of life at the bottom, not Lab manager roles

  2. Outside of the "finest rumpled shirt" - (should footnote Johnny Cash); how is this different than an interview for a US industrial position. I've been on countless of them and they follow the same structure.

  3. I can say that going through process and/or manufacturing chem positions in the US that I've never been asked tough questions or asked to draw a mechanism or anything. I have only been asked something like "did you ever try such and such conditions" or sort of general inquiry type of questions.

    As an american who would not mind relocating elsewhere in the world, I am also curious how the interviewing goes in other countries.

    1. Perhaps I am from yesteryear's in that would challenge your lack of "tough or mechanism" questions may be be due to limited number or places for such process chem interviews? This type of probing used to be standard fare both in seminars and 1on1 sessions where often was a case had to be at least be highly versed in proposed and alternate mechanisms in any work you presented (or on CV/Publications) and also trust you had sufficient training to handle other such grilling. This was even more the case for med chem positions so wonder have times changed so much in number of arrogant BNS pedigree people attempting to show how much they "know" via one-up-manship games?

    2. Anon 11:28, I am anon 10:01, but all through undergrad and grad school, I was told that I would be grilled with mechanisms and named reactions and such. Coming from a mid tier undergrad and grad school, I studied my butt off to know everything from the Kurti/Czako and Li named reaction books as well as keeping up with literature mechanisms during my entire graduate tenure.... My experience from interviewing:
      1. A company that operates at ~ $40B/year did not even require a presentation, let alone any grilling of any kind and mostly spoke to engineers or technicians (this was a non-managerial position) and I think one chemist, but was 9+ hours long
      2. A popular CRO that required a short presentation, with no grilling and I think 6 hours long.
      3. A smaller biotech that required a short presentation and individual meetings with potential coworkers, no grilling, total interview 4-4.5 hours.
      4. A large pharma that required a moderate presentation, individual meetings, no grilling, total interview ~ 7 hours.

      Needless to say, there is a large disconnect between the picture that undergrad/grad advisors paint, who usually have zero experience in interviews of this kind, and reality.

  4. From my experience (interviewed in 2015 for a mid-size to big pharma company), it is just as you described: a full day of talking to folks, a site tour and a seminar. Plus there was an hour of arrow-pushing.

  5. Here's the interview process for a Montreal based pharma (merck frosst, boehringer, etc) in the early-mid 2000s:

    -For BS level: None. You wont get an interview.
    -For MS level: A presentation, followed by 6-8h of intense questioning, ranging from the basic "how many stereoisomers for a 4 chiral centers molecule" to reaction mechanisms for staples like Swern and Suzuki, to deuterium exchange studies, and even in-house specific odd-balls.
    -For PhD level: Much the same as MS level, with perhaps additional inquiries about people skills and leadership role.

    This was of course the result of supply and demand: way too much money from federal grants that produced way too many graduate students for way too few jobs. This odd power over people created, of course, grand delusion on a mass scale. Unhinged and off-the-track d-bags that channeled their inner pettiness towards gotcha questions. I was even asked, as if it was a legitimate proof of competence for a job, to tell who's labs was right next to Corey's lab at Harvard. And some guy spend 10 minutes (actual 10 minutes) to write a question with schemes on a board while I was making small talks with others. That one was from Boehringer, who had a few notorious self-aggrandizing nutjobs on their payrolls.

    In the US, its 180 degree opposite. Credentialism rules all, and these basic "tards" spotting techniques are unfortunately not applied, provided you can produce some piece of paper that says "PhD". As a result, at least in the greater Cambridge area, the ability to speak 10 straight words of proper English and to not fart in public actually represent attractive skill sets for hiring chemists.

    I don't know which system is worst, to be honest.

    1. LOL, had same experience at MF in early people to be sure, but very much intent on proving it to everyone who stepped foot in there. I'm quite sure both Bobs (yes, there were two Bobs) got picked on a lot as kids. Based on that experience I really didn't feel that bad when the site got shut down.

    2. @biotech I am just picturing that scene from Office Space

  6. I've had a few UK pharma (medium to large and CRO) interviews, but not for a few years. They vary in structure but usually include:
    An HR interview (30min) - A bit about yourself, why this company, skills questions e.g teamwork, leadership
    A tour of the site
    Lunch with members of the company
    A technical presentation and questions from audience of 2-4 people (maybe 45 min)
    Technical interview (~1hr) mechanisms at board or on paper. A couple of interviews have had a couple of technical sessions with different people.

  7. Had one a few years ago in the south of UK, took part in the process from "the other side" just recently.
    A seminar in front of the team (~20 min + questions) + 3-4 hours of grilling by various team members (both managers and lab-based staff) + site tour.

    1. By grilling, do you mean "technical examination" or "continued interviews"?

  8. I understand the expectation for a new grad to give an hour-long seminar, but I've always felt like it was somewhat insulting to ask someone with 4-5 years or more of industry experience to give a seminar. The seminars weren't usually great anyway because of the limited amount of info a person could share from the last company. At some point, a pile of patents and a proven ability to navigate a matrix organization seems good enough for me. FYI, I've never worked in pharma, so some of the obnoxious mechanistic showboating didn't really apply.

  9. It's at 10 years since I last interviewed for a job in or related to pharma in the UK, and 15 years since I had my one interview with a pharma company in the US, when it was exactly how you describe. My first time eating sushi, and still in my mind the best. At that point from the seven or eight interviews I had in the UK it was much less likely to have to give a talk, and if you did it would only be in front of a couple of people. You'd always have to sit down and do a bunch of retrosynthesis and then suggest conditions for the route you've devised. I get the sense that this is because people from even fairly similar backgrounds have very different levels of knowledge. Only on one occasion in the UK did I go for lunch with the people I would have been working with (which went terribly - I was told I talked about myself far too much) and never the whole day with a bunch of different people. You would get a tour of the facility in the UK though.

  10. Where I work in the UK the process might be:
    1. Phone interview to confirm and expand details in the CV
    2. Interview on site consisting of an introduction to the work at the site, short (10-15 min) presentation by interviewee followed by questions. At least one technical interview at the whiteboard possibly two depending on role and seniority. Then a tour of the labs. If the process covers the lunch period then lunch - with the other candidates is provided and the candidates are also given the opportunity to talk with existing members of the group and ask questions. Finally an HR interview - how will the candidate fit in?
    This may sound like a tough process but it has worked well in the past. You'd be surprised (or maybe not) just how many candidates with really impressive CV's fail badly when you get them in for interview.

    I've experienced similar interview days at various companies in the past so I don't think this is exceptional.

  11. Examinations at a whiteboard is how a UK "PhD defence" goes (the PhD viva). Unlike in the States where you give a seminar to the Dept and passing is seen as a formality, in the UK it is more like American Quals (closed door examination by 2-3 academics to check your understanding of your own research as well as standard organic chemistry).

    I guess that's just part of UK science culture in general!

  12. My recent experiences:

    UK (small-medium size companies, entry level PhD jobs in CRO/CMO):
    - Phone interview/recruitment agency optional/
    - On site interview (1-2 hours technical, some mechanistic questions etc.)
    - Tour of facilities
    - Wait for them to offer you the job (few days)

    UK (big pharma R&D):
    - phone interview (30-40 minutes, generic questions e.i: give an example of...)
    - On site interview: lunch with random team members, technical interview (including presentation "chalk and talk" style), talking to other team members/leaders, tour of facilities.

    All on-site activities were in the 2-4 hour range.

  13. The more they grill you on chemistry, the worse they are.
    Its a sign of insecurity.
    Also, if they think being rude to you is the way to treat people, run, they are a bunch of jerks no one else would hire.


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