Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Job Hunting in Unprecedented Times, by HappyChemist (Part 3)

(This is the third part of a three part series written by HappyChemist, who was hired in industry during the pandemic. It has been lightly edited. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here - CJ)

Step 3: Virtual On-site Interview

Make sure to set-up your interview space as suggested above and prepare for a very long day! In my experience these can last anywhere from one to three days depending on the format, but most of them were just one very long day and in some cases a half a day. Really it seems to depend on the size of the company, the companies with larger investments into R&D seemed to have longer on-site interviews. No matter the length, bring your lunch (or snacks) and plenty of water! I never had the chance to eat a full lunch so I just always brought several small snacks. Water is a must, you are going to be doing A LOT of talking so you’ll want some sort of drink, just make sure it is spill proof. Organize your desk so that everything is at the reach of your extended arm. Paper, pencils, pens, notepads, post-its, drinks, snacks, tissues—these are all must haves. Make sure to mute, or even better, turn off your phone. 

In my experience no matter the length, the on-site interviews were nearly all formatted the same. The day always started off with me giving a research seminar followed by rolling/rotating interviews (described in more detail below). The seminars ranged in time from 20 min to 45 min with 5-15 minutes allotted for questions after. Most of my seminars were recorded so plan for that just in case, don’t share anything you don’t wish to be recorded. Usually there was a brief introduction, then I shared my screen and gave my presentation, which was then followed with questions. I usually only got 1-2 questions, but most of the interviewers saved their technical questions for their actual interview with me. 

Immediately following the seminar, the rolling/rotating interviews would kickoff. These consisted of back-to-back interviews with a 30–60-minute lunch break in there somewhere. Each interview lasted about 30 minutes with anywhere between 1-3 interviewers at a time. Sometimes I got a small break between each interview but not always, plan in advance for this eventuality. Usually for the interviews I either got one code for the whole day and the interviewers would rotate in and out of the meeting, or I got a meeting code for each separate meeting. If you have different meeting links, mind the time and do not be afraid to say you have to go to another meeting with the next interviewer. Your current interviewer(s) will understand that you have to move on and you do not want to keep the next ones waiting. Just don’t be so focused on watching the time that you come across distracted. 

All the rolling interviews were similar, with each interviewer introducing themselves. After that, the first half of the interview revolves around technical questions from the seminar and the last half focusing more on generic interview questions, several of which you will have already answered in the initial phone and video screens (most common listed above). Just roll with it, even if you are being asked the same question over and over. At the end you will be given time to ask questions, so come prepared for a few. For your own sanity, at the end of the day when you wrap up with the hiring manager don’t forget to ask when you can expect to hear back from them about next steps. When you are done with every single one your interviews, be it by phone or on-site, definitely follow up within 24 hours, thank them for their time. I think this is especially important in completely virtual formats because they aren’t actually getting to meet you face to face. So, any time you get to show off how you’d be as a co-worker is important. 

Tips for following up:

  • DO thank them for their time and remind them of your interest in the position.
  • DO keep it short and to the point. I always strive for five sentences or less. 
  • DO mention something you may have learned about the company or role that you are excited about.
  • DO mention that you are looking forward to hearing from them. 
  • DON’T be surprised if you don’t get a response. It is likely you won’t get one until the day they give you their decision. 

If you haven’t heard from them on the exact date they said they would follow up, DON’T email them yet. These decisions almost always take longer than planned, so give it an extra 3-7 days and then follow up. The only time you should reach out at or before this time is if you have gotten another offer or something has happened to your resume that might influence their decision to hire you.

Don’t be surprised if some interviewers are less than what you think is professional. At companies I interviewed with there were 1-3 people who were interviewing me while completely distracted. I actually had an interview where the person was actively working in lab, another where they were getting their home security system installed during the interview, one who told me they had another meeting they were attending at the same time, and one who was soothing a screaming child. Roll with it. Though, it can be quite awkward if they are the only person interviewing you. Thankfully, in most cases there were others also present who could run the show. I can forgive the person soothing their child because you cannot plan for that, for all the others with planned distractions…I cannot help but wonder if they were also distracted when they were interviewing my competitors? And if not, how their distractions during my interview played into their rating of me? Unfortunately, I will never know. 

A little unsolicited advice to the interviewers…if you cannot give an interview your full time and attention, do not sit in on it. Let someone who can give their full time and attention do it. To the interviewees: do not take it personally, sometimes s**t really happens.

After 7 months of applying to jobs in industry, I have officially formally accepted a job offer as an organic chemist! Somebody pinch me because I still feel like I’m dreaming. I hope this article was helpful to any of you who are just starting to look for jobs or are struggling in this virtual format. It can be quite stressful, but you are not alone and you can do it. Most of all, remember to be true to yourself, and show them why you are the best person for the job! GOOD LUCK! You are going to need it. 

Thanks to HappyChemist for their work in describing this most unusual of processes. - CJ


  1. These are wonderful comments to be self-enforced and emulated by all, and you spoke my mind! That is how I conducted my self during my recent interview with remote presentation jig etc. I am awaiting the final offer letter from a major pharma. The only question I have is how to tread and negotiate, if the salary (that you imagined, with experience to back it up) is not aligned with what you had it in your mind? Any input deeply appreciated. Thanks again for your counsel and wisdom.

    1. Hi, Anonymous. HappyChemist here. Now I can't speak from experience, because the offer I accepted was a little better than my expectation. Three of the companies I interviewed at told me the salary range for their open positions up front, and my offer was in line with the high end of those values and had much stronger benefits, so all in all I was happy with the offer and withdrew my applications from the other roles. My advice to you is if you get an offer that is lower than you had in mind, do your research. Reevaluate your expectation and make sure it is a reasonable expectation. You can do this by looking up the average cost of living for the area, look up the average salary for your expertise and skill level in that location and go from there. Many locations have a much cheaper cost of living so the salary will reflect that, $100K in Ohio could equate to $300K in California for the same quality of living. If once you have done your research and factored in the benefits (bonus/vacation/insurance/etc), you still find that the offer is lower than your expectation and more importantly, lower than the standard for the location then it would be time to negotiate. I don't have direct experience negotiating, so I don't know if I am the best person to answer (and input from others is welcome) but if their offer is inline with the standard for the area and your experience level it is going to be more difficult to negotiate, that stated, you won't get more if you don't ask for it. So go into it with a well-researched, strong, and tactful case for yourself. Stay positive in attitude, tell them why you deserve a higher salary, be reasonable in your request, and know when enough negotiation is enough. Best of luck in your job search and my fingers are crossed you get a great offer!! I am glad to hear this series was helpful! :)

  2. I think the interview process gets a bit easier after your first job if you're at the PhD level. From what I've heard, marathon interviews of a few full days are typical for new PhD's getting their first industry job. For experienced hires, a 2 or 3-day interview would pretty much eliminate any candidate who's currently employed and can't get away for that long. Multiple interview rounds are annoyingly common, but asking a working professional to devote more than one full day at a time is unheard of (unless it's a relocation situation where they fly you out).

    If you're a BS or MS chemist, you may have the opposite problem, where you may be asked to give a presentation if you advance to the point where you're competing against PhD's in job interviews. It's a really good idea to try to present at conferences periodically so you'll have some ready-made PowerPoint decks you can use. This way, you know that your presentation has already been approved by your company's management and doesn't raise any IP concerns. I would have been in a very difficult situation if I did not already have a few conference presentations ready to go and was forced to create one from scratch and make my own judgement calls on what is and isn't acceptable to share.

  3. This has been a great series and I really appreciate having it as a resource as I start to go through the process.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20