Whether in pharmacology, immunology, quality assurance or R&D, securing those prized science jobs depends on more than just getting your CV right - you will also need to negotiate what may be some seriously bruising interview questions.

Here are just five that you might face, along with suitable responses.

1. Why should you get this job?

This question calls for good pre-interview preparation. Before walking into the room, pick out three to five characteristics from your CV that make you indispensable, backed up with examples. Employers want to see evidence of a strong track record.

2. Where do you see yourself in three to five years?

Responding with "I have no idea" - as truthful as it may be - suggests that you have little idea what direction your career is going in or for how long you intend to be in the job. A much better approach is to say you have carefully assessed your career aims and learned that you can best develop in the role for which you are being interviewer.


3. What was the worst aspect of your last role?

 Again, telling the truth - such as that you hated the hours or your boss - may be tempting, but in doing so, you can inadvertently reveal a weakness of your own. This, of course, is why the question is being asked. It's more advisable to instead say that your responsibilities were not sufficiently challenging - or something similar that would indicate you are ready for the step up.

4. Why is there a gap in your work history?

Answering this one well is much easier if you can demonstrate that you have actually spent your time in-between jobs productively. Employers understand that from time to time, people can lose their jobs and not always immediately find another one. However, time spent looking after family members, volunteering or undertaking freelance projects can all help to make you more marketable from a science recruitment perspective.

5. What is your greatest weakness?

This is yet another question that draws out unwitting admissions of weakness in ill-prepared candidates. You can avoid becoming one of them by stating a 'weakness' that could be equally easy considered a strength - for example, a tendency to say yes and over-commit. Follow this with an example of how you are becoming better at prioritising, and you will look like an even better candidate for the job.

 

There are no science jobs - whether in chemistry, molecular biology, quality assurance, engineering or R&D - where a well-written CV is not extremely important.

Here are 10 of the errors that crop up most often that could spell the end of your chances.

1. Too great a length

You shouldn't require more than two or three pages for a CV - venture onto a fourth or even fifth page, and employers will be given the impression that you are disorganised and tend to ramble on and on.

2. Misspellings and typos

The apparent obviousness of this mistake doesn't prevent it being made time and time again.

3. Irrelevant information

Talking about ghost hauntings at your last job (unless you're applying for a ghostbuster job!) or that you were the best dancer in the office isn't likely to endear you to science recruitment agencies seeking only salient information.

4. Falsified information

Saying that you passed a degree, diploma or certificate that you actually failed at isn't a mere bending of the truth - it's an outright lie that will almost certainly catch up with you later.

5. Cliches

Simply saying that you are a "good communicator" or "work well in a team" without backing it up with any hard evidence is meaningless to any demanding recruiter.

6. Wrong contact details

Even the most brilliant CV might be of little use if the phone number or email address on it is wrong.  Be wary of stating .com where you should have said .co.uk, or giving the address of your previous rather than current flat.

7. A one-size-fits-all approach

Don't send out the same CV for an information systems job as you would for a procurement role - the CV needs to match the employer's needs, so adapt it to each application.

8. Vague explanations

Simply saying that you are looking for a new challenge that offers the opportunity for professional growth doesn't much serve a potential employer. Instead, state something more specific that focuses on their needs, not just your own.

9. Fancy font

You might want to stand out through your CV, but you can do that best by demonstrating your unique qualifications for the role, rather than merely using an unconventional font that might merely distract the reader.

10. Name and personal details in the header

The technology used by many science recruitment firms today to process applications may not pick up information included in the document header, so we would advise that such crucial details are kept in the main text.

There are many potential reasons why you may not secure an interview - don't allow any of these easily avoided errors to be the cause of your own next job application failure. 

Do you want to hire a true game-changer? The answer to that question might seem to be "yes" for every new person that you recruit, but there is a particular type of candidate that has recently attracted the attention of HR managers in many science companies for varying departments, including Quality Assurance, Regulatory Affairs, R&D and : the 'purple squirrel'.



These especially rare individuals are associated with a combination of exceptional talent and an often 'maverick' personality type that can make them difficult to manage. While they are therefore not necessarily the best team players, being somewhat unconventional at times, there are nonetheless significant rewards to be had when they are successfully integrated.

At their best, the 'purple squirrel' can bring dazzling new perspectives to your organisation and push it in a decisive and successful new direction - possessing the education, skills and experience to be major innovators. Celebrated businesspeople who have been described as 'purple squirrels' include James Dyson, Philip Green and David Ogilvy.

However, it is many of the unique characteristics of the 'purple squirrel' that can also make them difficult to pick up via the more traditional recruitment methods. None of the three aforementioned individuals, for example, possessed a university degree, meaning that they would have been missed by a more competency-based hiring approach.

Instead, science employers looking to pick up a 'purple squirrel' are advised to apply more aspiration-based search and hiring techniques. To know where to look, it is a good idea to first ask yourself what incredible results you would like your organisation to achieve. You will then be able to start defining the kind of person who could produce them.

Adopting this more lateral perspective will lead you to consider individuals who you might not have ordinarily deemed suitable for your vacancy. However, it is also crucial to understand the very different motivations that 'purple squirrels' can have. Such candidates are much more likely to ask about your company's direction and values than the size of the financial package on offer or how many promotions they could rack up.

The key to finding the elusive 'purple squirrel' is disruptive talent searching, rather than the received wisdom of more established recruitment methods. Land such a candidate, however, and your organisation could be set for a new era of innovation and profitability - just as long as it is willing to adapt in turn to the exciting newcomer. 

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