Unemployed Pharmacist: Interviews

MAY 27, 2018
During my employment intermission, one valuable piece of advice I received was, 'Your new boss will be the most important factor in your job search. Make position and money secondary factors.' Indeed, your new boss will likely be one of the people you work with most in your new position. They should be one of your primary sources of feedback and mentoring. They should look out for you, because your success is also their success.

It is likely that the first time you meet your new boss will be during an interview. That’s what we’ll talk about in this last piece of the Unemployed Pharmacist series.


The interview 
You will hopefully have more than 1 interview while you are in the market for a job, but it is not an absolute necessity. You may be fortunate enough to interview for a job you’re confident will be a fit—and get it! But whether it’s 1 interview or 12, you need to prepare. And yes, all that advice about dressing professionally, making eye contact, bringing copies of your curriculum vitae is good advice, but it covers the easy part.


Chances are it has been a while since you last interviewed. Maybe your only recent experience in interviewing has been on the hiring side. You have used your own set or a human resources-approved set of standardized questions. They seem pretty easy to answer, though perhaps you’ve had some candidates come through where your reaction is just 'Wow! Where did they come up with that answer?,' or 'They kept recycling the same story over and over again!.' You don’t want your prospective new boss to walk away with an impression like these after your interview. To prevent these impressions, the best thing you can do is prepare answers to the most common questions, and prepare questions to ask after the interviewers finish their questions.
  

Preparing for Questions of You
Each company will probably have its own unique set of interview questions. And the ones listed below will not all be asked verbatim. In fact, it is possible that none of them will be asked. However, unless you have a 'cheat sheet' of the questions they will ask, my suggestion is to review the questions below (or a similar set), and prepare thoughtful answers to them in advance of the interview. Then, take time to practice giving those answers. Don’t practice too much; just get to the point of being familiar with your answers. The first set of questions are general questions for which to prepare.
  • Tell me about yourself. This is often the first question you’ll be asked. Take some time to think about how you might sum yourself up. Balance the professional with the personal; give the interviewers some insight into you. Don’t spend more that a minute answering this question and avoid regurgitating items covered on your curriculum vitae (CV).
  • Why are you leaving or why have you left your job? This is an obvious question for an interviewer to ask. The reason you give isn’t simply an answer to the question; it gives insight into your character and motives. Answer honestly, but professionally, positively, and objectively. Don’t disparage your former employer!
  • Why should we hire you? Really think about this question. What sets you apart from other applicants? Of course you probably don’t know the other applicants, but if this question is asked, you don’t have to answer why you’re better. Instead, describe what skills and abilities you have that make you a great fit. Along the same lines, you may be asked to explain why you want the job. It is not enough to state why you’re a good fit; an interviewer wants to know that he/she is hiring someone qualified and motivated. Be sure you can elaborate on aspects of the job that excite you.
  • What are your goals for the future? This question answers the obvious, but will also give insight into how well the job for which you’re interviewing fits your goals, and an idea of how long you might remain with the company. Think of how you would answer in order to convey how well the job fits your goals, and that you will be with the company for longer than it takes to get your first paycheck.  
  • Tell me about 'X' from your CV. Don’t forget about that document you submitted with your application. Anything on it is fair game for questions, and you should be the expert to share more details. Review your CV and make sure there isn’t anything on there you’re unprepared to describe in some detail.  
In addition to the questions above, it will also be helpful to prepare for questions that require you to draw upon your professional experiences. It is highly likely that you will be asked to provide specific examples from your past roles; the questions below should help you have examples ready to give in the interview and avoid excessive “ummms” and “ahhhhhs.” Try to have a different example for each question, and try to pull from various roles and projects over the past 1-2 years.
  • What is your greatest strength? How have you leveraged this in a past role?
  • What is your greatest weakness? How you have worked to improve upon it?
  • How do you handle stress and pressure? Give an example.
  • Describe a difficult work situation or project, and how you overcame it.
  • How do you handle success? How do you handle failure? Give an example of each.
  • Do you work well with other people? Tell me about a project that illustrates this.
Preparing Questions for Your Potential Employer
It is very important to prepare questions to ask of your potential employer during the interview. If you reach the end of the interview and have asked no questions, it may be perceived that you have no interest in determining your fit in the role. Balance the number of questions you ask with the time allotted for the interview; you do not want to ask too many questions and not respect the interviewer’s time.

Focus on questions that would help you decide if you would want to work for the company, regardless of benefits and compensation. You should have some idea of the compensation based on the role and, if needed, can attempt to negotiate it if you advance in the interview process and receive an offer.


For the questions you ask, it can be helpful to group similar questions together. This way, if 1 of the interviewers goes beyond your initial question and answers others, you can mark them off and not look disorganized seeking answers that were already given. My suggestion is to group your questions into four areas: company, position, performance, and benefits.
 
Company
  • Can you describe the company’s culture to me?
  • What is the company’s greatest strength right now? Weakness?
  • What is the company’s biggest opportunity? Threat?
  • What do you like best about working for the company?
Position
  • Can you describe a typical day for a person in this role?
  • I see 'X' in the job description. Can you provide more detail around that?
  • What does the timeline for training look like for this role?
  • Who will I work most closely with in this role? Can you provide me with the reporting structure for this role?
Performance  
  • How is performance measured and is it associated with a bonus or other incentives?
  • What tools would a person in this role be given to audit/empower their own performance?
  • What are your expecta-tions of the person you hire 'X' months after being hired?
  • What attributes do you see as the most import-ant predictors of being successful in this role?
  • Can you describe the opportunities for advancement?
Benefits
While it can be important to understand the benefits offered, it may be the best use of time to simply ask for a summary of benefits offered to take home and review after the interview.
  • Medical/dental/vision coverage
  • 401k and stock options
  • Vacation time policy (paid/unpaid time off) including holidays
  • Life and liability insurance
  • Flexible spending account, health savings account
  • Long-term and short-term disability insurance

Post-Interview
After your interview is complete, take time to reflect on it. How well did you do in answering questions? How happy were you with the answers your received from the interviewer(s)? Remember, the interview is as much about you making sure you’d be a good fit in the role as it is about the employer finding the best candidate.

Return to your spreadsheet of opportunities. Document notes. Add more columns comparing the variables of each position. Update your rankings if the interviews have caused them to change. If all goes well, following your interviews, you’ll start to receive some offers and then it will be time to make a decision—the intermission is over.  


Hopefully, my first-hand experiences and advice shared in this article and series can be a help to you, should your find yourself as an unemployed pharmacist. Reach out to me with questions. Remember, you’re part of a great profession with a diverse range of career options and, again, pharmacy is a small world. Use those aspects to your advantage. Best of luck!
 


Michael Crowe, PharmD, MBA, CSP, FMPA
Michael Crowe, PharmD, MBA, CSP, FMPA
Michael Crowe earned his Doctor of Pharmacy from Ferris State University and completed a PGY-1 community pharmacy residency. Dr. Crowe has nearly ten years’ experience in specialty pharmacy, with a foundation in community pharmacy, as well as experience in clinical pharmacy, people and process management, program implementation, teaching, and technology. He founded the Genesee County Pharmacists Association in 2011 and earned an MBA from The University of Michigan in 2013. He has served on the Michigan Pharmacists Association Executive Board for over four years, currently serving as Speaker of the House of Delegates.
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