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At some point in your career as a specialist in one of the biological sciences, you are likely to be interviewed by someone who will ask you a series of competency-based questions. Understanding the methods and reasoning behind competency-based interview questions will undoubtedly enable you to give strong and effective answers.

Interviews for any particular role within the biology umbrella will generally include competency-based questions regarding your approach to research and your personal skills within the specific area of biological science you specialise in. Whether you’re qualified in immunology, microbiology, histology, parasitology, cell biology or bioinformatics and computational biology, the competency based interview will also include questions regarding your soft skills, character and work habits.

To help you prepare for that all important interview, our Scientific recruitment team have outlined five competency based questions, covering important skills and aptitudes you should display in an interview for a position in these areas!

But first, what are competency-based interviews?

Competency based interviews are designed to make the job application process as objective as possible - removing any conscious or subconscious bias by the interviewer by asking each candidate the same questions. The questions will be driven by a competency framework that is required for the job, and candidates are expected to respond with specific experiences which demonstrate their skills and aptitude for the role. This can be achieved through using the STAR technique.

STAR stands for – Situation, Task, Action and Result. Plotting your interview answers around that framework is particularly helpful when answering questions which zero in on your behaviour and attitude towards challenges you may have encountered in previous roles, as well as your specific achievements within them. Since past performance can be a good prediction of the future, interviewers ask these questions to see if candidates have the skills and experiences required for the job.

Five examples of competency-based interview questions for specialists in biology sciences

Below are some of the most common competency based questions, with advice on how you can prepare to answer them:

1. Describe your favourite research area. What have you performed within it, and why is it your favourite?

This is the perfect opportunity to not only showcase your knowledge and expertise in the area of biological science you specialise in, but also really demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm for making a difference through analysis and experimentation.

When answering this question, you should aim to talk passionately and highlight how you enjoy problem solving or discovering new information. To add depth to your answer you should provide a detailed description of both your relationship with the area of research along with your inspiration. Above all, ensure that your answer is appropriate to the role for which you are applying.

2. What has been your most challenging project and why? What would you have done differently?

While this question can certainly trip up many prospective employees, the good news is that you can turn the risk of a disastrous response into an opportunity to demonstrate your level of self awareness and ability to learn from mistakes.

Candidates who fail to provide specific experiences in previous roles when answering this question often do not seem credible. That being said however, the example you share should be fairly inconsequential, unintentional and a learned lesson should be gleaned from it. Moving ahead without group assistance whilst assigned to a group research project is a good example.

3. Describe how you’ve worked with a team to complete a difficult research project. How did you handle it?

This is a classic competency-based question, so it’s important to prepare three or four examples in advance, drawing on your personal experiences in previous roles. Structure your answer by talking about the specific challenge you and your research team encountered, followed by how you worked together to analyse the possible solutions. You should then reflect on the outcome and what you learned from the experience. This question is designed to not only test whether you have the essential skills for the role, but also determine your communication, time management and team-working skills.

4. Can you tell us about the specific steps you took in your previous role to improve your knowledge about advancements in your area of biological science?

Whether you’re a microbiologist or a bioinformatician, you’ll also want to spend some time familiarising yourself with the industry. You should follow multiple companies in the field on social media, subscribe to industry newsletters, and learn what everyone in that sector reads. (And if you’re unsure of which leaders to follow and what newsletters to subscribe to, then ask the next time you’re in an informational interview, it’s a great response for those times when someone asks how they can help).

5. What has been your biggest achievement in your research career and what was the impact?

When choosing your achievement, it’s important to consider which specific moments in your career you’re proudest of and why you value in these moments. That way, you can show the interviewer how well your values link with company culture. You also need to explain your achievements related to the skills required in the role as it will indicate why you’re a great match and should be hired. And finally, you need to back up your statements with concrete facts and figures surrounding your achievement.

Are you an expert in any particular area of the biological sciences?

Whether you specialise in immunology, microbiology, histology, parasitology, cell biology or bioinformatics and computational biology, we at Search Scientific recruit for a wide range of jobs within the sector. To find out more about the wide range of opportunities available, you can contact our go-to guy in scientific recruitment, Nick Verner on 0141 272 7797. Alternatively, have a look a look at our current vacancies by clicking the button below!