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theLabRat.com - What questions to ask at an interview in a biotech or pharmaceutical company
What questions to ask at an interview in a biotech or pharmaceutical company

Below are several questions which I find it important to find out about a prospective employer.  This is certainly an organic document and will be changing it as I get more suggestions, so check back often! I before indicated these questions should be asked during an interview, however, as pointed out by a visitor to theLabRat.com, this may not always be appropriate. Please use your judgment on when it is best to ask and not to ask. A little investigation will yield most of the answers if not given in an interview.

  • What is the publication policy of the company? - This can vary a lot. There are companies that don't publish anything at all. There are other companies that encourage you to publish and will even give you incentives for publishing papers. A company a friend worked for gave incentives of anywhere from $200 to $1000 for publishing (depending on the journal), and $1000 for an issued patent. Not that is incentive!
  • What % of company stock is owned by each officer of the company and each member of the board of directors? - If it is a public company I believe that this is a matter of public record but if it is a private company then they may not want to tell you.  Try to determine if it is greater than 20% for one person.  If one person owns greater than 20% then I would say you need to be cautious.  If one person owns greater than 50% then I would advise you to look elsewhere.
  • What is the title structure of the company? - This is one of those you need to ask to see where your job fits into the company and if that meets your needs.

  • Is there established criteria for review and advancement? - Many companies don't have an established system for review of employees or for advancement of employees.

  • Is there a bonus or incentive program? - A company I used to work for talked about incentives but none ever came through.  It is important to have something to show when someone is doing a good job short of promotion or salary increases.

  • How much vacation time, sick time, official holidays, and PTO time? - Companies manage these issues quite differently.
  • What is the cash position of the company? - This is a complicated one.  I usually like to take the worst case scenario.  That means that you take the cash on hand and assume there are no contracts or products and see how long the company would survive with their current expenses (normally referred to as 'burn rate').  If this time comes out to be less than one year, be very cautious.  If this time is greater than two years then you are pretty safe.

  • What is the patent position of the company? - Any proprietary technology?  How does the companies patent position differ from others in the same industry.

  • What is the current status of products and/or contracts? - Weigh the answers to this question with the cash position.  If a company has a lousy cash position but a product coming to market, it is not as much of a risk as a company that won't have a product to market for years but has a decent cash position.
  • What are your major competitors products and how do they differ from yours? - Try to gauge from this how crowded the marketplace is and what chance of success your prospective employer has.

  • Have there been any lay-offs in the last three years? - A measure of stability in my book.  The statute of limitations on lay-offs is three years according to J.C. Rat.  That is not to say you shouldn't go with an employer that has had recent lay-offs, but you certainly should be aware of it.

  • Does the company have educational benefits? - Most companies have the policy in the handbook, but few people take advantage of it.  Comes in handy for computer training, or if you want to start taking classes for an advanced degree.

  • Is the company currently involved in any litigation that could negatively effect their patent position or cash position? - A tricky question!  With success comes lawsuits, especially in biotechnology.  If there could be any drastic change in the companies position in the industry in the near future you should know about it!

  • Has the upper management been involved with any successful companies? - Usually I take this question to mean has any of them produced a product.  If it is a very early stage company, you may want to know only if they have taken a company through VC funding and IPO.

  • Request a list of publications, presentations, and patents from the company (or your department) and academic collaborators for the last two years. - See if they are truthful about support of publishing and presenting.  Also, this will allow you to ensure that sound science is behind the company.

  • How many people have left and how many people have been hired in the last year? - If more people have left than have been hired this is a reason to be cautious.  The first thing an ailing company does to save money is to not replace people who have left.

  • Has there been any resignations in the upper management in the last two years?  If so where did they go? - Certainly people will leave, but make sure if any key members of the management team have left then they went for a better job.  If several have left for an equal position or a step down this is a bad sign

I hope this guide will help you out.  I will be adding more questions in the future. If you have any suggestions, please email them to me.

J.C. Rat

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