Your curiosity and love of science drove you to take on challenging biology classes and long hours in the lab throughout your college years. Now it's time to get a job that puts your hard-earned degree to good use.
Tackling your first job interview for biology-related roles means preparing to answer questions specific to your studies, as well as more general questions about your experience and goals. Here are nine biology interview questions and answers you might face as you apply for your first job.
1. What should I know about you?
The most basic questions often feel the most difficult, especially when they seem unrelated to the job. But your potential employer wants to know about you as a person, too.
"Students are comfortable talking about theory in a critical, deep way, but they aren't used to talking about themselves in that way," says Rachel M. Leatham, associate director of the Carleton College Career Center.
Before you sit down for an interview, consider what you'll say to this question or the equally daunting "walk me through your resume." To help organize your thoughts, Leatham suggests that you think about why you selected biology as your major:
What interests you about the field? Did you have an experience in your life that made you want to study biology? What did you enjoy about your classes or research?
Craft an answer to this question that touches quickly on who you are, why you picked biology as your major and what you're looking for in a job.
Creating a thoughtfully-written cover letter, well-organized resume and thorough LinkedIn page will give you practice creating a narrative about yourself. Don't forget to rehearse your answers out loud — recruit your roommate or a friend from your study group to listen and offer feedback.
2. Can you tell me about your research and lab experience?
This question is more straightforward. Explain your previous work or academic experience, making sure to include important details like:
- Your responsibilities
- Who you reported to
- Any technical skills or methods that are relevant to this position
- If you were published or presented your findings anywhere
3. What were the team dynamics like in the research settings you've participated in?
Almost every job requires collaboration. The people in your biology interview want to make sure you'll be a good fit in their setting as well. (Remember: your interview might be short, but if you get hired, you'll be spending a lot of time reporting to the people you're chatting with.) Share information about times when you worked collaboratively in your academic classes, on team projects or professional or internship experiences. Try to demonstrate how you've taken on leadership duties and been a contributing part of a team effort.
4. Do you have experience with [insert technical skill]?
Depending on the specific job and its duties, the hiring manager might ask if you have specific technical skills like experience handling living cultures, radioisotopes or viruses. If you can claim that skill, let them know how you have used it successfully.
If you don't have the skills they are looking for, let them know that you're eager to learn. Mention a time when you built a new skill — more on this below — so they get a sense that you are motivated to pick up new things and adapt to a new position. Be sure not to overstate your experience or stretch your skills; that may expose you later in the process or role if you get the job.
5. Tell me about a time when you learned something new.
Recent graduates might not be able to tick off a long list of technical skills that are relevant to each position. Employers realize they will need to train entry-level employers. They want to know that you can learn on the job, so show them that you can and will develop new skills. Whether you took on some unpaid work, taught yourself a computer program to better analyze data, or identified a better process, all of those experiences could serve you well in the interview process.
6. Explain a time when something went wrong.
As with life, jobs don't always go according to plan. Employers want to see your problem-solving skills, especially in science-related fields. If you're a person who excels at thinking through complex issues and asking questions, you will be a valuable resource in any lab environment. Be prepared to tell a compelling story and explain how you've changed based on the situation.
"I want a student to be able to demonstrate some of those critical-thinking skills and problem-solving skills that would help them to stand out among all the other candidates for a position," says Leatham.
7. Have you ever applied for a grant? What was the result?
Some science jobs will require grant writing. If you have experience writing grant proposals, let your potential employer know the type of grant you helped write and how much money it received in funding. If you've never written a grant before, demonstrate that you have strong writing skills and the ability to learn new techniques.
8. Do you have any questions for us?
Resist the urge to say "no" and wrap up the interview. You must ask your interviewer one or two thoughtful questions about the company or the role. Doing so shows that you understand what the company does and that you're interested in learning even more about the role.
"Interviewees should mention research studies or publications that the interviewer has done," says Leatham. "Demonstrating your depth of knowledge and your curiosity indicate what you'll be like in the lab setting."
9. Can you come back to spend a day in the lab with us?
Here's your invitation to learn more about the team and the work they are doing. If you receive this invitation, you will be able to shadow career professionals, ask questions and demonstrate your skills in a hands-on environment.
Spending a day in the lab will you give a better sense of whether the position and company are a good fit for you. As great as it is to hear the words "you're hired," landing a job that you're truly excited about is just as important.
Use your cover letter to help the hiring manager get a sense of who you are and what you'll bring to the position so they set up that interview. Our Cover Letter Builder helps you display your ambitions and skills in a logical format. Pair that cover letter with a professional resume (you can use our Resume Builder for some help) and expect interview invitations to arrive soon.