Updated on August 21st, 2018 | Rachelle is a job search expert, career coach, and headhunter who helps everyone from students to fortune executives find success in their career.
Question 1 of 25
Describe a difficult project and how you overcame it?
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How to Answer
Entry Level Example
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How to Answer
The interviewer wants to know how you approach, evaluate and resolve a work problem or complicated project. Telling the interviewer how you overcame the problematic project will show your problem-solving skill as well as prove that you are one that can take on responsibility.
Entry Level Example
"I recently had a challenging school project with a tight deadline. It was on a topic that I was not overly knowledgeable in. I decided to hire a tutor to help me through the outline creation and final edits. I will go the extra mile whenever necessary."
"I have had many challenging projects in my eight years as a biological scientist. When I am faced with a task more challenging than usual, I will create a step by step plan and follow it to a tee. I call in reinforcements when needed and also have an industry mentor who I call upon from time to time."
The interviewer wants to know that you can handle the workload required of you in this position and that you will not become overwhelmed if/when workloads unexpectedly increase. When workloads increase, stress levels do too. How do you react?
"When I have a large workload on my plate, I do not stress over the tasks that are in front of me. Rather, I make a simple plan of which tasks are a high priority and which tasks are a lower priority. The higher priority tasks, I complete first. Through this system, I can focus on my tasks individually, rather than stress out by the multitude of tasks ahead of me."
Entry Level Example
"Here are some suggestions on how to handle a large workload:
- List your tasks and prioritize them
- Think of which jobs add to the company's bottom line, and start there (Closest to the money!)
- Exhale. Relax for a minute and collect yourself
- Organize your tasks by which ones you can complete independently and which ones you need help with
- Take sufficient breaks, so you do not exhaust yourself
- Communicate your struggles with your leadership or team"
"I first take a step back and make a list of all the deliverable work that I have. Then, I prioritize the list by deadline and ease of completion. I always try to hit the easy tasks first and get them off my to-do list. Feeling like I am making progress keeps me motivated."
What are your salary expectations for this biological scientist role?
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Entry Level Example
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The best thing that you can do when asked about your salary expectations is to be open and honest about what you are currently earning, and where you want to be in the future.
"I can share with you what I am currently earning, and where I would like to be in my next position. Currently, I am earning a base salary of $78K plus an annual bonus opportunity of an additional 10%. Last year my earnings were $85K, and I'd like to earn a bit above that in my next position."
Entry Level Example
"As I am a recent graduate, I would like to be offered a fair salary that reflects my recent education. I am most concerned with joining an organization that will help me to grow my career in (industry). Compensation is not my primary driver."
"I am currently making $100,000 per year with two bonus opportunities. I am looking for compensation that is aligned with the role and provides an opportunity for growth."
It's always a great idea to have questions ready for the interviewer. Review the company website and other online resources to ensure the questions you are asking are not mundane, or redundant. The last thing an interviewer wants to hear is a list of questions you could have found the answers to from simply watching a video on their company site!
"I have been a fan of your company's projects and research for as long as I can remember and I am curious what the vision is for introducing your research to new markets?"
Entry Level Example
"Here are some sample questions:
- When would you like to have this position filled?
- How long has this role been vacant?
- Is this a replacement search or a newly created role?
- What is your favorite part of working here?
- What is the company's primary goal for this position in the next 12 months?
- Is there anything from my background and experience that I can clarify for you?
- What do you see as the most significant change in this industry over the past three years?
- Is there any reason why you would not hire me?"
"Thank you for asking - I do have a few questions. What is top of mind when it comes to filling this role? Also, what types of career growth opportunities would follow this position? And lastly, do you have internal candidates who are also interviewing for this position?"
Companies will have confidentiality agreements for a variety of reasons. These could be to protect their trade secrets or to ensure that you do not bring clients over on the occasion that you leave their company. Talk to the interviewer about your thoughts on confidentiality agreements.
"I never have, to my knowledge, broken a confidentiality agreement. Despite my reasons for leaving a position, I would never choose to hurt a previous employer in any way."
Entry Level Example
"No. I have only once had a confidentiality agreement and had no problem adhering to it."
"Confidentiality agreements are necessary and important to protect an organization. I understand the need for confidentiality and take those factors very seriously. I have never broken the trust of my employer."
6. How will you earn the trust of your coworkers? Workplace relationships are essential to nurture. Talk to the interviewer about how you plan to earn the trust of your new co-workers, should you be offered the position. Here is an answer example: "I feel that the best way to earn the trust of my co-workers is to be helpful, always do what I promise, and be honest with them at all times. Strong relationships have to be built on these principles." Here is an entry level answer example: "I will win my new coworkers over by going above and beyond the expectations given to me. I want to be a helpful team member that they can always come to." Here is an experienced answer example: "Trust is something you earn over time with people. I will lead by example and be transparent in my communications. Trust happens when people deliver on doing what they say they will do. I take the approach of under promising and over delivering to accelerate the trust process. With strong trust, teams can accomplish great things together."7. How do you encourage creative thinking with your fellow scientists? Encouragement to others is a great skill to possess. Talk to the interviewer about your ability to encourage creative ideas in your team members. Here is an answer example: "I like to encourage other people to be creative in their thinking and present ideas to the company, no matter how off the wall they may seem. Some of our most successful employees are ones who are confident in their ability to bring forward their unique ideas. I encourage participation through an open door policy and strong praise for those who show initiative." Here is an entry level answer example: "Here are some ways that you can encourage ideas in others:
- Get to know them and what they like to work on
- Send an encouraging email letting them know you like their plan or ideas
- Publicly praise their efforts
- If they are doing a great job, offer them more related opportunities
- If you are a leader, then tell them that you like their ideas
- Say things like 'Well done' or 'Nice work' on a regular basis
- Show that you believe in their quality of work before they even deliver it" Here is an experienced answer example: "I encourage people to tap into the best parts of themselves. It helps to ask probing questions to get them to generate ideas on their own. I have found that by painting a long-term vision for where I want to go, my team will often jump in with creative solutions to get us there."8. What feedback did you receive from your most recent manager? Every manager has a different approach to giving feedback. Some prefer to save it for the performance review while others dish it out on the regular. Your response to feedback is much more important than the input itself. Even if it was negative, if you can take it as constructive criticism, you can improve yourself and your skills. Here is an answer example: "My manager told me that I was spending too much time on the details of a project. I realized that I could be such a perfectionist that I lose track of time and am often hyper-focus on things that just aren't that important. I'm learning to prioritize the steps I need to take, and the tasks that need to be completed when working on a bigger project." Here is an entry level answer example: "My last performance review was positive. I was given kudos for completing tasks on schedule and occasionally ahead of schedule." Here is an experienced answer example: "I frequently received and gave feedback at my last job. I proactively scheduled a weekly touch base with my manager to seek out feedback and connect on pressing issues. The feedback was often positive, and I would take the lead navigating situations I was unclear on by enlisting the expertise of my peers."9. As a biological scientist, you will face a significant amount of diversity among your coworkers. Are you accustomed to this? Working in a scientist role, you will have co-workers that come from many backgrounds, specialties, areas of focus, and years of experience. Are you accustomed to working with a very large or diverse team of individuals? How about cross-functional teams? Assure the interviewer that you can handle an environment that offers diversity. Here is an answer example: "I have worked with diverse groups of people most of my career, including my time in university. I am most comfortable, and happy, in this type of environment because it offers a great learning opportunity." Here is an entry level answer example: "In my current role, I work alongside cross-functional teams regularly. Together, we manage our research projects very well." Here is an experienced answer example: "I would say that pretty much every company I have worked for has valued diversity. Working with people from all walks of life help shed different perspectives and identify potential problems faster."10. Tell me about a career related goal that you set and did not reach. How did you recover from the disappointment? Tell the interviewer about a goal you set for yourself, but failed to meet. Show the interviewer that you are ambitious and, rather than giving up, you are going to try to achieve that goal again. Everyone has goals they have failed to reach so do not be embarrassed about that aspect. The interviewer is more interested in knowing that you are persistent and tenacious. Here is an answer example: "Last January, I set a goal to learn the C++ programming language by June; however, a few unexpected work-based projects came up which slowed my progress. Instead, I have been practicing and studying the language every Sunday evening. I hope to be comfortable with the programming language by August." Here is an entry level answer example: "Right out of university, I set the goal of being the department manager of a junior scientist division by my second year. That would have been six months ago, and I am, as you know, actively pursuing the role with your organization. Although I am slightly off track on my timeline, I do not feel defeated. I know I have the skill set needed to succeed in the role." Here is an experienced answer example: "I wanted to become a principal scientist in my field by the time I was 34 years old. It took me longer than I expected but I realized I needed to go through the experiences I had to be the type of principal I am today."11. When conducting scientific research, how often do you create alternative scenarios for potentially unexpected outcomes? As a biological scientist, you need to be ready for unexpected outcomes when it comes to your research and findings. Being able to problem solve and think outside the box when it comes to changing situations is a valuable skill set. Talk to the interviewer about your ability to create a variety of potential scenarios. Here is an answer example: "I feel that it is essential to create alternative scenarios in all research situations. One cannot guess what will happen in the end, so it is great to be prepared for all possible outcomes." Here is an entry level answer example: "I am ready to adapt at all times. Alternate scenarios are a must in science-based research. One of my biology professors taught me to always work in 'what-ifs' because, in science, plans change and fail on a regular basis." Here is an experienced answer example: "I frequently received and gave feedback at my last job. I proactively scheduled a weekly touch base with my manager to seek out feedback and connect on pressing issues. The feedback was often positive, and I would take the lead navigating situations I was unclear on by enlisting the expertise of my peers."12. Do you prefer to work in the field, or in a lab setting? The interviewer would like to know if there is a particular environment in which you enjoy working. Are you pretty flexible in your ability to work in most situations? Have you experienced a position where the situation wasn't conducive to your productivity? Be sure to know the type of environment offered in this position before the interview. Here is an answer example: "I am able to be productive in most work environments, so long as the mentality is positive and teamwork is encouraged. I enjoy lab work because it's so precise and also field work because it's active and unpredictable." Here is an entry level answer example: "I am newer to my career as a biological scientist and would love to have some hands-on, field experience. It's necessary for me to cut my teeth as a new scientist, in my opinion. This environment is a big reason why I applied for this role." Here is an experienced answer example: "As an experienced biological scientist, I have worked both in the field and in the lab. At this point in my career, my interest is more in leading junior scientists in either setting. The environment is not as much a concern to me as the ability to grown in my leadership capabilities."13. How do you believe you will complement our department, if you were hired? If you were awarded the position, what would you bring to the department or organization? Assure the interviewer that you are the right fit for this position. Here is an answer example: "If I were hired, I feel that I would compliment your organization in a few significant ways. First - I am a fast learner, and I already bring six years' experience in this industry. The time to train me will be reduced. Also, I will bring a solid amount of research on wildlife, which you mentioned you were looking for in your next hire." Here is an entry level answer example: "If I were hired, I will compliment your department by adding value to the pressing initiatives you have prioritized such as conservation of the butterfly community and improving sustainability for the insect population in the surrounding wetlands." Here is an experienced answer example: "From what I understand, this department has minimal turnover, which is fantastic. If hired, I will bring an outsiders perspective with different experiences and methods, and hopefully, I can help find some areas to improve upon in your research and labs."14. What is the most challenging part of supervising biological technicians and junior scientists? As a biological scientist in a leadership position, you may find that you have difficulties with your employees. A few challenges you may face are balancing being the boss and being a friend, interpersonal conflict on a team or having employees with bad attitudes. Show the interviewer that you are capable of handling challenging leadership situations. If you have not been in a leadership role, talk about an example you have had in the past from a great supervisor. State that you would like to emulate that person's leadership style. Here is an answer example: "The most challenging thing about supervising technicians and other junior scientists is figuring out what style of communication works for each person. Also, finding out everyone's motivators can be a challenge at first." Here is an entry level answer example: "I have not been in a leadership position as of yet; however, I have had some great leaders as examples in my past. My most recent supervisor was excellent at keeping the peace in a high-stakes environment. He knew everyone's motivators and worked with those when he wanted better performance." Here is an experienced answer example: "I love being a leader and the challenges that come with it. I would say that the most challenging aspect of leading other scientists is to get past everyone's ego. I am not negatively mentioning this - it's just a simple fact the when you have a room full of highly educated people, and Ph.D.'s, ego's can get in the way. I overcome this by showing up with a humble attitude and being a practical example to my team."15. Why have you chosen to specialize in (enter your specialty)? This question is similar to the popular 'tell us about yourself.' As a biological scientist that chose to specialize in (Enter your specialty. We will use Zoology for this example). Tell the interviewer that you enjoy investigating animal behavior, migration, interactions with other species, and reproduction. Keep your answer to the point and easy to understand. Here is an answer example: "I chose to specialize in zoology because I enjoy studying animals in their natural environment and man-made habitats. Animal behavior has been a topic of interest for me since I was a kid so when I took a major in Biology, this meant that animal sciences were a no-brainer when the time came to choose a specialty." Here is an entry level answer example: "I knew that zoology was my specialty of choice after taking a few courses on animal disease, toxins, and the environmental changes that affect them. As an animal enthusiast, this was an easy decision." Here is an experienced answer example: "I am enthralled with gathering and monitoring data on animal populations, invasive species and other disease control threats. My initial interest came from a university assignment that required me to develop a conservation plan. The research was enthralling."16. Share an experience in which you presented to a group. What was the situation and how did it go? As a biological scientist, you often present your research and findings in a group setting. Tell the interviewer about a time you presented to a crowd and what the outcome was. Don't worry if your last big presentation was in school. Tell the interviewer what your role was and what the information was that you presented. If public speaking is a weakness of yours, this is a great time to let the interviewer know that you are working to overcome your nervousness around public speaking. Here is an answer example: "I recently presented my stem cell research to a crowd of 100 people. I was really nervous during the presentation and fumbled over my words a bit. I've decided to start presenting my findings on projects I'm working on to groups of five or less to practice my public speaking skills and overcome my fear of large audiences." Here is an entry level answer example: "While attending university, I decided to join the school's Toastmasters chapter. Weekly, we would get together and practice public speaking. Because of this commitment, I made for myself; I am very comfortable speaking to large groups and audiences." Here is an experienced answer example: "I am very experienced in public speaking as I give presentations on our departments' findings twice per month. During these bi-monthly presentations, I speak to groups ranging from 10 to 50 attendees, on very complicated and technical topics. Presenting to groups is a task that I am very comfortable in performing."17. What do you know about the study of wild animal populations? As a biological scientist, you know that wildlife management attempts to balance the needs of wildlife with the requirements of people. Pest control, wildlife conservation and gamekeeping may be a few approaches that you have studied in the past. Share with the interviewer your knowledge of wild animal populations. Here is an answer example: "In the United Kingdom, wildlife management is taken on by several organizations including government bodies such as the Forestry Commission, Charities such as the RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts and privately hired gamekeepers and contractors. I've provided research on implementing this program in the United States. It's been fascinating work." Here is an entry level answer example: "While completing my bachelor's degree in biological sciences, I took a course dedicated to wildlife conservation and biology. It was so interesting to learn about the patterns of our local species. Most interesting to me is securing the biological integrity and sustainability of complex natural environments." Here is an experienced answer example: "Through my time studying wildlife conservation, I learned the importance of the roles that so many people play in ensuring sustainability for our wildlife. These roles include conservation biologists, park wardens, land use advisors, ecologists, and conservation officers. It's pretty amazing how many professionals it takes to ensure our wild animal population is cared for."18. What are your strengths as a biological scientist? Which personal strengths make you excellent at your job? Advantages can be skills or qualities that help you overcome difficult circumstances or accomplish challenging tasks.
In a work context, your strengths will help you to complete your to-do list, understand client needs, and help you to apply what you have learned in your training. Talk to the interviewer about a couple of your strengths and why those will help you to be successful in this role. Here is an answer example: "I think my strengths are in my perceptiveness and ability to be observant of the needs of others. These strengths are part of what makes me an excellent performer in a client facing role." Here is an entry level answer example: "Some great strengths to mention are:
- Tech Savvy
- Flexible in Schedule/Availability
- Persistent and Determined
- Eager for Knowledge/New Skills" Here is an experienced answer example: "I think my greatest strengths are in my communication skills- both written and oral. I use these daily while leading my team of junior scientists, writing grant proposals, RFP's or making phone call pitches to our private funders."19. As a scientist, team communication is key to your success. What experience do you have using team-based messaging applications? As you know, when you are working on a science-based project, there is a multitude of moving parts and potentially many hands in the kitchen. For this reason, tools for clear team communication are essential. There are many options for communication software and messaging applications. Give the interviewer a brief overview of the apps you are experienced in and assure them that you can learn their internal system, should it be new to you. Here is an answer example: "I love team-based messaging applications! I have utilized many of them with direct teams and remote teams. They are effective for updating communications and keeping on track with the progress of team-based work projects." Here is an entry level answer example: "I have limited experience with team messaging apps in the workplace. However, I have used them during my time in university for the purpose of group projects and connecting with professors. It would be great to have a simple and quick messaging system in the workplace." Here is an experienced answer example: "I have used a variety of team-based messaging applications. I am best versed in Brosix, AOL Instant Messenger, and Freedcamp. No matter which system you use I am sure that I can pick it up very quickly."20. Tell me about yourself. When an interviewer asks an open-ended question like this, it can be difficult to know where to begin...and end! This question haunts many individuals who may accidentally go a little too in-depth into their personal lives. It happens. Keep your reply light, and work relevant. Share how you became interested in this career path and what you enjoy about it. This question is an excellent opportunity to describe yourself by discussing the strengths and qualities that you bring. Here is an answer example: "I am a competitive individual who is driven and likes to win. In addition to my successful career in science, I also spend time playing competitive sports. I give back by volunteering at the local animal shelter and working for a variety of annual fundraisers in our community." Here is an entry level answer example: "I am a very active individual who loves to workout and go to the mountains on the weekend. I feel that my level of activity on my off time greatly improves my work during the week. I have a high amount of energy to offer!" Here is an experienced answer example: "I am a calm and quiet leader, with excellent written and verbal communication skills. Even though I am quiet, I can motivate my team and keep morale high. I take my career in biological science very seriously and often spend time on the weekends immersed in personal research through reading and listening to industry related podcasts."21. When you suffer a setback, how does that emotionally affect you and your work? Everyone handles the stress and disappointment of setbacks differently. Discuss with the interviewer how you typically cope with delays in the workplace. Here is an answer example: "Experiencing a setback is always disappointing and can be a bit disheartening, especially when research hours are lost for example. I understand that it happens from time to time. If I experience a major setback, I will take a few moments to debrief with my manager and discuss what I could have done differently. Then, I move on!" Here is an entry level answer example: "Setbacks can be trying, but I find that you have to learn how to lose before you learn how to win. While I never enjoy a setback, I use them as a stepping off point to something even better." Here is an experienced answer example: "In science, setbacks happen for a reason, and they do not affect me emotionally in the least. I am a very pragmatic thinker and stay focused despite the challenges that come my way."22. What was the biggest change you have had to deal with in your career? You will likely face change in your career from time to time. Assure the interviewer that you can adapt to significant changes in a professional manner. Here is an answer example: "The biggest change that I have faced in my career so far would be when my previous company went through a major merger. We had to adapt to new processes and management which was quite challenging. In the end, it worked out well for the company, in a financial perspective, so the changes were well worth the challenges we faced initially." Here is an entry level answer example: "The biggest change in my career was learning to report to an entirely new management team when we merged with a competitor. It was challenging because every scientist has their methods of research and study, so adapting to a whole new team was very eye-opening. With that said, I did learn a lot." Here is an experienced answer example: "The biggest change I have dealt with in my career is when my company closed their PA location, and I was asked to relocate to VA. It was a risk on my part but I chose to follow the company to their new location. It paid off as I continued another five years of success there as a principal scientist."23. Describe a time when you went above and beyond the requirements for a project. You give 110% to everything that you put your mind to. Let the interviewer know that you don't submit mediocre work but put your best foot forward. Going above and beyond shows that you are committed to your work and that you love your job. Display to the interviewer that you can do more than just the bare minimum. Show that you can react well when you see that your employer has a need that goes beyond your usual day-to-day expectations. Here is an answer example: "I was assigned a project last month and recognized that the hour's requirements listed were not enough to get the job done properly. To meet my expectations, as well as my employers', I knew I had to work on it at home on the weekends." Here is an entry level answer example: "Last week I noticed that my manager had not completed the schedule for the following week. Some of the staff were complaining that they didn't have their work schedule yet. Rather than going to my manager with the complaint, I offered to take on some of her workloads so that she would have the time to complete the schedule. We worked together for a couple of overtime hours that day and were able to catch her up on everything. It felt good to help." Here is an experienced answer example: "I often go above and beyond what is expected of me. Most recently, I agreed to cover for a co-worker who was on short-term medical leave. I worked 10 hour days for two weeks so that our work did not suffer any setbacks."24. Why should we hire you? If you can't think of ways that you are unique, ask a few friends or family members what they feel sets you apart from other people. Their observations may help you understand how you are perceived.
Perhaps you already know what sets you apart! These points could include any industry accolades, exceptional achievements, additional industry related training, a second language, or how involved you are in the community. Don't be afraid to brag about yourself a bit. In an interview, you are your most influential advocate. Here is an answer example: "You should hire me because I am unlike anyone else you have interviewed before. When I started my current company, I was the youngest scientist they had ever hired. That didn't stop me from becoming a top performing person in the company within six months. I am dedicated to my craft and engaged in this industry to the point where I commit myself to taking at least one science or leadership related workshop every business quarter. I am a competitive achiever. You won't be disappointed when you hire me." Here is an entry level answer example: "I'm qualified and passionate about your cause. I am excited about the idea of delivering value to your organization and will hustle for the opportunity to go above and beyond for your organization." Here is an experienced answer example: "I know that I am the best candidate for this role because I have eight years of exceeding my management goals, training junior scientists, and I know the industry inside out. Also, I was the fastest promoted in my previous position. I am looking for a company that I can stay with for the long haul, something that you mentioned you also value."25. How do you handle stress and pressure? Are you someone who can handle stress on the job? How do you manage the stressful times? Talk to the interviewer about your ability to control pressure in the workplace. Here is an answer example: "I handle stress very well, and when you call my references, they will attest to this fact. When I am under pressure on the job, I focus on the task at hand and make sure not to get distracted. Staying on deadline is very helpful, and I will delegate when necessary to alleviate some stress." Here is an entry level answer example: "Stress is part of any demanding job, and I embrace it to the fullest. I take good care of myself and prioritize my workload to maintain a healthy balance in my stress levels." Here is an experienced answer example: "Stress used to get to me more than it does now. I am experienced in multi-tasking, and time management, which greatly helps when workloads increase. If I need to take a breather, I will go for a quick walk. Otherwise, delegating more effectively to my team also helps."
Writers for Biological Scientist Answers and Questions
Heather Douglass has over 20 years of experience recruiting and hiring candidates. She has a knack for resume writing. You can find her on twitter at @heatherinidaho.
Rachelle Enns is a job search expert, executive headhunter, career catalyst, and interview coach. Utilized by top talent from Fortune companies like Microsoft, General Electric, and Nestle, she helps professionals position themselves in today's competitive digital marketplace.
Rachelle founded Renovate My Resume and Executive Resume Solutions, two companies focused on helping job seekers get their edge back. She helps everyone from new graduates looking for their first placement, to CEO's who want more out of their career.
Rachelle coaches students to executives on how to master the toughest interview questions and how to handle the most bizarre interview situations; all with confidence and poise.
Rachelle trains other career coaches, recruiters, and resume writers, globally. A big part of her job is also spent coaching HR professionals on how to bring the human touch back into their interview and hiring process.
First written on: 06/23/2013 Last modified on: 08/21/2018
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