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Microbiologist Interview
Questions

30 Questions and Answers by
| Heather has over 20 years experience recruiting and hiring candidates,
specifically in the health care industry.

Question 1 of 30

Give me example of a large project or task you completed, the steps you took, and the overall outcome.

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Microbiologist Interview Questions

  1. 1.

    Give me example of a large project or task you completed, the steps you took, and the overall outcome.

      The interviewer wants to know how you go about planning out and breaking down a big project. They might also be interested in gauging how well you delegate tasks or seek support from others, so this is an opportunity to demonstrate a balance of thriving as an independent self-starter that also succeeds in collaborative teamwork environments. The interviewers might be interested in determining if you are a good fit for the organization's future plans which may require you to start working on some new projects. Don't feel confined to using an example in the field, directly. A response from another profession or even from your education can be equally powerful if it is fairly recent and you outline it well. Be sure to explain the project enough to give them an idea of its scope without oversharing. Also, balance how you speak to each point - you don't want to downplay the process or overall outcome.

      Heather's Answer

      "Before I became a microbiologist, I worked for a scientific research nonprofit organization in their development department. We ran our biggest fundraising campaign towards the end of the year, and I was solely in charge of the major donor mailing for the campaign. I was given the general parameters and an excel document of potential recipients as well as a tight deadline. I knew that my whole team was under pressure, so I didn't want to add stress to stress. I distributed a detailed outline of who needed to review what and by when, and I followed up by personally checking in with each stakeholder in a calm, positive way. I requested a team of volunteers from our community coordinator and called them in when all of the components were ready to assemble. Together, the team of volunteers and I prepared over 400 separate mailings that included 5 personalized items in each mailing - and I managed to complete the project from start to finish 2 days prior to the deadline! I believe much of the success of the project can be attributed to being communicative, positive, and seeking external help to alleviate internal pressure. It was a huge success!"

  2. 2.

    Describe your experience with writing a stand operating procedure (SOP).

      The interviewer will likely ask a variety of questions regarding specific experience as well as how well you can explain scientific concepts to others. Following SOPs is a part of the daily routine as a Microbiologist. You may also be tasked with writing one if the lab implements a new procedure and/or updates an existing one. This question is confirming that you either have experience or feel comfortable with such a task.

      Heather's Answer

      "I designed, optimized, and validated a new DNA extraction assay to be utilized on several downstream applications. This required not only careful record keeping of preliminary protocols and data, but also the final SOP once optimized."

  3. 3.

    Tell me about a challenging interaction with reporting results to physicians, family members, or researchers.

      Reporting results is a common responsibility of a Microbiologist. The purpose of this question is to access not only your professionalism and communication skills, but your technical skills as well. The interviewer is offering this situation-based question to understand how well you respond on your feet and how you combine your people skills with your analytical skills.

      Heather's Answer

      "When reporting results, I follow the SOP. In one particular challenging situation, our lab wasn't able to meet turnaround time due to repeating a sample to ensure accuracy. I followed our procedure and told the attending physician that results would be delayed. Although, this wasn't what she wanted to hear at the time, I stayed professional and on point and told her we would have results to her ASAP and that quality was extremely important to us and our patients/clients."

  4. 4.

    What steps do you take to limit contamination?

      This question gives you the opportunity to share your experience and knowledge of how to limit contamination and the significance. The interviewer may also be interested in how well you follow procedures (i.e., cleaning/sterilization procedures).

      Heather's Answer

      "I use good aseptic technique; I wear and utilize PPE, and work in designated areas determined by type of work being done such as working in a BSC for cell culture."

  5. 5.

    What is gram staining and why is it significant?

      The interviewer will likely ask a variety of questions testing your knowledge and experience as well as how well you can explain scientific concepts and techniques to others. Gram staining is a commonly used tool in most microbiology labs; therefore, it's necessary to be familiar with the technique.

      Heather's Answer

      "Gram staining allows for differentiating between bacteria types due their cell walls that contain peptidoglycan, which is present as a thick layer in gram-positive bacteria and as a thin layer in the gram negative bacteria. It is typically the first step in bacterial identification due to the quick elimination capabilities."

  6. 6.

    Do you have any questions for us?

      Take advantage of this question! This is a great opportunity to show your interviewer that you are genuinely interested in the position, and it's a good time to show off some of your research about the company! It is also a chance for your to ask about the hiring timeline, as this will help you with your own timeline for following-up. Prepare a list of around 3 questions in advance and bring them to the interview. You can also take notes throughout the interview to ask targeted questions pertaining to something you discussed; this will impress your interviewer and show that you were listening.

      Heather's Answer

      "I understand that you have recently hired a new Executive Director. In what ways have you felt the impact of new leadership in this department specifically, and what does the organization's strategic vision look like over the next several years?"

  7. 7.

    What is the purpose of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and give an example of when you've ran one in the past?

      The interviewer will likely ask a variety of questions testing your knowledge and experience as well as how you explain your process. PCR is a common type of experiment/assay that is ran in many different types of laboratories. It's important to assess the knowledge and utilization experience a candidate has with routinely used tests.

      Heather's Answer

      "PCR is used to amplify a target of interest which is done for a multitude of reasons. For example, PCR is used to determine whether or not a sample has detectable amounts of COVID-19 based on the specific gene targeted in the reaction."

  8. 8.

    In the scenario where your laboratory finds contamination, what troubleshooting step would you take?

      Don't ask what type of contamination! It's irrelevant since the interviewer wants to know if you have experience dealing with contamination (most laboratory professionals do) and how you were able to control it. Reflect on a time when you might've dealt with contamination in the lab. If you are early in your career, then think about experience with this as a student and what you might've learned from instructors and other professionals.

      Heather's Answer

      "In several PCR runs, I noticed the internal control was unusually positive in all samples. What was especially alarming is that it was positive in the negative control samples as well. This occurred on several runs on all of the machines leading me to believe it was a contamination issue rather than a specific failure related to reagents, equipment, or human error. I implemented the addition of Uracil-DNA Glycosylase (UNG) to the PCR assay to prevent carryover contamination between PCRs. This technique proved to be successful in future runs."

  9. 9.

    When your boss asks you to design an assay to detect drug resistant bacteria, provide a list of 3 things you will do before testing and optimizing begin?

      The interviewer will likely ask a variety of situation-based questions testing your knowledge as well as how you explain your process. Both in a research and a clinical setting, new and/or improved assays are being developed and implemented in the laboratory. Do ask whether or not this is a diagnostic assay with FDA regulations so that the interviewer knows that you know the difference between clinical testing and research.

      Heather's Answer

      "First, I'll review current literature to understand what is currently being used to test the particular drug resistant bacteria in question. Next, I'll evaluate necessary and available equipment, reagents, and resources needed. Finally, I'll write a protocol for the procedure."

  10. 10.

    What have you done to further your own professional development in the past 5 years.

      The interviewer is asking this question to determine if you are driven and motivated to progressing yourself professionally. Tell the interviewer about any career related courses, leadership workshops, or safety training. If you haven't attended many conferences or workshops, then consider how you have gone above-and-beyond in your work to learn from others. You might have a mentor, or maybe you've briefly stepped away from your career to try a new job in the hopes of gaining a new skillset.

      Heather's Answer

      "Over the last several years, I have found it extremely valuable to enhance my professional skillset beyond my education and traditional training. As research and collaboration increasingly utilize web- and cloud-based apps and platforms, I took it upon myself to attend a conference on Microsoft tools and applications to bring back to my team. I enhanced what I already knew, and I learned in-depth about apps and functions that I'd never seen. The outcome for my team has been overwhelmingly positive. In addition, I joined a local Microbiology Meet-up to network with top professionals in my area and learn from some of their research and experiences. Networking with other professionals in the field has helped me become a better mentor to junior researchers in the lab."

  11. 11.

    What is the difference between a quantitative assay and a qualitative assay?

      The interviewer will likely ask a variety of questions testing your knowledge and experience as well as how well you can explain scientific concepts to others. These terms and types of assays are commonly used in laboratory settings. You should not only know the difference, but be able to provide an example. Provide an example that illustrates your experience with both types of testing.

      Heather's Answer

      "In my current position, I inoculate A549 cells with patient samples to determine whether or not the sample is infected of X virus. It's a qualitative assay since the result is either positive or negative. To confirm the qualitative result, I run PCR tests that are quantitative since the number of cycles determines the concentration of the target of interest."

  12. 12.

    What made you choose to become a Microbiologist?

      The interviewer is interested in knowing about what in particular motivated you to choose this career. Think back to what might've initially influenced your desire to take this career path. If you can, try to use this opportunity to tell a brief story that will give your interviewer some insight that can be both personal and memorable.

      Heather's Answer

      "I chose to become a microbiologist because I have always been curious about the effects of microorganisms on the environment and its inhabitants. I want to be a part of the solutions to our environmental problems. When I was a kid, I was always fascinated by microscopes and living things that were too small for me to see with a naked eye. As I've grown older, I'm still just as fascinated and now know more about how many of those living things impact the world around us. Being on top of the issues related to this area and finding solutions for them is all very exciting to me. The ever-changing landscape of the microbiology is fast-paced and keeps me engaged on a daily basis."

  13. 13.

    A colleague asks you to ensure the glassware is sterilized for next week's experiments, what do you do?

      The interviewer will likely ask a variety of situation-based questions testing your knowledge as well as how you explain your process. Working as a Microbiologist entails performing different sterilization techniques based on types of testing being done and technology utilized. Since glassware is common equipment used in labs, it's important to understand how it's used and how to sterilize it.

      Heather's Answer

      "Many of the labs I've worked in have trained staff that autoclave all glassware. After using in the lab, I rinse with DI water and then send for autoclaving which kills viruses and bacteria. You can get more specific with your answer if it is required for the specific position."

  14. 14.

    How would you handle testing 100 samples?

      Your answer to this question provides the interviewer a lot of information about you. It highlights the following areas: problem solving skills, organizational skills, and whether or not you think 100 samples is too many or standard. Depends on the type of lab you are applying to as to whether or not you can expect 100 samples at once, in one day, etc...; therefore, be prepared to answer accordingly.

      Heather's Answer

      "I have experience running hundreds of samples a day for large scale projects. Prior to testing, I would make sure there are enough reagents, equipment is available, and determine the number of runs based on both reagents and equipment. When preparing and testing samples, I would open one sample at a time and keep the rest on ice or in a rack depending on the type of sample."

  15. 15.

    What is your greatest weakness? What are you doing to improve it?

      You want to be honest when answering a question about your greatest weakness, and you want to be mindful of what level of truth you are sharing. You might know that your greatest weakness is truthfully snoozing your alarm each morning, but that isn't an answer you want to share. Instead, consider a weakness that doesn't paint you in a light that will deem you unfit for the position. You might also consider a weakness that in some cases might be seen as very relatable to others or even perceived as a strength to some. Be sure you have an action plan in place for improving on this weakness as well.

      Heather's Answer

      "My greatest weakness is getting heavily absorbed in my work. I love what I do, and sometimes I have difficulty leaving work at work and balancing out things and time for myself outside of work. Over the last year, I have been working more on incorporating routine self-checks, focusing on stress-relieving activities, and establishing boundaries so I don't find myself researching a project as bedtime reading! I've also partnered with a couple of co-workers to hold ourselves accountable to reaching each of our personal goals."

  16. 16.

    In the scenario where your quality control fails, what troubleshooting step would you take?

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  17. 17.

    What is your experience with following procedure, preparing for, and involvement in a regulatory audit and/or inspections of any kind?

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  18. 18.

    How has NGS changed testing and what is your experience using the technique?

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  19. 19.

    When your boss asks you to get 5 aliquots each of 5 different samples to delivery to another department, what is being asked and how would you perform the task?

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  20. 20.

    Describe a time when you made a pipetting error and what you did to fix it?

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  21. 21.

    Tell me about your microscopy experience.

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  22. 22.

    What is the difference between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells? And, what is your experience with prokaryotic cells?

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  23. 23.

    What is the difference between accuracy and precision?

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  24. 24.

    When making a 1L 1X PBS solution from the stock 10X concentration, how would you do it; which formula would you use?

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  25. 25.

    How do you prioritize when you have multiple deadlines?

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  26. 26.

    What sort of working conditions do you thrive in?

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  27. 27.

    What is your greatest strength?

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  28. 28.

    What drew you to our organization?

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  29. 29.

    Are you a detail-oriented person?

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  30. 30.

    How do you feel about supervising others and their work?

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