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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

What made you choose to become a Microbiologist?

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Microbiologist Interview Questions

  1. 1.

    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."

  2. 2.

    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."

  3. 3.

    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?"

  4. 4.

    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."

  5. 5.

    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."

  6. 6.

    How do you prioritize when you have multiple deadlines?

      Your interviewer is interested in learning about your process for completing and prioritizing several tasks at once. Be mindful that priorities might be fluid in certain conditions, so be sure to indicate your ability to assess and adapt as needed. You will want to demonstrate your ability to navigate this task on your own while also recognizing when it is necessary to involve your supervisor in the process.

      Heather's Answer

      "Before I leave work each day, I take a few moments to review my calendar for upcoming deadlines, and I create a manageable list of top priorities for the following morning. This allows me to get right to it the next day without needing to re-center my brain and figure out what to do first. When I first get a project, I also update my calendar with the full task timeline from start to finish and incorporate a workflow to automatically update me with reminders and changes. I always confirm the priority level of a project with my supervisor using a color-code system so I am able to make adjustments as needed without pulling her in too often. Of course, when I foresee a bottle-neck of tasks and deadlines, I loop my supervisor in to help brainstorm how to make adjustments."

  7. 7.

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

      The interviewer will likely ask a variety of situation-based questions testing your knowledge as well as how you explain your process. In this case, buffers and reagents come at concentrations that may or may not be suitable for direct use. This is a common calculation used on a routine basis as a Microbiologist. Don't ask what PBS is as it's irrelevant to the result and it's a common reagent in most laboratories.

      Heather's Answer

      "Well, 100mL of 10X PBS and 900mL water is needed to make a 1X 1L solution. So, I use the formula C1V1 = C2V2 where
      C1 = Initial concentration of solution
      V1 = Initial volume of solution
      C2 = Final concentration of solution
      V2 = Final volume of solution."

  8. 8.

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

      As a Microbiologist, you will likely encounter an audit or inspection of some kind whether internal or external. The type of audit and/or inspection varies depending on the type of organization and type of lab testing done at facility. Your answer should reflect your experience as well as awareness of expectation for particular position interviewing for.

      Heather's Answer

      "I have prepared for a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) inspection by following all protocols closely while having good documentation practices throughout. In addition, all proficiency testing is kept up-to-date. Although, reagents and documentation is organized and well maintained throughout the year, prior to inspection, I have done a walk-through of laboratory as well as review documentation for errors."

  9. 9.

    Tell me about your microscopy experience.

      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. Your response to this question lets the interviewer get to know what types of assays you are familiar with and how well you can answer a question that is somewhat open ended.

      Heather's Answer

      "I've used an inverted microscope on a daily basis for maintaining cell culture and subsequent protein expression assays, virus inoculation and detection, CCID50 and plaque assays. Some of the assays require counting (using the camera and retina display feature) as with the plaque assay for example."

  10. 10.

    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!"

  11. 11.

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

      Your interviewer is interested in how well you stay informed and up-to-date with new technology. Keeping up with new technology and how it benefits the field show interest and in most cases necessary since it's fairly common to bring on new assays. As a Microbiologist, you will be learning new techniques and scientific discoveries; it is part of the job.

      Heather's Answer

      "I have experience with the Illumina MiSeq for NGS of RNA viruses and used Geneious bioinformatics software for the data analysis. Implementing this technology was very useful since not all symptomatic patients had the virus we suspected. Having the ability to test for a plethora of viruses at once saves money and time in the long run and identifies viruses that might go undetected otherwise."

  12. 12.

    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."

  13. 13.

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

      Your interviewer is looking for how well you respond to mistakes - we all make them sometimes! Since pipettes are one of the most used tools in the laboratory, you should understand how to use it properly and understand mistakes that are common. Additionally, you should be able to articulate how to avoid these common mistakes and minimize error.

      Heather's Answer

      "When I pipette in the lab, I am deliberate and slowly pipette the necessary volume. There have been times, that I've used the incorrect pipette size for the volume needed, but I notice this immediately as I am aware of how various amounts appear in the correct vs. incorrect pipette. For example, it's very obvious to me what 1mL looks like vs. 10ul. I would know immediately if the wrong pipette is used."

  14. 14.

    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."

  15. 15.

    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?

      The interviewer will likely ask a variety of situation-based questions testing your knowledge as well as how you explain your process. This question is confirming that you know common lab terminology; you should know what an aliquot is. Also, it provides the interviewer with a sense of how you perform common laboratory tasks. As with any situation-based question, be sure to clearly outline your process so you do not skip around and appear disorganized.

      Heather's Answer

      "When obtaining aliquots of RNA, I get a bucket of ice to thaw RNA samples, then working in the proper RNA designated location, I would pipette (15ul aliquots, for example) per 5 samples into 5 different tubes (a total of 25 samples) and deliver them either on ice if taking over immediately or deliver in a box of dry ice."

  16. 16.

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

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  17. 17.

    What steps do you take to limit contamination?

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  18. 18.

    What is the difference between accuracy and precision?

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  19. 19.

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

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  20. 20.

    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?

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  21. 21.

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

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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.

    How would you handle testing 100 samples?

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  24. 24.

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

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  25. 25.

    What sort of working conditions do you thrive in?

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  26. 26.

    What is your greatest strength?

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  27. 27.

    What drew you to our organization?

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  28. 28.

    Are you a detail-oriented person?

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  29. 29.

    How do you feel about supervising others and their work?

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  30. 30.

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

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