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How to Prepare for Any Job or Residency Interview in 5 Easy Steps

If you are reading this, I am reasonably confident that you have been through the interview process before. Maybe it was for a job, maybe it was for pharmacy school or residency--but more than likely you’ve experienced the sweaty palmed, butterflied stomach anxiety that is “the interview.”

But what if interviewing didn’t have to be like this? What if you could learn to not only survive but to thrive in an interview? What if you could walk into an interview knowing that you are the best person for the job?

If you are reading this, I’m also reasonably confident that you will go through the interview process again at some point in your life. And I want you to come at that interview like a spider monkey. If you want to be prepared and anxiety-free for your next interview, read on. If not, here are some cute pictures of cats.

Why Does This Matter?

You’ve read the reports. Our job market is getting saturated with over 12,000 new graduates every year. 

Whether you have your sights set on a residency or not, things are getting increasingly competitive and pharmacy schools are doing a thorough job at preparing their students for life after the classroom. What this means is that on paper, everyone looks the same.

Here’s the truth: EVERYONE applying for the job or residency that you want has leadership experience, professional organization involvement, work experience, and a decent GPA to boot. The best way (and maybe the only way) to truly set yourself apart is with the interview.

1. Pregame Prep: Before the Interview

Know where you are applying. Know what specialty services are offered. Know what kind of patients go there (and those that don’t). If it’s a hospital, know how many beds it has. You’ll have the chance to ask these sorts of things in the interview, but these are the same boring (read: forgettable) questions that everyone asks. Don’t be forgettable. Instead, you show that you’ve done some homework and ask finely tuned questions instead.

For example, if your dream is to work in oncology (you poor bastard) you can find out at the institution’s website what types of cancers are treated. You can find what accreditations the institution has. You can find out if they are a NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center (there are only 45 in the US at the time of this writing).

Doing even a little bit of homework will tip the scales into your favor. Everybody asks “What kinds of patients do you treat.” Not you. You will set yourself apart by asking “I noticed your institution performs bone marrow transplants. Do you perform both autologous and allogeneic transplants?”

Do you see the difference? It's seemingly minor, and that’s still a pretty general question. But it puts you a peg above most candidates. It shows some interest in the position and some prep work on your part. It helps you come across as someone not just looking for a paycheck, but someone looking for a practice

The more specific you’re able to go here the better. Asking what regimens are used to mobilize the stem cells, for example could win you even more brownie points. Just be careful not to bite off more than you can chew by going beyond your knowledge base (more on that in a bit).

2. What (and what not) to Wear

If I were to make a list of places on the internet you should go to get fashion advice, tl;dr pharmacy would rank somewhere near the bottom. There are dozens of places to go online for advice on what to wear during interviews.

Here’s the tl;dr of what to wear during an interview: You have a lot of flexibility, just look professional. Don’t wear pajamas, and don’t look like you’re rollin’ to the club afterwards.

On a personal note, I kind of hate conforming to society standards “just because.” You’re a beautiful snowflake, and I encourage you to maintain your individuality. But don’t stick out for the wrong reasons. First impressions matter, and for better or worse how you appear is a big part of your first impression. From what I’ve seen, every other applicant (guy or gal) will be wearing a suit, so you will look underdressed if you are not.

3. The Question Behind the Question

During your interview you will be asked behavioral questions. Even among different industries, the types of questions are pretty similar. The questions asked while hiring a pharmacist aren’t actually all that different than the ones asked while hiring a hostess for a TGI Fridays. That is, if you know the question behind the question.

This is going to sound like the Matrix, but the question you’ve just been asked is not the “real” question you’ve been asked. Interviewers don’t actually care about the time you disagreed with a customer or a co-worker. They want to know how you respond to conflict, and that you’re able to professionally resolve disputes in the workplace. Hiring managers don’t care about the time you were disappointed in the result of a project you worked on; they want to know that you can learn from your mistakes and implement changes in future projects. 

How do you use this knowledge to your advantage? Simple. Come prepared with specific examples from your life for common interview questions. The biggest predictor of future performance is past performance. These questions are designed to see how YOU have (and would) respond to a scenario, not to see that you can give a canned answer about what SHOULD happen.

Do not tl;dr this step. You must have good answers and they must be very specific. Interviewers can tell when you’re actually relating a story that happened to you compared to when you’re just reciting a general answer.

Your can even highlight a time where you did the wrong thing as long as you talk about the lesson you learned from it. The key thing here is to read between the lines and to be prepared. And no matter what, never say “I can’t think of a specific example.” That’s the equivalent of giving up.

Not being able to think of a specific example makes it difficult for the interviewer to think of a specific reason to hire you--and we don’t want that. Even if you have to embellish slightly or make something up entirely, make sure you have an answer for every question you're asked. Learn to recognize the question behind the questions and ensure your responses are answering that question. 

I recommend having a few Power Stories ready. Most commonly, you'll be asked to show:

  • A time you demonstrated leadership
  • A time you had a conflict with a boss, co-worker, or customer (and how you resolved it)
  • A time when you had to act with limited information or without a policy to guide you
  • A time when you made a mistake (including how you handled it and what you would do differently next time)

Have these stories down. Don't stumble through them. Act like you're not making them up on the spot. Act like you're an introspective person who analyzes her past so she can apply what she's learned in the future. 

4. Communication Skills

Simply put, I cannot think of a more surefire way to increase your odds of a successful interview than by projecting confidence and exuding personality. I’m going to use an overly generic term and call this “Communication Skills.”

No matter how impressive your resume is, if you struggle to make eye contact or mumble when you talk, you are sabotaging yourself. This is a skill. And just like any other skill, it can be developed.

This is a pretty expansive subject, and requires a lot more space than this article can give it. In short: You probably will be nervous, but you must believe that you are a worthy applicant. Do not apologize for being nervous, pity does not win you points. Make eye contact and project your voice. Do not slouch. For the love of everything holy, do not ramble. Be mindful of your speech fillers (the “umms,” “likes,” and “uhhs”).

This takes practice, and that’s ok. Practice in front of a mirror or with friends. You'll be uncomfortable, but it's better to be uncomfortable with close friends than it is with your potential employer. In the beginning, you may have to act confident even if you don’t feel confident. Fake it till you make it. Remember though, that you will get better with time. Improving your communication skills could be one of the best investments you make in your career. You’ll get on better in the workplace, you’ll improve your networking, and you’ll never have a problem interviewing again.  

5. Areas of Caution

You may try to display your mastery of pharmacy by using specific examples of how you’ve expertly managed patients or by asking a very specific question about the institution’s patient population.

While this is a fine tactic, you have to exercise caution. If you have a pharmacist interviewing you, you had better be absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt, 100% sure that what you are saying is correct. Yes, that sure.  

The second you engage your interviewer on their turf (clinical expertise), they are going to scrutinize everything you say with a fine tooth comb. This works to your advantage if you say the right thing. You'll be relating to your interviewer on familiar terms which makes you more memorable.  But you’ll collapse into yourself like a dying star if you get it wrong. Like drafting Rob Gronkowski on your fantasy team, it’s a high risk, high reward move.

As another point of caution, if it's on your CV, you need to be able to tell your interviewer everything about it. If you list a presentation you’ve given, or a research project you’ve worked on, you’d better be able to give a full synopsis of it including the results and any difficulties encountered along the way. In effect, this means that you need to “study” your own material before the job interview.

It’s possible you’ll only be asked to give an “elevator summary,” but you’re dead in the water if you’re asked for more information and can’t give it. In fact, it’s not uncommon to be asked questions about things on your CV just to see if you can answer them. In this competitive market, there’s a lot of resume padding going on. The person interviewing you needs a way to make sure you’re not all polish and no substance. 


We’ve covered a lot in this post, but there is still one more step. You have to put this into practice. If you passively read and don’t take any action from this article you will have wasted your time. Practice communication skills, review your CV, and think about your answers to common interview questions. In no time, you’ll be the Marshawn Lynch of interviewing. Wait, no. Don't be the Marshawn Lynch of interviewing.


Want to step up your interview game? Check out our handy guide, Interview Mastery



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