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How to deal with interview feedback?

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 10:31 am
by Susan H.
I hold a good position as a chemist in development of a big pharma company but I am not entirely happy as there is too much routine and too little creativity involved. So I recently applied at another big pharma for a more research focused job and didn't make it through their "technical interview", which was about reaction mechanisms and retrosynthesis. I requested interview feedback and received a quite detailed email. Conclusion from their side was that they had the impression that my answers sounded like learnt by heart and that I seemed not to have thoroughly understood the principles. This has hit me quite hard. One, my current job does not involve reaction mechanisms and research, so I am out of practice and couldn't catch up fast enough for the interview. Two, I have always set value on understanding - in a similar interview a few years ago for a medium pharma I was told that I had scored best of all candidates during the last year. In the current situation I am sad, confused and insecure (probably I am too emotional for a scientist). I currently also think a lot about men and women in general: is it possible that as a woman I am less logical than a man? How is it possible that after 10 years of chemistry at university (masters, PhD, post doc) and another 7 years of industry experience I am told that I am not able to think? How can I proof that I am a good thinker? How can I deal with such feedback?

Re: How to deal with interview feedback?

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 11:20 am
by John D. D,
One possibility is that by virtue of competitive selection for the need to please as a trait that improves selection and survival in a pyramidal field, that trait needs to be somewhat down-regulated in this specific situation in order for you to find a functional response to it. It is ok that they didn't select you based on this test at this time (you have a job). Since they asked similar questions to your past interview, maybe brush up on the material with a course, tutoring, teaching, etc, so that you: a) focus your energy on something positive, b) re-establish your confidence in yourself with objective validations. If you really feel that your reputation has been slighted by the poor performance, send them a "Thank you for the feedback." response that includes something like: a) scores on a GRE chemistry exam and/or b) a detailed analysis of each question that was asked, demonstrating a thoughtful analysis of improvements in synthetic methods, etc. Mostly, try to focus your energy in ways that are going to help you to achieve your goals instead of in a negative direction. It's great that you asked for the feedback, now try to use the information to your benefit. They may find/choose someone else - you can't control that.

Re: How to deal with interview feedback?

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 12:51 pm
by Rich Lemert
I think you've already identified the problem - you're out of practice. It's relatively easy to remember the 'facts' about something, but unless you use the information regularly it's easy to lose the "understanding".

I'd say these people may have done you a favor by pointing out a weakness that's relevant to the type of job you want so that you can correct the problem.

I'm more concerned about your reaction to this insight. You are viewing the situation as a problem with you (a common feminine reaction, I understand), whereas a guy would more likely blame the situation. Men and women may not think about things the same way, but that doesn't mean one approach is by definition better than the other. I see this all the time with my wife. I don't always understand why she does some of the things she does, but she doesn't always 'get' me either. And, generally, our best decisions and actions have come when we've worked together to solve a problem. Sometimes her approach is better, sometimes it's mine.

You ended your post by asking "how can I deal with such feedback?" I'll end by saying that you deal with it by treating it as what it is - an observation about your skills made by a particular set of individuals at a particular time and under a particular set of circumstances. It is NOT a reflection of your value as a person.

Re: How to deal with interview feedback?

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 2:09 pm
by Dave Walker
Hi Susan,

Feedback is a tricky subject, that can be useful...or useless. It's common practice (at least in the US) to not provide any feedback when asked, because it opens up a company for a discrimination lawsuit. Most of the time you get nothing.

And when you do get something, it's hard to say if it's genuine or not. Tech companies cite vague words for feedback, like "he didn't have a good fit for our company culture." This may be a way to weasel around the legal problem above.

But if you think the feedback you got was credible, step outside yourself and analyze the situation. You didn't have a "technical fit" -- which sounds kind of like the BS above to me, but okay -- so why did they think that? Did they say something about it during the interview, like "You haven't done ___ in a while, how will you get around that issue?"

The salesman in me would, in the future, reverse it on the interviewer to catch them off guard. (This usually makes them respect you more.) If it's evident on your resume, I would use it for the answer to the inevitable "What's your biggest weakness?" I would say, "My biggest weakness? I haven't done ____ in a while, maybe in ___ years. However, I know that it won't be a problem because ___[insert reason why you can do the job here]___."

Finally, as Rich says, there are two ways to think about it, too. 1) What did I do wrong to make them not like me? and 2) Screw those guys, they weren't intelligent enough to give me a chance, I wouldn't want to work with the kind of person who think I'm not a good technical fit anyway.

I can't suggest doing what John D. D says: you don't need a course, tutoring, teaching, or to suck up to them with your GRE chemistry scores. You should thank them for the opportunity for an interview and for the feedback...and then move on to the next interview. You do have several lined up, right? :)

PS When I was interviewing I found Dave Jensen's article on feedback useful: ... t.a1400120

Re: How to deal with interview feedback?

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 4:15 pm
by RSD
My advise - try to keep up the current literature in your field that surrounds the areas you need to improve on. It should let you learn some new things while forcing you to brush up on the underlying, foundational concepts. For example while I'm reading about oncogenes and chemotherapy agents, I'm forced to re-learn the basics of mitosis and the cell cycle, one of my weaker areas.

Two ways to look at this:

1. You've gotten valuable feedback that points to a problem that you are capable of addressing. Go address it.

2. What they really wanted is a specialist in those specific reaction mechanisms and retrosynthesis. You may be a great chemist, but not a specialist in that area.

Re: How to deal with interview feedback?

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 7:30 pm
by J.B.
I'll chime in as a fellow organic chemist.

You've already identified the major issue: you don't think about things like this much and you're out of practice. The only way to rejuvenate your ability is to get into situations where you do. Maybe you can start a journal club where you work. Every week have someone pick an article that you can all discuss at lunch in depth. Otherwise, consider finding a group of like-minded scientists through a site like Meetup who can help you grow in this area. Of course, getting back into literature and picking mechanisms apart is something you can do on your own.

In regards to the interview, I wouldn't give it too much weight. First of all, a lot of organic chemists take too much pride in being able to stump people and swing their you-know-what around in front of everyone. It's how all of my grad dept behaved and it's how one of my colleagues behaves too. There's so many subspecialties of organic synthesis that it's near impossible to know them all in depth. I can talk about all sorts of heterocyclic chemistry I know, but ask me about oxidation states of metal catalysts in organometallic reactions and I'm sunk. Maybe you were just in a specialty that wasn't your best. If it was, then just brush up and be prepared for the next one.

The one thing I will say is that being able to think on your feet and answer questions quickly in the heat of the moment is something that is valuable. I don't necessarily agree with how organic chemists figure this information out, but your ability to do that is very important not just as a chemist, but as a scientist. That's where a journal club could be very beneficial to you.

Re: How to deal with interview feedback?

PostPosted: Tue Jul 14, 2015 9:12 pm
by John D. D,
For DW:

That was an interesting point of view. I think the take-home message from that is: when you do get feedback (even if negative), there should probably be a reward associated with it.

My point with the GRE scores, etc, is to cover the paper trail, but it isn't always necessary to be sensitive to it, and the second more thoughtful analysis might be more convincing than the GRE score which might only test for memory and ability to quickly answer. The 2nd approach is more stylish, the first (GRE) more comparative.

Either way, feedback should probably be associated with Thank you, and less work, although you could open yourself up for contract work in the future with the company so that there is no evidence of ill-will.

Re: How to deal with interview feedback?

PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2015 2:21 am
by D.X.

First, the statement "as a woman am I less logical than a man?" No, quite the opposite in my experiences - some of the most inspiring leaders and logical I have worked with are women, to include my +2 (who was previously my +1) - I have always favored woman bosses because of that sense of logic carried with objectivity. So no, If anything you have greater positive Odds Ratio for being more logical vs us males :)

Second, take the feed back as constructive and not personal. Remember by virtue of an interview where only the tip of the iceberg of your valuation is assessed, any feed back you can get is "perception based". How you are "perceived" - not what you may be in "reality".

This mean you need to work on your skills at interviewing - as Rich said, you're out of practice. In the case you describe, it sounds you were going into territory where you are not an expert. That's ok. So long as you manage that in an interview by stating -"that is not my full area of expertise, however I believe my experiences with ABCD can contribute...etc.".

I wouldn't let 1 interview feedback get to you, yes it may say things you may not like to hear - we're all human - but take it for what it is, and see what learnings you can take.

Good luck -


Re: How to deal with interview feedback?

PostPosted: Wed Jul 15, 2015 4:01 pm
by Dave Walker
D.X. wrote:Hi.

Second, take the feed back as constructive and not personal. Remember by virtue of an interview where only the tip of the iceberg of your valuation is assessed, any feed back you can get is "perception based". How you are "perceived" - not what you may be in "reality".

I think this is particularly well said. Thanks D.X.!

Re: How to deal with interview feedback?

PostPosted: Thu Jul 16, 2015 1:28 pm
by Susan H.
Dear forum, thanks a lot for all the advice - very much appreciated!
I will try to draw the right conclusions from that experience.