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Interviewing for a marketing position

PostPosted: Fri Jan 29, 2016 10:53 am
by Vincent M.
For a while I have been lurking and reading a lot of the helpful information on these forums, but now I would like to ask you guys for more specific advice.

I have been invited for an interview for an entry-level marketing manager position at a medium-sized biotech company. During my current first postdoc, next to my lab work, I have done some basic marketing research, competitor analysis, financial forecasting, business development, and I was involved in a patenting process, all related to the commercialization of my project. Obviously, this is a major reason as to why I am invited, but the business experience is all more or less self-taught and limited, and I have no formal training in this field. In essence I am still a scientist. Luckily, the job description asks for people with a life sciences background, and not specifically for any marketing experience.

Since I read that some of the regular members went into marketing with a similar scientific background I was wondering what kind of questions I could expect in the interview. From your point of view what would the person hiring be looking for in me? What should I emphasize in the interview; examples of my experience, my enthusiasm to make a full switch to marketing, my personality, my PhD-learned soft skills (analytical mind, perseverance, independence, etc.), or the whole package perhaps?

Thank you so much for any advice!

Re: Interviewing for a marketing position

PostPosted: Sun Jan 31, 2016 8:18 am
by D.X.
Hi Vincent -

I'm in Marketing and have been working with Marketing in prior rolls as my daily co-partner.

The experience here have is good - a few points from my end.

First don't come accross as an academic -- just remember your job is to advance a product in the market and for you your pillar of strength comes from your transferable scientific and analytical skills.

With you experience you've probably already learned the fundamentals of knowing the market dynamics - emphasize that experience and explain what you got out of it. - it hope you learned all that you did was to help you understand where to focus your attention vs where not to focus. You probably learned the importance if asking the right questions, looking at the data and deciding what the keys points to know and target resources. Emphasize that.

Consider the goal of marketing. In any field the role of marketing is to change behavior. In Pharma those behaviors include raising awareness of disease and treatments - ultimately getting to Brand Choice - enter your reasons to believe and unique selling points . All on the context of fostering good prescribing practices and good patent outcomes.

Be ready to address questions on where you would decide to focus efforts, i.e. Which MDs to call on. How would you decide that? With which data? What would be your communication strategy? Why? What data would tell you that? How would you get that data? How Would you position? Why? Etc.

Also consider your manager level role - a key task for you would be to make promotional material for implimentatiom by sales staff or other communication channels. Fundamentally irrespective of what that material is you have to be evidence-based, on label, accurate, fair balanced, not misleading - in other words - enter your scientific back ground. All advertising claims must be substantiated by the data. Evidenced based. Or face legal ramifications. So this is your strength - look up FDA OPDP for Guide on promotion in Rx or the UK ABPI Code of Practice for fundamentals in Pharma promotion. I like the UK ABPI but see what OPDP had I think that's more granulate science-wise? Not sure. You will get good fundamentals there accross the spectrum. Where you will get hit is clearly defined in ABPI. So use that.

You may also need to talk about working cross functionally. You will need to work with Medical to ensure medical accuracy, market research, Sales, etc. so talk to that- basically leveraging thier experience while paying forward.

Ask me more questions as you need. I took the approach that you are well informed but just remember don't get too lost in details. See the big picture. In marketing you have to know the picture and understand the contributing details.

Also emphasize you ability to track market dynamics proactively ? How would you do that , what resources would you use (hint: use your cross-funtional counterparts such as sales and where compliant, your RD stakeholders).



Re: Interviewing for a marketing position

PostPosted: Sun Jan 31, 2016 10:18 am
by D.X.
Couple other points. And this can vary from company to company but I consider Marketing to be a high leadership reaponsibility role.

In general, in Pharma - Marketing is an integrating function as well. By that - in theory- the Matketing function sets the overall strategy where other functions align to deliver operationally and tactically to the strategy. This means a lot of cross functional working and a lot of leadership. It can be that are a lot of folks are looking to you to set direction and you have to do in what's called a "leadership by influence" way. You will need to build that strategy and deliver it in concert with others - this is where the practice of Marketing can be come quiet a challenging role if you are not ready for it. As you grow that accountability and responsibility will intensify - in my opinion much more than many other functions - so be ready to talk to that.

I also forgot to mention - be ready to discuss working with tight timelines, budgeting and working with 3rd party service providers - you will have to deliver quality in time and on budget.

Also be ready to discuss performance - how would you KPI success - u have market research as one tool here - but you also have your IMS data, etc. etc.

As for me I'm a Global Brand Team Lead - this post is held by a Marketing person in most companies - for me I have to build a strategy accross many functions such as Medical Affairs, Regulatory Affairs, Drug Safety, Industrial Operations to include QA, Technical Production, Drug Supply and our Global sales organization - a pretty high role in Marketing so my role as Marketing is a bit. Senior but you will have some integrating elements as a Mktg manager. Maybe your direct day to day contact will be with Medical and Market Research and Sales and less of the other functions - that was the case when I was product manager (which sits in the Marketing function). You will be very tactical I think - less strategy and definitely operational - probably supporting a Mktg Manager Senior to you.

If you are in the US things can be a bit different in execution but ultimately there is a unifying strategy coming in with probably a Marketing person steering that ship.

Try some informational interviewing and so research product manager job descriptions and titles to see more about what you would be doing.

Just be aware of one gap you will have - no customer facing experience - i.e. Sales - I think this could be a huge on in my opinion and I personally wouldn't hire you - but now you know you should be ready to defend that - how would you overcome that (hint keep close contact to field staff and make sure your getting customer insights through routine HCP visits - bringing that to the customer insights experience you have - market research etc etc,

Good luck


Re: Interviewing for a marketing position

PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2016 12:10 pm
by Vincent M.
Hi DX,

Thanks for your helpful and detailed answer. Very practical and informative; it certainly gives me plenty of points to look into. The informational interviewing that I’ve been doing has been more focused on being a scientist in an industrial setting, and then eventually transitioning into a non-science position. I didn’t expect to be considered for a marketing role at this stage already.

You’re spot-on with my lack of sales experience. I suppose I could ask to be included for a couple of months in a rotation within the sales department?


Re: Interviewing for a marketing position

PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2016 2:16 pm
by D.X.
Hi Vincent - you could ask for it but put it more as mid term development answer - you could say something like "I am aware that i will need Sales experience to progress in Marketing so I would aim in the mid term say within 2 years to obtain hands on Sales experience".

Don't ask for a rotation - usually that's reserved for talent pool employees (you have to earn that) and usually District Managers don't like it - that's why talent pool candidates can get that experience with the backing of HR. Better the first approach - in the shorter term you can request a certain number of "shadowing visits". In those visits if you get them - my best advice: keep thy mouth firmly shut until the sales rep agrees you can participate in the discussion - that's why they call it shadowing visits. You can hurt ur credibility and the rep.

Good luck !


Re: Interviewing for a marketing position

PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2016 9:06 pm
by Dustin Levy

Just as there are many different flavors of scientists, so goes for marketers. During your interview process, it will prudent to probe what exact type of marketing skills they are looking for. On one hand, this will help you identify how well you fit the position, and on the other, this will demonstrate that you have a conversational understanding of what marketers do and will position you well in front of your interviewers.

It’s common to speak of upstream vs. downstream marketing. Downstream marketers are expected to have a sales orientation as they are working with today’s customers to generate today’s revenue from today’s products. Solid oral and written communication skills are required and it’s not uncommon for scientists possessing these skills to be considered for such roles. In upstream marketing, you are more responsible for setting long-term strategy, analyzing markets, and shaping your company’s R&D priorities.

See more details here:

It’s not uncommon for a technical company to search for degreed scientists to fill these roles as some level of technical depth is required for each. I suspect in this case that your opportunity is for a downstream role, but you should verify that during the interview process. Upstream marketers generally carry more business experience so I think it’s more common for entry-level scientists to land in downstream roles.

A third flavor is marketing communications, which gets directly involved in public relations, branding, and advertising. This is also a downstream role, but is more responsible for supporting the sales function rather than being directly involved in the sales process. Probably the least likely place for an advance degreed scientist to land, but it does happen.

One final caveat – in a small company, an individual marketer may be expected to wear all three hats at once. This is great experience to get early in your career, but will be a heavy workload.

During the interview process, you will likely be asked “where do you want to be in 5 years”, so I recommend thinking through these roles and deciding which will be of most interest to you. If you’d like to get involved in strategy and leadership, then starting in a downstream role, proving yourself, then moving upstream is a great vision to lay out during your interviews.

Keep us posted as I'd love to hear how this works out for you.


Re: Interviewing for a marketing position

PostPosted: Wed Feb 03, 2016 11:23 pm
by Dave Walker
Dustin: another top-notch post. Working a small company I had no concept of upstream/downstream/communications, but it's a very useful concept.

I strongly second Dustin's idea of incorporating this into your answer to "Where will you be in five years?" One answer would say a lot of good things about you.

Re: Interviewing for a marketing position

PostPosted: Thu Feb 04, 2016 5:14 am
by D.X.
I think very good post by Dustin - very good points.

I would just add to be careful on the use of upstream and downstream terminology,
Not all will be familiar with the terminology.

What will be known is strategic vs operational/ tactical. Your upstream as Dustin described is the Strategic element and your downstream is more operational/tactical.

The latter you are doing activities that are more directly targeting the customer (getting to thier hands) - this is where you will start as a junior product or brand manager - more the executioner of the operational plan (driving the tactics) But certainly you will contribute to the strategy as you will have direct market insights I.e what's resonating or not resonating.

For Strategy yes that is upstream - it sets the direction for where one will direction operational planning it is more long term focused , leveraging data from many sources. And yes more senior folks are here.

But be attentive to the company you are interviewing - especially in Pharma - just because a company may be small - does not mean they are not operating with the same complexity of a big Pharma. Especially with the mid-sized ones. You think you're in Merck if for example you're working at Shire. Don't let the size fool you in other words. In the much smaller companies like the one I am in - one has to be both strategic and operations - here you would need to be careful not to position your long term goals to be exclusively strategic - in these types environs you can give the impression that you will want to live in a strategic ivory tower with out rolling your sleeves up and getting dirty in the tactics. You can get to those more ivory tower strategy roles much later on in career - probably getting some international experience wil get thou there - and I think you can maybe talk to that too if relevant for you.

Anyways careful with terminology - and careful with perceptions you give - I would say you should be focused on delivering operational excellence via quality tactics - aligned to strategic direction that was built from market insights - you can say you would hope to contribute to strategic direction as you get feed back from you tactical activities - then you can link that into some of the how's etc etc etc. but see what you can learn about the company you are going to, org chart will give you and idea of what they are looking for in the context of the job description.

Good luck!


Re: Interviewing for a marketing position

PostPosted: Mon Feb 15, 2016 2:42 am
by Vincent M.
So, I had my interview and I thought I'd give you guys an update on how it went.

The position was a very general marketing position (tactical/downstream with input to upstream) since the marketing/sales team is very small. The interview itself went very well actually, but the next day they contacted me saying that they would continue with another candidate. I had a good rapport with the HR director and the Marketing Director, I gave good answers to technical marketing questions (thanks D.X. and Dustin), my scientific background was great and they even complimented me a couple of times during the interview. However, according to them I gave the perception that I am still too much of an (analytical) scientist and not totally committed to marketing/sales. Their fear being that I would not be challenged enough and would become bored doing marketing activities. I suppose this was a fair assessment, because I like doing science (just not in an academic setting) and I can’t say how I would feel doing only marketing all day long, every day. Most likely I could have done a good job, but I’m not sure if I would be happy doing it. They felt I would be a better fit being a scientist in a start-up environment in which I have contact with all the business aspects, but still use my scientific skills as a core asset. Looking at my background I suppose this is a more logical fit and also something I would be happy doing.

Overall, I have to say that the interview was a great experience. It gave me confidence in my scientific and non-scientific skills and my interviewing abilities and more information on where to go next.

Thanks again for all your help! I’m sure the information in this thread will be helpful for others in a similar situation.


Re: Interviewing for a marketing position

PostPosted: Tue Feb 16, 2016 4:27 am
by D.X.
Hi Vincent,

As I read it, despite the outcome, you had a positive finding which is that you gained some insight into your preferences of what an ideal Job could look like for you. That can be a great side-effect of interviewing - you may actually learn something about yourself based on the experience and self-reflection post interview.

On Point I will raise is dont' let anyone tell you what you're not especially in the context of your Job aspirations. Probably not in this case, but far too often you will find other use the rationale of "too scientific" or "too academic" to not proceed with your application. There can be some truth and maybe should Trigger some relfections on how you're coming accross, on the other hand it can be furthest from the truth.

I had an experience once when I was interviewing for a Medical Writer Job for a 3rd Party Medical Communications Service Provider back in the day. Medical Writing is in fact a technical and scientific Job - can be very high science, but I was deemed as too scientific and too academic (would you believe?). But that one tiny feed back didn't stop me or deter me, i stil ended up in Industry in some pretty cool roles, sitting in Marketing now. Obviously that interviewer was wrong about me. So be senitive to that, don't let one interview detract you from something you could be interested in , now or in the future.

Thanks for sharing and good luck.