With so many opportunities for laboratory technicians in the STEM sector, we’ve put together this in-depth interview guide to help those of you currently applying or thinking of applying for lab tech roles.
As one of the most in-demand positions in STEM, lab technicians are pushing the boundaries of scientific research and helping to improve people’s lives in the process.
But what can you expect when interviewing for this role?
Normally, interviewers for lab technician roles will seek to measure your suitability by asking questions about your scientific experience and competencies. Knowing how to answer these in detail can help you stand out from the crowd.
Let’s take a closer look at what you need to do to turn the daunting prospect of preparing for an interview into an informative and rewarding experience.
Step 1: Demonstrate your technical suitability for the role
First up, you’ll need to focus on the scientific side of the role. Because a lab technician is an inherently scientific role, questions about your suitability, skill set, and experience are likely to come up early during the interviewing process.
Though a range of technical questions may be asked — some of which will be specific to the company — there are three common interview questions that will be asked in almost every context:
Q1: “What do you know about the company?”
Q2: “Describe, in your own words, what the job entails.”
Q3: “Review your CV and experience.”
When answering these questions, you’ll need to relate them back to your skills and experience as closely as possible. Let’s explore them in more detail.
Q1: “What do you know about the company?”
You’ll need to do a bit of online research on the organisation and prepare an answer for why you want to work for the interviewer’s company over other companies.
If you’re interviewing with a clinical trials company, for example, make sure you’re well-acquainted with the trials they have run in the past or are currently running.
If it’s a pharmaceutical company, you’ll need to be able to talk about the company’s products and the areas they specialise in.
It’s also a good idea to look at any recent news related to the company. Science companies can have a flagship product they are particularly proud of, so being able to talk about this will stand you in good stead.
If a product or service has recently become newsworthy and you don’t know about it when asked during the interview, it may reflect badly on you.
TIP: You can find relevant information about the hiring organisation — including services, size, locations, financial situation, and growth potential — through a simple Google search or by reading the organisation’s latest annual report. The About Us section of the website may also provide a useful window into company culture.
Q2: “Describe, in your own words, what the job entails.”
When the interviewer asks what you understand about the role, you should be able to provide a sharp and succinct answer that summarises the main points in the job description.
Being able to do so will help prove to the hiring manager that you understand the key responsibilities of the position.
You should describe, at the very least, the top three responsibilities of the role you’re interviewing for. Sometimes, job descriptions are very lengthy, so prepare by combing through the job description and picking up the core aspects of the role.
TIP: Try printing off a physical copy of the job description and highlighting any key words or phrases that you don’t feel comfortable talking about in detail. This will allow you to do some additional research online and prepare a more confident answer. It’ll also reduce the possibility of any questions disarming you in the interview itself.
Q3: “Review your CV and experience.”
In other words, which key attributes make you suitable for the role? If the hiring manager asks you what you can bring to the table, you should be able to talk about it from a scientific perspective — not just saying you’re a hard worker and dedicated team player, but that you’ve employed certain techniques or are interested in certain fields of science.
If you don’t have experience in a particular scientific field, don’t worry. Instead, you can say you’re keen to develop your experience in this field further, enhance your skill set, and advance your career.
That said, previous hands-on experience will help you stand out. A good way to convey this is by detailing the top three relevant laboratory techniques that you have experience of.
These techniques will vary depending on your field of science. For molecular biology, PCR (polymerase chain reaction), gel electrophoresis, ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay), and cell culture are some of the most common techniques you may have experience with.
If it’s analytical chemistry, you will likely have experience of HPLC (high-performance liquid chromatography), GC (gas chromatography), and/or MS (mass spectrometry).
TIP: Whatever your area of interest or lab experience, you need to be able to outline your experience of using specific techniques or health and safety procedures. It’s all well and good saying you’ve got experience, but you need to be able to validate it — so give demonstrable examples.
Know your CV/resume off by heart
As a rule, if it’s on your CV/resume, it may come up in questioning, so be prepared to expand upon it in further detail.
TIP: Prior to the interview, make sure you are fully aware of everything included on your CV and be ready to elaborate in an informed way. If you can’t expand on something on your CV, it shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Additional questions to anticipate
Throughout the interview, the interviewer will be searching out your skills and strengths. As such, they will likely probe deeper to determine your attitudes, motivation, aptitudes, maturity, and intellectual abilities.
Aside from versions of the questions above, you should also be prepared for standard interview questions, such as:
- “Why are you interested in the company?”
- “Of your previous lab experience, which did you enjoy most and why?”
- “What are your career aspirations?”
TIP: Remember that you are being interviewed because the interviewer wants to hire the most suitable person for the role, not because they want to catch you out or embarrass you. Honesty is always the best policy.
Step 2: Demonstrate your competencies
Next, you’ll need to focus on competency questions. Competency questions provide an overview of your soft skills and what makes you a good employee.
To provide a rounded overview of your competencies, we suggest using the ‘STAR’ technique to answer interview questions. STAR stands for:
Situation — Briefly describe the background to the situation
Task — Describe the task or challenge you were faced with
Action — Describe what you did and why you did it
Result — Describe the outcome of your actions
As a recommendation, try to prepare STAR-based answers for between six and eight competencies.
Some of the most common competencies that come up in lab technician interviews include teamwork, communication, conflict in the workplace, and conflicting deadlines.
TIP: Try to have a mix of lab-based answers and other answers related to areas such as volunteering, other fields of work, sporting experience, etc. Providing a mixed bag of experiences will demonstrate your adaptability and versatility.
Preparing your 'STAR' answers
Be as specific as possible in your competency answers and refer to yourself in the first person (“I”) instead of the collective (“we”).
As you’re nearing the end of a STAR answer, make sure to sense-check yourself to ensure you’re providing a result.
The result can be a physical result (outcome), something you learned, something that went wrong and how you resolved it, or even something you’d do differently next time. Being process-focused and looking for ways to adapt and improve shows you’re switched on.
Here’s an example of a competency answer using a STAR approach, with teamwork as the core competency:
Q: “Teamwork is very important in our organisation. What evidence do you have to prove that you are a good team player?”
Situation: “During my BSc, there was a group presentation within the oncology module I was studying. We had to research a specific type of breast cancer and present our findings to other students and lecturers from the university”
Task: “As a group of six, we had to decide how the work would be shared out and who would research each component of the presentation. Ahead of the formal presentation itself, we then met to discuss our findings/prepare the presentation and practice.
Action: “In addition to researching and preparing my section of the presentation, I stepped up as the leader of the group by ensuring everyone knew their responsibilities and acting as the central point of contact if anyone had any queries. I also collated the presentation to ensure all required points were covered and submitted across ahead of the presentation.
Result: “As it turned out, our presentation was well received and we were awarded a 1:1. If I were to do it again, I’d say we could have done with a bit more group presentation practice as our timings were slightly off.”
TIP: The more you practice your competency answers, the easier they’ll become. Again, prepare at least six to eight before your interview. The more preparation you do, the more it will become apparent during the interview and help set you apart from other candidates.
Step 3: Ask the interviewer questions
Remember that an interview is a two-way street. Just as an employer will assess if you have the experience necessary for the role, you must determine if this is the right opportunity for you.
Questions about the role and the organisation
We recommend preparing questions that are related to the role and the organisation. These will help you gain a better understanding of how you will fit into the company and understand what your everyday responsibilities would be.
- How would you describe your organisation’s culture?”
- “What sort of people have done well in this team/organisation?”
- “How is the company positioned against its competitors?”
- “If I were to start on Monday, what would be my number-one priority?”
- “Which three things would make someone a success in the role?”
- “What is the next step in the process?”
Such questions show you’re engaged and keen to learn more around the company and position itself.
A word of caution, however. Some lab technician roles are temporary, so if you’re interviewing for a temporary position, be careful about the types of questions you ask.
It’s not recommended to ask about permanent opportunities or internal career progression as doing so may cause the hiring manager to think you’re not fully invested in the current role you’re interviewing for.
TIP: Don’t talk about money in the interview. If you’re applying through SRG or another recruitment provider, the provider will give you necessary information about salary, holidays, benefits, etc.
Questions about the interviewer
If you know who your interviewers are going to be, it’s a good idea to research them on LinkedIn beforehand. Have a look at their professional background and experience, as well as their role at the company.
Feel free to ask questions about how the interviewer fits into the bigger picture of the company. You can prepare questions such as:
- “I can see you’ve been an employee here for five years: what is it that keeps you at the company?”
- “What is it that you enjoy about working here?”
Again, such a line of questioning reiterates to the hiring manager that you’re switched on and keen to learn more. In all likelihood, they’ll be impressed that you’ve done your research — as long as you keep it professional.
TIP: If you see something on the interviewer’s LinkedIn profile that aligns with your background (such as studying at the same university, studying the same course, or even sharing a hobby), bringing it up during the interview could establish a point of mutuality between you both.
What to do on the day itself
The ongoing COVID-19 disruption means you’ll potentially conduct your interview through video, e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, or another digital medium.
If the interview requires your presence in person, however, make sure you know exactly where you’re going and plan to arrive on time or a few minutes early. Know the interviewer’s full name (and correct pronunciation) as well as their title.
Even if the interview is conducted via video call, dress for an in person, face-to-face interview. Generally this will be smart-casual, but it’s best to be overdressed for an interview than under dressed.
If you are unsure about how to dress, speak to your recruitment consultant.
Once the interview starts, conduct yourself as if you are determined to get the job you are discussing. Never close the door on opportunity. It’s better to be in a position where you can choose from several jobs rather than only one.
If you are interested in the role, make sure you tell the interviewer this.
Be mindful of your performance. During your interview, the employer will be evaluating your total performance, not just your answers. Listed below are some factors and mannerisms that will usually produce a positive reaction from a prospective employer.
- An interested, balanced approach
- The ability to express thoughts clearly
- Career planning and objectives
- Confidence Informative replies
- Tact, maturity, courtesy
Only you alone can sell yourself to an interviewer. Make them realise the need for you in their organisation.
Finally, make sure to thank the interviewer for their time and consideration through interviewing you.
TIP: If a recruitment consultant referred you to the position, call them immediately after the interview and explain how it went. They will want to talk with you before the interviewer calls them back.
Overcoming interview-day nerves
If you have any interview nerves (which is completely to be expected), an NLP (natural language processing) technique called Future Pacing can prove extremely beneficial.
Future Pacing requires you to mentally run through the interview process — from the point of waking up and getting dressed to arriving at the interview and conducting the interview in the best possible way.
Rehearsing this mental imagery many times over will train your brain into responding to potentially challenging scenarios with an “I’ve done this before; everything is OK” mentality — averting panic mode and boosting your chances of impressing the interviewer.
We're here to help
If you’ve got any further questions about interviewing tips or would like to find out more about the latest lab technician roles, please do get in touch.
For more information on working as a laboratory technician, read our guide to lab technician careers.