Preparing for an interview as a clinical research assistant (CRA) for a pharmaceutical company can be intimidating. There is a lot that you need to know and be able to explain to get your next job. Employers use interview questions to better understand your education and qualifications as well as your skills, your challenges, and to get a feel about how well you might fit into their existing team.
CRA positions often require clinical knowledge and experience, leadership ability, and flexibility surrounding travel. If you want to improve your interview performance, you can prepare by testing yourself with these interview questions and refining your answers.
In this article, we’ll review some of the most common and important questions that interviewers ask applicants to CRA positions.
Personal and Work Experience Interview Questions
Interviewers want to get a sense of who you are as a person – what your history is, what your motivations are, and why you might be a good fit for the job. Even if you get every technical question right, there is a possibility you won’t be hired if your “soft skills” aren’t strong enough, or if you aren’t a good fit for the company.
Your answers to these questions will be personal, but remember to highlight relevant experience, be positive, and project a confident commitment to a career path in the pharmaceutical industry and clinical trials.
Here are some common personal and work experience questions:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
- What research certifications do you currently hold?
- Have you ever had to follow a policy you disagreed with? How did you manage that?
- Why are you looking for a new CRA position?
- How would you describe a CRA job to a stranger?
- Why are you interested in working for this company?
Top CRA Interview Questions (with Answers)
Clinical research assistants are responsible for the viability of clinical trials and scientific studies that have a huge effect on the company’s business. To prepare, you should be well-versed in both the scientific and human dimensions of clinical trials.
Here are some of the top questions you might be asked, along with sample answers:
1. Are you comfortable traveling for work on short notice?
CRAs are often required to travel between hospitals, clinics, and research facilities, sometimes with little or no advance notice.
Employers are looking for candidates who are flexible and can show up when and where they are needed. If you have limitations on where and when you can travel, be honest about that, but try to emphasize the flexibility you do have. Most CRA positions require some form of travel.
2. Have you held a leadership role before?
Overseeing clinical trials, even as an associate, requires a high level of responsibility. Employers want to know that you can be trusted to oversee important processes.
If you have managerial or leadership experience, focus on how you might draw on that in a clinical setting. If not, project a willingness to take on new responsibilities and deal with people. These are essential skills for CRAs.
3. How important is attention to detail for a CRA?
The integrity of clinical trial data is vital, and employers know that. What they are really asking when they ask this question is: how do you keep attention to detail while working on clinical trials?
Instead of just recommitting to the concepts of data integrity and safety, explain to the interviewer how you check data and maintain standards.
4. If you weren’t working as a CRA, what would you be doing?
With this question, employers are interested in understanding your overall mix of skills and interests, but they are also gauging your commitment to this job and the pharmaceutical industry.
Choose another job with a similar palette of skills and responsibilities, ideally within the pharmaceutical industry. If you choose a job that is a little bit different, explain why you chose it by highlighting a particular skill required for that job that you intend to bring to the CRA position.
5. What is the best part of being a clinical trial participant?
Clinical trials are always looking for participants, and CRAs are always in close contact with trial participants. Having a positive attitude about the process (for everyone involved) is a green flag for employers that you will be able to sell clinical trials to potential participants and deal positively with those who have already signed up.
6. How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
CRAs can sometimes work long hours, deal with stressful situations, and are often required to travel to work. Employers understand that stress is a part of the job, and candidates who cannot manage stress are less likely to remain in the position. Interviewers are looking for people who already have balanced lives and stress management systems.
Use this question as an opportunity to discuss one or two of your stress-relieving activities outside of work but focus on explaining what you do to fix things when you find that you are out of balance.
7. What did you like or dislike about your previous job?
You can be honest here without being negative about a previous employer.
When you describe your last position, focus first on what you liked about it and how you were able to grow in that environment, before pointing to some of the factors that led you to look for a new job.
If you have anything negative to say about management at your previous job, you should keep that to yourself. No matter how valid your perspective is, in an interview setting, this makes you look like a magnet for conflict.
8. Do you have any questions for me?
When the interviewer turns the table and offers to answer any questions you might have about the position, the majority of respondents say “no”, and waste an opportunity.
Even if you have thoroughly researched the company and the position, it is a good idea to ask questions. It shows that you are interested, engaged, and leaves a good final impression on the interviewer.
If you’re not sure what to ask as a final question, here are some ideas:
- What are your expectations for this role? What does a successful candidate look like?
- What is the company culture like?
- What sort of growth opportunities are there?
- What kind of growth does the company anticipate in the next 5 years?
- Do you have any concerns about my experience or skill set?
Finding Your Next Clinical Research Associate Job
Finding a job as a CRA might involve multiple interviews, some travel, and a lot of patience, but if you prepare for your interviews and keep following up on opportunities, you will find the right position for you. Working with qualified pharma recruiters can help you find the right match sooner.