We had a chat with a recruiter about what kind of questions he would ask candidates applying as clinical research coordinators. Who is the perfect candidate and how do you maximize chances to get hired?
What kind of questions do you ask a person you’re interviewing when looking for a study coordinator?
– Let me just back up and answer this question for experienced coordinators and then how I would interview an inexperienced coordinator. In fact, I’ll start with the inexperienced coordinator first. I do this often, especially in this economic climate. You can get really good staff members, really good people who can hopefully become excellent coordinators when they’re fresh out of college.
Good candidates fresh out of college
The job market unfortunately isn’t the best right now. Businesses were booming a couple of years ago. The good news is that research sites are still hiring here and there. It will remain to be seen how that will progress and how it will shape in the near future. For now, the point is that if you’re a research clinic you can find excellent candidates for study coordinators fresh out of college. I’m talking about people with bachelor’s, or even master’s degrees in science related fields.
You have to know what clinical research is all about
When I interview someone who does not have any experience, maybe someone fresh out of college, I ask them what they know about clinical research. They have to know something about it. Preferably, they should know quite a lot. That shows they are very interested. If they’re coming to the job interview off of an ad, maybe on Craigslist or how ever they’re coming to you, they obviously know they’re going to have the interview with you. And they should obviously know that you do clinical research, so they should have taken some time to at least check out what clinical research is.
Being well prepared shows interest
If they don’t know the answer to that question, I might give them a brief introduction to research, but I really don’t think that this person has any interest in research, so unless they’re a really good candidate or they interview really well, that’s already a bad sign if they didn’t take the time to research what clinical trials are all about.
Are you the perfect match for the therapeutic area
I then ask them what medical therapeutic areas they are interested in. I find out if that matches up with what kind of trials we’re doing. I also ask them what their future career goals are. Do they want to be doctors, do they want to be a nurse, do they want to be a nurse practitioner, maybe a physician’s assistant, or whatever it may be.
Specify your career goals
I try to find out what they’re career goals are because clinical research study coordinator is a very difficult position. It’s rewarding, but it’s very challenging in the beginning. There’s a steep learning curve and a lot of people won’t make it through.
My concern as an employer would be that, I invested a lot of time and effort into training this new person, a very promising person, and then they give up because it doesn’t necessarily match up with their career goals. I try to find out ahead of time before I hire them what their career goals are so that I can hopefully see some kind of synergy and some kind of sign that this person will last throughout this steep learning curve. Thus, we can later reap the rewards of their knowledge together in the form of a raise, in the form of a promotion. I do it all the time with my companies.
That’s how I would interview someone who’s not experienced in research. There are a number of other questions I would ask, but to keep it short those are the top three things you might be asked. For those of you who are planning to be coordinators, this information is priceless for you. Hopefully, you think it’s valuable.
What to expect if you are a clinical trial coordinator already
How would I interview someone who is a coordinator already, maybe at another company, or maybe they have experience as a coordinator? I would ask them what kind of trials they’ve done. Again, what therapeutic areas. Does it match up with the studies that I’m having? If it does, it’s better. If it don’t, it doesn’t mean you’re out of consideration. If you don’t have the same therapeutic expertise background that the site conducts trials in, I will find out if there’s a willingness to learn and why. Again, career goals are very important. What do you see yourself doing five years from now? Do you e.g. wanna become a CRA? If it matches up with the kind of studies you’re doing, you probably have a keeper.
Again, therapeutic areas and career goals are important
Then I might ask what have you done outside of study coordinating? In a clinical research setting, what experience do you have besides just what’s expected of a coordinator?
- Do you have recruitment experience? Good!
- Do you have experience helping with contracts and budgets? Excellent! A lot of study coordinators are doing that.
- Do you have experience training new staff members?
- Do you have experience doing any particular rating scales?
I know e.g. in psychiatric trials rating scales are huge. You need raters to conduct a lot of your assessments. Ask them what kind of experience outside of the realm of just study coordinating do they have. Then have them give you an example of one of their biggest challenges that they faced as a study coordinator and how they overcame it or how they dealt with it. See what they say.
Who are you and where you would like to be in a couple of years
I will really try to get a sense of who this person is, where he/she see themselves in five years. With an experienced coordinator, just as with an inexperienced one, it’s the same. Regardless of whether they have experience or not, every company is run differently, every trial is different. The last thing that you want to do is for them to come in, and although their learning curve won’t be as steep as someone inexperienced, there’s still going to be a learning curve. There’s a new company, new systems to learn. There’s still going to be somewhat of a learning curve and the last thing you want to have happen is this person getting halfway through that learning curve and then they decide that they don’t like the therapeutic area that you’re conducting trials in or whatever else. Then you’re just wasting time. Find out where they see themselves five years from now and try to make that judgment call for who you hire.
My rule of thumb is for inexperienced or experienced coordinators, whoever I’m trying to hire, I want to interview ten qualified applicants that have already been filtered from emails to hire one. Actually, after the filtering process I probably will receive 100 resumes or so via email, and I want to narrow it down to ten that I will actually interview in my clinic and then hire one.
If you are lucky enough to be suggested by a clinical research headhunter, the competition is usually less. A headhunter would usually not suggest more than three candidates. In some cases you might make room to hire a second if they are very good. I’ve done that several times. Especially when I’m interviewing for a larger company or CRO.
Hopefully this helps. Let me know if you have any more questions. Keep them coming!