What to expect at an assessment centre in Pharma Sales and how to prepare

Assessment centres are regularly used within the interview process for a role within the pharma sales and medical devices industries to help improve the accuracy and quality of candidates taken through to further interview and offer stages.

If you’ve never been to an assessment centre before it can seem a daunting experience – especially if you’re unsure of what to expect.

Usually assessment centres for pharma sales and medical device roles involve:

  • A competency-based interview
  • A presentation (either unseen or pre-prepared)
  • A role play

There is a lot of pre-work you can do to ensure you feel ready to take on the day! Researching the company and product(s) is a given, but you can go the extra step to show your keenness for the position by asking your customers for their thoughts on the company or products or you can use your network to find someone who works at the company you are interviewing for to give you a true insight into working there. You can use your research to form a compelling and specific answer to the inevitable question: “why do you want to work at this company”?

Here are some ideas and ways to prepare yourself for each segment of an assessment centre day:

Competency based interview

Candidates often fall down during a competency-based interview as they fail to show how effective they are in certain situations, with a clear, succinct and structured answer.

To prepare for a competency-based interview, we would recommend having 7 or 8 examples of your key successes in the STARs (situation, task, action, result) format ready to deliver and adapt to the competency questions asked.

The “action” is the most important part of a STAR example as it shows your behaviours. For the action part you need to start with HOW you did it. Then WHY you did it. And what you were thinking and feeling while you were doing it.

A lot of companies like to hear “STARL” or “STAR+” examples, demonstrating situation, task, action, result and key “learnings” from your example. Companies like this extra part of your answer because they want you to demonstrate that if this example is such a great one, it will have likely affected your work, motivations or actions since, therefore showing you’re continuously learning and improving.

To succeed in a competency-based interview you need to spend timing getting the content right, then get the structure sorted (STARL/STAR+), then practice delivering with impact!

We work with a competency-based interview coach who can teach candidates on a 1:1 basis to significantly improve performance in competency based interviews. You have to pay for his service but if you’re in an interview process through Carrot Pharma and you want to work with an expert, then we will pay 25% towards this cost to give you even more of an edge over your competitors!

Unseen Presentation

There are two types of presentations you may have to complete as part of an assessment centre. The first is an unseen presentation.

An unseen presentation is where you are assessed on the day and have no official pre-work. These presentations are usually based around the product you would actually be promoting in the role or a pretend product, in the form of a business plan, a clinical paper review or a test of your logic and reasoning with a completely made up scenario. Even though it’s hard to predict exactly what your presentation task will be, there is still a lot of preparation you can do.

  • You can research the product you will be promoting thoroughly, including its clinical paper, position in the marketplace and key competitors. If this information isn’t needed for the presentation, it will still be useful for general questions and conversation during the interview part of the assessment anyway!
  • You can write a SWOT analysis for the product you will be promoting, ready to insert straight into the presentation.
  • Most importantly you should write a 6 month draft business plan, plan your structure and layout, get the contents page ready and get a template sorted so you can get straight into reading the data and making your presentation specific to the brief when your time starts on the day!

Pre-prepared Presentation

For a pre-prepared presentation, start early so you can have plenty of time to review and amend. Send it to your recruiter – they see these presentations all the time so they can almost always add in some useful tips for improvement! You’d be surprised at the little mistakes candidates regularly make that can be easily fixed with a quick check from your recruiter. Your recruiter will also be able to provide templates and guides to help you.

Do you have an industry colleague or ex-manager that could have a look over your presentation for you and offer their suggestions as well?

It is vital to leave time to practice the delivery! You want to feel confident presenting out loud, not just running through it in your head. You can run through the presentation with your recruiter, rope your partner in to listen to you or an ex-colleague to give you some different perspectives.

State any assumptions you’ve made and why – this exercise is to show your logic and business acumen. Every little detail you need will not be in the brief.

On the day, stand up to present, make eye contact with the assessors, show your energy and enthusiasm and engage the room!

Role play

Another element you’ll probably face during an assessment centre is a role play.

For this, brush up on the basics for a sales call before the assessment day – you may do them naturally in a real-life sales call, but you might need to remind yourself to tick off all of the basics in the unusual role play setting.

On the day, read the brief carefully so you can plan the correct approach to your call objective. Prepare a list of open questions as a lot of the crucial detail will not be included in the brief. I would recommend writing your open questions in big, clear writing, with space between each question. This allows you to glance down to remind yourself of the questions if need be – you won’t lose your place and you won’t have to break eye contact for too long to take away from your rapport building and natural flow of the conversation.

The biggest take away successful candidates have from role plays is to prepare your opening and closing statements. Having an introduction prepared will help you settle into the situation and start strong. Some people like to prepare a skeleton structure for the rest of the role play and others prefer a list of open questions to order as they see fit, depending on how the conversation goes. A planned strong close will leave a favourable lasting impression.

Take a deep breath before you start. The opening statement is prepared, you know the questions or skeleton structure you’re going to follow so you can be relaxed, natural and confident. Now all you need to remember to do is LISTEN carefully and adapt your responses accordingly!

We look forward to working with you to pass your assessment centre day and secure a new role in 2020.

By Hannah Hall – Pharma Sales and Training Consultant

View all our current roles within pharma sales here!