[Q&A] How to Hire and Retain a Top Tier Clinical Research Team

During their recent webinar “How to Hire and Retain a Top Tier Clinical Research Team,” Bridget Gonzales and Sandra Jovanovic of Medix Clinical Research provided attendees with tips and best practices to help them address the challenges of building and maintaining a high-performing clinical research staff. Here, they follow-up their presentation with detailed responses to some of our attendee’s most pressing and relatable questions.


 Can you please give examples of behavioral interview questions and the forms you use?


When creating behavioral questions, we always suggest leveraging a subject matter expert and/or job specific materials. Always consider what differentiates your top performing talent from the rest of the team, including considerations around their impact on your culture, productivity and any other subjective and objective criteria. Think about the hard and soft skills required to be successful in the role.

Remember that there are two types of questions you can infuse:

  1. Behavioral – Draw from a candidates actual behavior during past experiences
  2. Situational – Present realistic job scenarios and ask how applicants would respond

Once you’ve thought about the major themes, terms and items you want that candidate to touch on in their response, create the categories you would like to screen for. Below are sample questions to test for results, ethics and values, communication, attention to detail and conflict management.

  • Provide an example of a time you found an issue with the processes or procedures used to collect data/visits/accuracy, etc. How did you handle the situation and what steps did you take to rectify the problem?
  • Tell me about an effective method you have used to ensure a study’s activities comply with the protocol and procedures.
  • What do you do now to assess the eligibility of potential subjects? What methods have you used that have been most successful for you.
  • Tell me about a study when you or your team missed a vital deadline. What happened and how did you rectify the situation?
  • Tell me about a time you identified an issue with a protocol, and what you did to help resolve the problem.
  • Tell me about your most significant accomplishment/project/etc., even though it was difficult.
  • Tell me about an effective method you used to prepare study-related documentation?
  • Tell me about a time a study you were working on was having difficulty with enrollment or retention of subjects. What methods do you use to increase enrollment and/or keep the subject enrolled?
  • If a PI or a direct supervisor asked you to do something that was against protocol, what would you do?
  • How would you handle a situation where you believed something was not in compliance with ethics/professional conduct?
  • Share an experience in which your current knowledge of clinical studies issues helped your company. What techniques do you use to maintain a current knowledge of issues?
  • How do you make sure you communicate properly with peers/internal staff?

In regards to forms, you can build an interviewer’s guide to include the questions, as well as indicators to look for in the response, the relevance of the examples provided and a way to score each response. If you would like to leverage technological tools, several digital solutions, such as SurveyMonkey, exist where you can digitally populate responses.


In your experience, how much do you feel the sample work test has really affected hiring decisions? How have you seen it best incorporated it into the hiring process?


A sample work test is the best indicator of how successful an individual may be in a particular skill set. Remember, however, that it still only has a 29 percent indication of how successful an individual may be. In certain skill sets, a work sample test is more relevant than others. For instance, if reading protocols is pertinent to the role, creating a sample protocol with inaccuracies and asking the candidate to review, mark up or prepare the protocol would be beneficial.

Another methodology of a work sample is to have an individual submit previous work for review. A project manager candidate can submit their approach to managing a timeline, charts, processes, approaches, etc.

As you consider the difficulty and responsibilities involved in the particular position, you should always consider if your interview process and complexity aligns with the complexity and responsibilities of the vacant position.


Could you please address reference checks–why they’re important, what to ask, etc?


Reference checks traditionally require the candidate to provide a list of individuals they have in their back pocket and who are willing to provide a reference. In our experience, this is not the best approach. Keep in mind that the main goal of a reference check is to validate what the candidate said they were doing, they actually fulfilled at their previous employer.

Reference checks are a great way to determine:

  • Insightful information about the candidate’s previous work style
  • Gain feedback on the candidate’s subjective and objective performance (attitude, culture fit, adaptability, aptitude, accountability and performance)
  • Referrals to other potential candidates

At a minimum, great topics to dig into with a reference include:

  • Candidate’s title
  • Dates of employment
  • Reason for leaving
  • Duties
  • Technical ability/specific technical skills
  • Culture fit
  • Initiative
  • Attendance
  • Dig into any red flags identified through the interview process
  • Professional appearance
  • Eligibility for rehire
  • Biggest strength
  • Biggest weakness

A suggested best practice is for you (the hiring manager) to review the candidate’s resume and determine who you would like to connect with for a reference check. For instance, a specific hiring manager, direct report or colleague from the last employer. We always suggest collecting between 1-3 reference checks and completing them as one of the last steps in the interview process.


Should organized employee social activities occur after-hours or during work hours?


Organizing social activities is a great way to engage and motivate current employees. When planning the activity, we suggest you conduct a pole to see what time of day your team prefers to schedule the event and don’t make the activity mandatory. You can alternate between during work hours and after hours as well to allow everyone to fit it into their schedule.

Watch the webinar 

If you’d like to learn more key strategies for interviewing and engaging your site employees, watch Bridget and Sandra’s free, on-demand webinar, “How to Hire and Retain a Top Tier Clinical Research Team.”

Free On-Demand Webinar: How to Hire and Retain a Top Tier Clinical Research Team

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