When I interviewed for my first coordinator job, I was left alone in a back office waiting for at least 45 minutes before the Prime Coordinator remembered I was there. She rushed out of the room to collect her materials and hastily start the interview. As the interview progressed, I realized that the questions being asked were picked almost randomly out of a typed-up list of 50+ generic interview questions, none of which related specifically to being a coordinator, and all of which resulted in the conversation having little flow with many awkward pauses.
As the interview drew to a close, I didn't feel as if my interviewer really got to know me, and the interviewer, I'm sure, was still flustered from having delayed the interview by an hour and by her lack of preparedness. At the time I had plenty of friends who worked as coordinators and understood the hectic day-to-day of a clinical research site, but it certainly left a strange first impression.
Needless to say, I did not end up as a coordinator for that site. Now, after working with countless clinical research sites, and seeing the value a super-coordinator can add to a site, I am surprised more thought wasn't put into the interview. However, with the astonishingly high burnout rate of clinical research coordinators (CRCs), it is unsurprising that this site may have just been resigned itself to the coordinator churn, putting little effort in and getting little in return.
(From personal experience!)
Amidst the problem of high Clinical Research Coordinator burnout, the bottom-line question is: how do you find a super-coordinator who is worth the investment?
The first way to identify whether this applicant is in it for the long haul is to identify enthusiastic, quick-learning candidates. Use these 10 interview questions to reveal your applicant's true intentions and capabilities and hire the right coordinator.
The Clinical Research Coordinator Interview Guidebook
Why do you want to work in clinical research?
Clinical research at times can be fast paced and challenging, while also at times extremely rewarding. Your coordinator needs to be coming into this industry for the right reasons, not just for a paycheck.
There can be many right answers to this question-- an interest in medicine, a personal story. It is OK if the applicant isn't fully aware of what a coordinator position entails (the job description changes so often it is fair to say coordinators themselves don't really know what the position entails), as long as the passion to be in the industry is there!
What do clinical research studies mean to you?
This question might be a repeat of the first question, or it might be an opportunity to delve a little more into their personal story if they gave a broad answer to the first question. By making it about them you will be able to see if this is an industry they actually care about.
What is your learning style?
The answer to this question will allow you to do two things: establish the extent to which your applicant has thought about strategies they use to succeed and, if you do end up hiring this applicant, it will give you an insight into how to best train your new coordinator.
Give me an example of a time when you had to juggle a lot of tasks and responsibilities. What strategies did you use to succeed?
This question is fairly straightforward. Coordinators have to juggle a lot of tasks and responsibilities, you want to see if this applicant has experience managing multiple projects and if they have put thought into what works for them and what does not.
What role do you play when you work in a group project?
This is another question that will reveal a couple things about your applicant. First, as you probably expect, you will learn what role your applicant plays when working in a group. This information is important because it will give you an idea about whether they are a team player or not. The coordinator position requires a lot of teamwork and communication between many moving parts, so you want to ensure that your candidate works well with others.
You will also gain insight into whether they have put thought into how they work in a team, and whether they will bring that thoughtfulness to your team. When your coordinator is aware of the role that they play and why they are important, it results in a smoother running site, and potentially less coordinator burnout.
You've been working with a patient for the past 6 months and the study is just about to come to a close. How would you respond if a patient decides to withdraw on the second to last visit?
This candidate may not know any of the rules following Early Withdrawal. They may not even know what a full research study takes and why having a patient withdraw so late in the study is so devastating. All of that is OK. The "correct" answer, instead, lies in their reaction.
Do they get flustered? Do they get nervous? Or do they stay calm and collected? Coordinators have a lot thrown at them when working with patients and they must always have on their best customer service face, ready to think fast under pressure.
Tell me about a conflict you have had in the past. How did you resolve it?
Coordinators must be quick-thinking and adaptable. By asking about how a conflict was handled in the past, you will be able to see how nimble and adaptable your applicant is, and whether they will be able to handle clinical research adversity.
What do you do when you're not working? What are your hobbies?
This question is to get to know your applicant a little better on a personal level. You want your employees to have interests and to be able to find fulfillment outside of work.
What would your references say about you?
There are no right answers to this question (although there certainly a few wrong ones). Hearing what other people would say about your applicant is helpful in determining how they interact with others and what type of worker they may be. It is also worth noting that if you do require references, it is important to give them a call and hear for yourself what they have to say about your applicant.
Give it a final gut check.
While this isn't a question, at this point you probably have a pretty good idea about whether the candidate sitting in front of you will be a good addition to your team, or whether they will crack under the clinical research pressure. If you feel some kind of personal connection and feel as if they have what it takes, they probably will be a great final round candidate.
Regardless of the position, you want to hire somebody who is self aware and conscious of how they best acquire knowledge. In the fast-paced environment of a clinical research site, where coordinators typically learn as they go, you want your new hire to be cognizant about how they will catch on as quickly as possible.
You should be taking notes during your interviews to keep all of the applicants straight, but especially note the answer to this question, as it will help inform how to best manage this coordinator, if you decide to hire them.
Download a PDF version of the 10 Coordinator Interview Questions
Printable PDF version
Bonus questions! Testing a "hard" skill.
The role of a CRC requires clear writing and communication skills, attention to detail, as well as the ability to think critically. To test these hard skills you can give your (final round) candidates a few assignments to complete.
- Ask your candidates to QC a source and write up a short report of deviations.
- Give your candidates a scenario and have them come up with a progress note and a question that they would ask the sponsor. Answers should succinctly, accurately, and objectively describe the situation. The question should be logical and well thought out.
Once you have a hired your CRC learn how to develop them into a super-coordinator!
If you want to increase coordinator efficiency, learn how Palm Beach Research saved a third of coordinator time using CRIO's software. Download the Case Study
Author: Anna Krauss is a Project Manager at Clinical Research IO. She has experience in the health field through her work as a Research Assistant with the MaineGeneral Hospital system, Hospital General de Agudos Bernardino Rivadavia in Argentina, and through her experiences working as an EMT.