Himani Rana: My experience joining the Sanger Institute in a pandemic

Himani Rana, HR Manager, Wellcome Sanger Insitute
Himani Rana, HR Manager, Wellcome Sanger Institute

Starting a new role isn’t always easy, let alone in a pandemic. Himani Rana joined the organisation in October 2020 and hasn’t yet set foot on Campus or met her line manager in person!

Himani shares her virtual interview experience and describes settling into her new role.


Tell me about your role at Sanger

I joined the organisation six months ago as the HR Manager for Scientific Programmes and part of the HR partnering team. I operate as a strategic manager, delivering and developing a full spectrum of Human Resource services that drives business performance and contributes to the goals and the core values of Genome Research Limited. I work closely with the leaders and team members to foster a vibrant, friendly work environment that promotes strong collaboration, high performance, and continuous learning.

It has been very different to start in a pandemic but I am surrounded by very friendly and supportive colleagues, welcoming me into a new role and organisation.

What was involved in virtual recruitment and how did you prepare?

I had two rounds of interview. The first round was with the HR Partnering Team and the second round was with the key stakeholders. I prepared by reading the job description and person specification really carefully. I also had a read through of the materials for some of the projects I had developed and delivered across my career to demonstrate scenarios of my experience. Crucially, I also took time to look at the Sanger Institute website so that I could be as knowledgeable as possible about the organisation, its mission and vision, its people, and its history.

How did you feel about your interview?

I was very excited and looking forward to the interview. On the day of the interview, I was a little nervous as I had my heart set on the job and did not want to miss the opportunity.  My experience was well-suited to the role and I had a positive feeling, so I felt confident going into the interview. The interview panel asked competency-based questions and questions about my experience.  They made me feel comfortable and provided a good insight into the role and their expectations from this role.

It is so important to come across as being confident in the interview to make a good impression – the key to confidence is to be well prepared!

Do you have any advice for people interviewing virtually in the current climate?

My interviews were conducted on Zoom. Although you are just sitting in front of a screen, the preparation should be no different from any other format of interview.

Be personable and be yourself, you want your interviewer to see you as someone they could talk to and work with every day. The connection you make with the interviewer is key. You must research the organisation and understand its values, objectives, and culture. Ultimately, the key to a successful interview is preparation and self-confidence.

With the virtual interviews, we may come across some challenges that we need to be prepared for.
This is what worked well for me:

  • Before the interview, you should set up your laptop/desktop and rehearse for the virtual meeting/test a mock meeting. This will help you to familiarise yourself with the system and your surroundings i.e. lighting, volume, your seating position, and neatly lay out everything you need on your desk (including a glass of water).
  • Don’t leave things to the last minute. Clear your schedule at least an hour before to set up and focus your mind on the task at hand.
    Use the time to go over your notes, re-read the job description and your relatable experience. This should set you for a positive frame for the interview.
  • During the interview mind your body language and be sure to maintain a good posture.
    Sit up straight, smile, and keep the camera at eye level to avoid looking up or down.
  • Dress appropriately – a virtual interview should be approached in the same manner as an in-person interview.
  • Interviewing in a virtual setting can be distracting at times – make sure to avoid any temptation to check your phone and emails, snoozing notifications, if possible.

Even though you didn’t see our campus or meet your line manager and colleagues, what sold the role to you? 

It’s all in the name “Wellcome Sanger Institute” – they are industry leaders in genomics research and innovation.  I had a couple of acquaintances working for Sanger and EBI, so I knew a bit about the campus and the organisation from an employee’s perspective. To be part of such a great workplace is a privilege.

During my interviews, I felt welcomed and was able to establish a genuine connection with the interview panel. I am delighted that I have this opportunity to be part of the Sanger Institute.

How were you supported during your first week?

I have had a fantastic start, especially considering the current working environment.

I received a call from my manager one week prior to starting to confirm my workplace and equipment needs. These items were then couriered to my home which meant I was set up and ready to go on day one. I completed what is known as a DSE (Display Screen Equipment) assessment in the first week to make sure my workstation was set up correctly to check if I needed any more equipment to work comfortably.

I had virtual meetings with my line manager almost every day and she made me feel very welcome. Everyone I met has been friendly and warm and my new colleagues are always willing to answer any questions. Building relationships is so important when starting a new role, and even more so when you have not met face to face!

What are some of the challenges you have faced? 

My onboarding was smooth – I did not face any serious challenges apart from the usual restrictions of working remotely and getting to know a new organisation and people. My colleagues were really supportive, and I wouldn’t hesitate to ask for help.

Do you have any advice for people starting a new role virtually?

The thought of starting a new job remotely can feel quite daunting.

Some of my tips would be:

  • Make sure you are familiar with the new technology: test your laptop’s video and sound settings before your first day so that you’re ready for your introductory calls.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions about your role and the tasks you are working on.
  • Connect with your team: make sure you engaging with colleagues, speak up in the team meetings, connect with your team on LinkedIn, etc. This will help you to know your team and build closer relationships.
  • Getting to know your new colleagues isn’t just about discussing work and working together. You should also create opportunities for non-work-related conversations and activities, such as attending or organising virtual coffee mornings.
  • Be prepared to introduce yourself to a lot of new people. As you won’t be casually running into your colleagues, it might be necessary to reintroduce yourself. This may take a bit longer and require a bit more effort on your part.
  • Be patient with yourself and your colleagues. We all are learning how to do our best in the virtual environment.
  • Remember to take regular breaks from the screen.

I have been very busy since starting but I am looking forward to making the most of the available classes and networks, and eager to see the beautiful campus when it is safe to do so.