10 questions to ask a Clinical SAS Programmer before you hire them

10 questions to ask a Clinical SAS Programmer before you hire them

The pharmaceutical world is a fast-moving one and the standards and regulations are of paramount importance. Hiring the right people is therefore absolutely critical to a pharmaceutical company's success and recruiting an inappropriate candidate will be costly.

SAS is widely used in clinical trial data analysis in pharmaceutical, biotech, and clinical research companies. SAS programmers play an important role in clinical trial data analysis and as such are a very important investment.

Read on to find out what questions to ask a potential SAS programmer - in order to ensure a successful hire.

Note - we are focusing mainly on the questions to ask around the more functional elements of the role. We assume you will also include the more generic ones around their soft skills such as 'tell me about yourself', 'what are your strengths' etc.

It would also be common to arrange a deeper technical assessment of their SAS skills via a technical test or examination where specific scenarios are set out.

1/ What is your experience within the SAS environment?

Central you the role, it is important to get a high-level view of their experience with SAS. How many years have they been working with SAS? in what companies? and the scale of the implementation? This will allow you to gauge that they have the right level of experience for the role in question.

2/ Can you give me some examples of how you have developed programs for generating datasets, figures, and listings for clinical trials?

The position usually has a high focus on developing proven statistical methods for the organisation. More technical questions around these processes are fundamental to establishing the skills and knowledge in this area.

3/ Can you take me through some of the processes you have worked with and how they were documented?

Developing standard SAS macros and preparing the corresponding validation documents, establishing and maintaining document/programming stand are common in this role and it is useful to see how they have worked and approached tasks in this area.

4/ Can you give me some examples of how you have interfaced with say the Data Management and biostatistics teams on clinical trials? 

Collaboration and liaising with different teams is very important to this role and being practical yet with good team skills is essential to success.

5/ Tell me about how you work and manage external 3rd party interfaces.

Working with external agencies for example to check the requirements to manage external clinical data and developing the SAS programs is key to the role and worth exploring.

6/ How would you describe your communication skills?

Communication is a very important element of the role. Get the candidate to go through the types of reports, documented processes, and presentations they are comfortable with. If they can show examples it shows a very strong candidate.

7/ Project management is an essential requirement - can you tell me how you work on a project? Have you ever (or would you like to) lead a project?

This will not only establish their team and project skills but also if they have any ambition in this area.

8/ Do you enjoy the high levels of quality that are required in the pharmaceutical industry?

A simple yes is not enough! Probe to see if they reference something like how they would perform quality checks on SAS programs/outputs created by another Statistician/SAS Programmer and what typically would be the outputs and next steps.

9/ Tell me how you keep abreast of developments in the role?

At a high level, the pharmaceutical industry is fast-moving and the tools, techniques, and practices are changing all the time. Ask to see how they keep informed on new SAS developments relevant to the management of clinical data trials. Membership of any associations, user groups, or trade bodies is useful in this area.

10/ Do you enjoy supporting and developing others?

Can you tell me how you have helped with onboarding new members of staff, passing your knowledge to develop others, or acting as a subject matter expert to other teams?

Contributing to the success of the wider team is very important. It is good to establish that they also appreciate this and enjoy this part of the role.

We hope these questions help you select the right person for the role and they are a huge success in your organisation.

Good luck!