The pharmaceutical industry is dynamic and diverse – it offers many opportunities for career growth and professional development. But in an industry occupied by so many highly-skilled individuals, staying ahead of the game has never been more important.

By Megan Driscoll


To make absolutely sure your aspirations become a reality, setting specific career goals, building strong networks and establishing productive relationships with colleagues is essential and can greatly increase the chances of achieving your ambitions. Above all it gives you the best chance of making the most out of your pharmaceutical career.

Before a goal can be achieved, it needs to be identified. Setting goals and planning ahead is the first step. Pinpointing what you hope to accomplish in your career, over the long haul, will also allow you to create shorter term goals and help you remain on schedule for the big milestones.

Big Time

If a young pharmaceutical professional hopes to become a high flyer someday, they need to gain experience from companies of varying sizes (large corporations, mid-sized companies and small start-ups), become a thought leader – by attaining skills in public speaking and presentation – and gain direct management experience of large teams. This will not happen overnight. Reaching senior management level could take 20 years, so you will need to break it down into manageable periods.

For example, the first five years should be spent establishing yourself as a technical expert. This would involve honing and developing your product-based skills and industry knowledge, while also gaining experience in verbal and written communication of scientific data.

There is an abundance of opportunities for ambitious people to speak at events and conferences. This type of engagement is a great way to expand your knowledge through the research, organization and presentation of your ideas. The more presentations you go after and obtain, the more speaking opportunities you’ll get in the future.

Name Game

It is also beneficial to engage in new opportunities at work that build upon your current role and expand your skill set. You don’t want to become a one trick pony. Speak with your manager and express an interest in gaining new knowledge and ask for additional assignments within areas of the business that could use help.

To keep climbing the ladder, you need to actively seek out management opportunities and continue growing as a leader. Mentoring co-workers is a useful way of starting this process, as this can lead to leadership roles on certain projects and direct-line management of a small group. With these successes under your belt, ask your manager for leadership opportunities such as project management roles or the oversight of contractors or interns.

To become a senior manager, it is imperative to begin your role as a manger within your first ten years in industry. With that end goal considered, if management opportunities are not available at your current company, it might mean that you have to change jobs to achieve it.

Furthermore, you will need to round out your experience by working in a variety of different employment environments. Most pharmaceutical professionals at the senior level have worked in a variety of settings and in companies of different sizes – this is no coincidence.

Golden Years

If you spend the first eight years of your career at a small organization, you should spend the next five-year period working for a larger corporation. Each experience offers you growth opportunities and allows you to develop the ability to work in very different environments.

For example, an account manager who has been tasked with overseeing the promotion of a product and how it will be presented has a greater chance of broader success within the industry.

After a decade you should have built a high level of achievement in the form of management, speaking engagements and an impressive variety of work experience, including mentoring, managing projects and directly leading teams. You have rounded out this experience by working in a variety of company settings and sizes, and now the final step is to actively seek out opportunities that will directly lead to the achievement of your career goals.

In order to execute a career plan, you will inevitably have to change jobs as part of the growth process, but how will you gain access to the specific job opportunities you’re seeking? Acquiring professional skills and becoming knowledgeable in a specific field is part of the career success equation, but knowing the right people and leveraging your network to gain access to new opportunities is equally important.

Into Space

Many professionals do the majority of their networking online, often failing to capitalize on the equally important face-to-face encounters. Proper networking involves three key aspects: meeting new people in person, developing a strong online presence and maintaining existing relationships through both of these avenues.

Meeting new people will not only give you direct access to more companies and job opportunities, but also the chance to practice expressing yourself in person, which is a crucial skill for any pharmaceutical professional hoping to achieve a management role. Face-to-face networking should be viewed as an ongoing process; the opportunity to network exists whenever you come in contact with other like-minded professionals.

Conferences are one of the best places to meet new people. Very few other public settings will offer a situation in which so many people will share mutual interests, experience and goals. In spite of all of these favorable factors, many conference attendees stay confined to their existing group of contacts rather than trying to extend their network. This is a lost opportunity.

The professionals who are going outside of their comfort zone and taking full advantage of this type of setting are the same people who often hear about new career opportunities before they are published. Anyone who reaches the top will almost certainly have put the required effort into making new acquaintances at these industry events.

To help prepare for this type of face-to-face interaction it is highly recommended that you prepare a 30-second ‘elevator pitch’ that can be utilized with anyone you happen to meet. A strong elevator pitch should contain three key components: an introduction highlighting who you are, information about what you currently do and an explanation of what you’re looking to gain from this particular interaction. The first two sections provide some background about yourself and the last point spells out your purpose for having the conversation. It is also very important to maintain a natural and confident delivery – an over-rehearsed spiel will soon get found out.

In addition to fine-tuning a compelling personal networking style, you should be developing a strong online presence, LinkedIn is the preferred network for pharmaceutical professionals and your profile should be thought of as an online version of your resume, providing details of your current job as well as dates, company names, job titles and key accountabilities for each previous position you’ve held.

It is crucial to spend time ensuring that the image you’re portraying online is helping you rather than hurting you. Colleagues, recruiters and hiring managers are all likely to search for and view your online information. What type of image is being portrayed when they find incomplete or out-of-date information on your profile?

Right Moves

LinkedIn isn’t just a way to portray your qualifications online; it’s also a great way to keep in touch with people who you’ve previously met or worked with. It sensibly collates all the people whom you encounter into a format that allows you to keep in touch, long after that first meeting. When you meet someone at a conference, add them as a contact on LinkedIn as soon as you get home.

Once you’ve begun networking face-to-face and have built an online presence that you’re proud of, the final step is to spend time and effort maintain those relationships. Your current network is only going to help you achieve your career aspirations if you keep those contacts up to date on your latest developments. Many of the best job opportunities never get advertised and are filled through a hiring team’s personal connections. Somebody who is not maintaining their professional relationships will be far less likely to find out about these exciting roles. Missing out on even one great opportunity could delay your career growth substantially.

Building and maintaining a strong network within your field, while at the same time executing a career-long plan will ensure you meet your overall career aspirations. As my dad used to say, “You have to know where you want to go and then go after it.” This advice could not be more relevant to your own career.