By Nicole Ethier, PharmaLogics COO

“Shoot for the moon and even if you miss, you will land amongst the stars.”  While I am not sure who penned that quote, I credit it for helping me to advance my career. I have been fortunate to work for several great leaders, managers and mentors, one of whom helped me realize that while personal and professional goals can change throughout your lifetime, taking the time to set these goals allows you to learn, grow and develop.  As you develop, doors will open up that you may not even know existed. 


Recognizing professional goals   

If you are looking to advance your life sciences career, I recommend starting with setting a professional goal.  Where would you like to be in three to five years? You can then begin to work backwards from your goal by asking yourself (and others who have more experience than you) what skill sets, experiences or roles you need to get there.  

As an example, let’s say you are at the beginning of your career as a Clinical Research Associate (CRA) and you strive to be a Clinical Trial Manager (CTM). Have conversations with current and former CTMs, letting them know your goals, asking for their help and expressing your curiosity. Great questions to ask are:

  • Can you walk me through your career journey as to how you got to your role? 
  • What skill sets, experiences or roles do you believe are the most important for the CTM role?
  • What advice can you provide to someone like me, who is a CRA with a goal of becoming a CTM?
  • Are there any organizations or certifications that I should be exploring?
  • Who should I be building relationships with today to help me achieve my long term career goals?
  • What about your role energizes you?  What about your role drains you?

Insert the role you desire into these questions, and take copious notes.  You want to write down what skill sets, experiences and roles are required for you to achieve your long term goal. Once you have a list of what’s required, you should then work to evaluate the skill sets and experiences you already have and identify those you don’t have.  In addition to this  self-assessment, you will also want to speak with and share what you’ve learned with managers, colleagues, peers and mentors to ask them what skill sets and experiences they believe you have, and what you need to develop.  Others can help to identify blind spots, and they may be able to see things that you don’t. 

Relationship building

One area within this plan I cannot stress enough is to ensure you are outlining what relationships you need to be fostering now in order to obtain your goals.  Relationships are key to helping you advance your life sciences career.  Seek out managers and mentors who can help guide you, sponsors who are in the room when talent decisions are being made and are advocating for you, and stakeholders who have influence over the decision makers.  

You may even want to ensure you are building a relationship with a strong recruiter at a reputable life sciences firm in your industry that can assist you with building your resume, providing interview tips, and can help you understand what hiring managers are looking for during interviews.  Additionally, if the role you are looking for is not available at your current organization, a recruiter can also help you find your next role within your career. 

Identifying long term goals 

Once you’ve discovered what skills you need to develop and relationships you need to build to get to your long term goals, it’s time to develop a plan of action.  If you recognize growth opportunities within your team or company, you can try to work with your manager to help you develop this plan. This could include strategically volunteering for assignments or tasks to gain more career experience. As an example, if you have no management experience and are looking to gain this experience, could you ask to manage an intern? 

Your plan could also include signing up for courses, career trainings, participating in industry organizations or obtaining certifications to get there.  Keeping with the same example above (CRA who wants to be a CTM), you might want to explore the Society of Clinical Research Associates or the Association of Clinical Research Professionals.  You may even want to explore management training programs that exist at some organizations. You want to ensure you put dates against your action plan, and ask your manager or mentor to help hold you accountable. 

Time to execute! 

Now that you have a plan – it’s up to you to execute!  It’s also up to you to ensure you continue performing at a high level in your existing role.  Generally, you will not be considered for a move within your existing organization if you are not meeting expectations.

And remember, if you leave your career development in the hands of your manager, you will get to where they want you to go.  If you take responsibility for your own career development, you will get to where you want to go!   


About the Author:

nicole ethier

Nicole Ethier is the COO of PharmaLogics Recruiting, with over 25 years of experience. She is passionate about developing people and helping them get to the next level in their careers! When she’s not acting as a career coach and mentor, she enjoys being active. She is a 2 time (and counting) rider of the Pan Mass Challenge, a 186 mile bike-a-thon, raising funds in support of cancer research and treatment at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.