By Tarquin Bennett-Coles - Senior Executive Search Consultant, George James Ltd
The Life science sector is a vibrant and constantly changing environment that can suit those who like to take educated risks with start-up ventures or those who want a more secure long-term career within a large organisation. Getting into the sector is still people/connection based so establishing a network and reliable advocates will help you make the first step. If you can find a person you can interact with rather than using an online portal then this will improve your chances.
Deciding on the right role and company for you will require some due diligence on the company values and culture. Most of this can be achieved online. Glassdoor is a useful tool to see what people say about a business, good and bad.
Nevertheless, having someone you can talk to who actually works at the company you are interested in is even more useful. If you can use your network to help you achieve this, then it will give you a head start.
To make the right step also requires some realistic self-assessment.
You can use online tools for this or If you can find someone you work with and ask them how you come across in meetings or day to day you can find out a great deal about how you are perceived. It is also worth thinking about what motivates you, what will drive you to get up for work or travel a long way for a meeting? Do you like to work in a group or independently? Even at an early stage it is well worth thinking about where you would like to land after the role you are applying for. Having this in mind will help you weigh up the potential of the position now and as part of your broader career aspirations even if they change.
Some individuals choose to join the sector via a service organisation then move across to biophama or MedTech businesses once they have their network in place. This includes joining life science teams in the large consulting houses (PwC, E&Y, McKinsey etc), boutique players (Huron, Cambridge Consultants, Sagentia), outsourcing businesses like a Contract or Clinical Research Organisations (CROs – IQVIA, Paraxel, Covance etc) or biopharma sales companies.
Others, choose to start out in a corporate setting via the City (equity analysis), private equity or venture capital businesses and then transition across.
In addition, the emerging data and digital space means some technology players (Amazon, Google, Apple, Samsung etc) are moving into the healthcare sector and they require experts with an understanding of life sciences sector so this may also offer a way in.
Hot areas of growth also include diagnostics & biomarker businesses, AI/Machine Learning, data science and digital health companies.
Once you have gained some experience, or if you want to make the step immediately, then there are some key skills and experiences that companies most value. If you can highlight these when you apply or at interview then they will help differentiate you and increase your chances of an offer.
- Demonstrable track record of success.
- Examples of persuasion and influence whilst working outside your area of management control
- The ability to prioritise between the urgent and important.
- Expertise at working to tight deadlines and dealing with a fast paced environment for service delivery & communication (this should suit all pharmacists).
- Project management skills & the ability to switch focus/direction due rapid market shifts or new convergent technologies.
Right now certain functions and disciplines are in particularly high demand. These include, analytics, data science, informatics, medical affairs and information, toxicology, pharmacology, business development, clinical development, regulatory affairs, market access and pricing and reimbursement.
Another thing to consider before you join the industry is to choose a location where there is a cluster of companies and sector support businesses already located there. This will increase the opportunity for you to progress and find alternative work if the position does not work out or the company goes through a major transformation or acquisition. In 2019 we are seeing some major merger and acquisition activity. Most successful clusters (Cambridge, London, Oxford, Edinburgh, Manchester, and Cardiff etc) will also have good transport links, access to funding streams, academic and research hubs, hospitals and service businesses nearby.
Once you make the step do remember you are likely to be joining a sector where there will be five generations in the workplace (Gen Z - 18yrs old in 2018). Each generation defines success and working habits with a slightly different perspective so it is worth considering that if you are working in a cross-generational team or have a line manager from a different era.
In terms of what lies ahead you have a myriad of choices once you break into the sector so keep checking in on your own plans. Leadership agility is being highlighted as a future “must have” and so is some international experience so if you can add those to your existing skill set, then you will be in a good place to progress. Similarly, there are now more industry collaborations and partnerships than ever before so involvement in such projects will help you stand out. Good luck, you have an exciting future ahead.
Find out more on how to find a job in the pharmaceutical industry.