Pharma career advice from top professionals

Want to know the best career advice from top pharma professionals? Take a look at this expert guidance to drive your pharma career.


The importance of regular communication

Clara Carter, Director of Commercial at Accord UK

My first manager once said to me to remember to recruit team members that complement your skill set and who enjoy doing the things that you don’t. It’s all too easy to recruit people who are similar to you as that can be the natural place to go. But by recruiting team members who enjoy and thrive on things that you don’t, that means that you are a stronger unit as a result.

I am a great believer in actioning what you promise and commit to with customers. Too many account managers commit to a task and don’t do it and then wonder why the relationship doesn’t progress. Whether it is an internal or external customer, you should provide regular updates on the progress – even if it is slow or non-existent! This, in itself, can secure and build a relationship as people appreciate being kept informed. The simplest forms of regular communication can build a strong and long-lasting relationship.


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Avoid self-limiting beliefs

Andrew Barraclough, VP Design, GSK

We generally underestimate people and don’t give them enough opportunity to stretch and grow. Good people are really resilient; give them the opportunity to flex new muscles and build and they will step up. We often avoid the risk of giving people something that we assume will be super stretching or something that you think is way beyond their ability, but that is a self-limiting belief. It is rewarding being able to help someone onto the next stage of their career.

In terms of general career advice, it is always important to put your work into perspective as part of your life. Is it making you happy? Does it align with what you believe in? If you really think about your true values and make decisions based on those, it stops you focusing on the wrong things and brings more clarity.


The benefits of a mentor

Dr Paul Riley MBA PhD CMgr, Director, Health Insights & Guidance Ltd

The best career advice I got was to get a mentor, to help me decide where I wanted to take my career and how to get there. Having a mentor helped me reflect on what I wanted for my future and helped me understand the changes I would need to make to get there. Having a mentor might seem like you are exposing yourself to scrutiny and assessment, but my experience was more a case of having a supporter in your corner, willing you to do well, and giving you the benefit of their knowledge, experience and contacts. It helped me gain a promotion to my first senior role, but it would have been of great value regardless of the type of change I wanted to make. I’m still grateful to them, and message them from time to time, to recognise the help they provided.


Find what drives you and gives you purpose

Haseeb Ahmad, Country President, Novartis UK

Both my parents were healthcare professionals; my mother was a GP and my father was a nephrologist. I remember the great passion my father had for healthcare and the power it has to change people’s lives. He put this drive to great use, which was particularly evident in his co-invention of an early portable kidney dialysis machine. Over the years, I saw so many postcards from grateful families who, for example, were able to go on holiday for the first time in years following treatment from my dad.

Growing up in this environment – continually seeing the benefits and importance of healthcare – was one of the reasons I pursued a career in this sector. We have a real feeling of purpose in our work and the ability to make a fundamental impact on people’s lives, which still drives me to this day. My father himself told me that, by working in the pharmaceutical industry, I have the power to support far more patients than he ever could. At Novartis, we serve 800 million patients worldwide – which is 10% of humanity – and it’s incredible to think of the difference we can make to so many people’s lives.

My advice to others would be find what drives you and gives you purpose. Happy people work harder, bring more energy and passion, and get much more job satisfaction.

We have tried to embody this within Novartis UK by creating an ‘unbossed’ culture that enables associates at any level to contribute to decision making. For example, during lockdown, associates told us they wanted to make a difference for patients and the public beyond their day-to-day work. As such, we offered them 10 days paid leave to volunteer in their community or back in clinical practice. We want to inspire associates to see the impact they can have. And it’s working. Our most recent employee survey showed that 74% of our associates believe the work they do brings meaning, something which has resulted in an overall engagement score of 81%. Our teams know that however big or small, we can all make a difference.


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Develop your own career goals

Chris McCourt, Global Payer Capability Director, AstraZeneca

The best advice I was ever given was by Carol Cape. At the time she was my coach in my day job, but she always was keen on developing others. Even if the advice may have felt challenging, she never shied away from the real conversation. I trusted her when she said that I probably needed to move to a new company, take the learnings but also focus on what I wanted, not what was expected. To this day, this was the most courageous coaching session I have ever had; I trusted her judgement and within a month I found myself in my perfect job and starting an amazing career. It was tough at the time but, on reflection, I have no regrets.

I do think that you need to own your own development. If you wait for a tap on the shoulder, it most likely won’t happen. Think about how you can develop your career goals in your current role and run them in parallel with your day job – we refer to this as lifelong learning – not just for your next role but to support you to be the best version of you in your current role. Gone are the days of ticking a box by attending a training course.

Whether we like it or not, our world is changing and we need to keep ahead by mastering technology and new ways of working. Invest in your development by signing up to anything that will increase your digital learning. No matter your age or background, showing curiosity will be beneficial.

Be yourself! Teams and business are built on so much diversity, it is an exciting future to share experiences. Don’t fake it.


Be curious and play to your strengths

Mark Pringle, Senior Vice President Capability Development, NeoHealthHub

“When you leave a room, always shut the door quietly!” That was from my first ever HR Director. His point was that ranting and raving about how unfair life is, is pointless. Act with dignity and when a decision goes against you, go out and prove them wrong.

Be curious, try lots of things, find your passion, play to your strengths and do what you enjoy! 


Advice for graduates

Dr Rina Newton, Managing Director at CompliMed

I quite often give career advice to pharmacy students (through University roadshows and mentoring) and the best tip I could give them is not to rely on their universities or the Royal Pharmaceutical Society to talk to them (or even know) about roles for pharmacists in the pharma industry that are not related to R&D.

Do your research! Students are better placed (and more tech savvy) to investigate roles using LinkedIn and recruitment agencies, identify pharmacists in these roles and then directly approach them for advice or even better, work experience.

Follow your own path! Ultimately, we’re in control of our own choices –taking risks and learning along the way is what keeps it fun – whether it’s good or bad, it’s all rich experience. I’m pretty certain pharmacists in pharma have had varied and interesting paths…


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This article was previously published in Pf Magazine.