How to Get a Job in Big Pharma as a Science Graduate

Pharma industry insights

Getting a job in big Pharma is often a goal of science graduates. It’s seen as an ideal place to work if you don’t want to pursue an academic path. If you don’t want to do research at all, there are a diverse range of other science-related roles available. You can also do pure business roles that still allow you to work in a science context. I graduated with a Biology degree and ended up working in Human Resources at a global pharmaceutical company. Here are my tips for getting a job in this industry.

  1. Have a broad idea of the department you want to work in

It can be difficult to know the specific roles available to you at a company without insider knowledge. The roles advertised on job sites may not always make sense to you at first glance. When you get into the Pharma industry, you discover the diverse range of roles available. So it's good idea to know the department you want to join, but be open to moving around later on. You are likely to discover roles that are attractive to you once you enter the company. Think about whether you still want a scientific element to your job. In this case, it would be worth considering functions like Regulatory Affairs, Clinical Operations or Environment, Health and Safety. In sales and marketing roles you also need to understand the science behind the drugs you are selling, as well as the wider healthcare industry. Or, you could opt for pure business roles. This is what I did, as I wanted to use my business skills but still be working in a science context. In this case, you could explore areas like HR, Finance, or other roles in Business Operations.

  1. Think about why you want to work in Pharma

There are obvious reasons why you might want a job in big Pharma, including pay, prestige and opportunities for development. Keeping a link to my science degree in some way was part of my motivation to work in a science-led organisation. The employer will want to know that you have a bigger reason for wanting to join them, linked to their purpose. This is usually customer-focused which ultimately centres around serving patients, contributing to healthcare, and improving lives. Reflect on the bigger picture reason why you want to work in Pharma and how you can express this when you apply.

  1. Build your commercial awareness

It’s time to do some research! Before you apply for a job in big Pharma, look up their recent work. Use their website and Google articles about them. Find out about their product pipeline, commercial performance and overarching strategy. Building your commercial awareness is important as you are entering an industry where you will be expected to demonstrate this no matter what your role is. You can also look up other business activities such as their Corporate Social Responsibility work. Once you do this research, use it in your application! Mention your interest in a particular area in your application and your interview.

  1. Prepare to demonstrate your soft skills

Get ready to demonstrate your soft skills using your academic and work experience to date. This is especially important if you are applying for a pure business role, but it’s important in any role you apply for. Even if the role requires more technical knowledge, you are still working in a business environment. Common soft skills they will look for are team-work, leadership, handling difficult situations, decision-making, overcoming obstacles, time management and organisation. There is a bit of preparation to do before applying for a job in big Pharma. The first part of it involves understanding your own aims and motivations in applying for a specific role within that industry. Then you need to prepare for the application process itself, which involves some research and reflection on your experience to position yourself well. Remember, these companies look to see if you fit with their culture as well as technical knowledge. If you are applying for a business role, it is often just transferable skills and cultural fit that you need to demonstrate. In any case, commercial awareness is key to showing your competence and suitability for the industry.

If you are ready to take your career outside the lab and want to know how to start, watch our webinar on How Science Graduates Can Get a High Paying Job Outside the Lab Even if You Have Little to No Work Experience.


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