How to get experience and make the most of it.
Summary‘You really need some more experience’. Perhaps the most ubiquitous phrase in modern day recruitment, thousands of graduates are now at the mercy of this one requirement as increasing competition in the job market leads to rising standards. Perhaps twenty, or even ten years ago, an undergraduate degree and a forceful sense of charisma might well have been enough to net you your first role in an industry.
‘You really need some more experience’. Perhaps the most ubiquitous phrase in modern day recruitment, thousands of graduates are now at the mercy of this one requirement as increasing competition in the job market leads to rising standards. Perhaps twenty, or even ten years ago, an undergraduate degree and a forceful sense of charisma might well have been enough to net you your first role in an industry. Two decades ago degrees were still relatively rare and corporate expectations weren’t half as high as they are today. Modern day conditions present something of a catch 22 situation. Experience is required to get work; work is also required to get experience. Under these parameters, what hope is there for the current crop of graduates? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is a lot. Because while requirements have grown and experience has become more in demand, the opportunities for acquiring it have also mushroomed. Yes, on just a basic level, the range of functioning roles – and even industries – have grown exponentially. Yet more than this, the importance of internships is now greater than ever. Work experience is now often the key; that initial foot in the door that graduates in America have been pursuing for decades.
Getting through the door.
In the case of pharma specifically, how does this function? And how can candidates hope to beat ‘catch 22’ and gain themselves the necessary experience for more prestigious roles and without needing said experience in the first instance? Simply put, through many of the same ways as graduates of other industries. Internships are obvious, but volunteer projects and other extracurricular activities can all prove invaluable. Anything that boosts is CV is likely a huge plus. Industry-specific experience is obviously to be favoured, but what may seem like a unwanted role now may ultimately prove to be the proxy to a much bigger pay cheque – and degree of responsibility – in the future. Think carefully before you turn down any and all offers – regardless of how unimpressive they may seem today.
In a universal sense, the internship is becoming an increasingly powerful medium through which to acquire your first real position in an industry (and the ‘experience’ value that will accompany it). And while not limited to students and graduates exclusively, university science careers fairs can be some of the best places to find them. Pharmaceutical companies have a growing presence at such events and contrary to the occasional story of intern-abuse, they are typically looking for their stars of the future and not merely temporary cover. This Cambridge University Science, Engineering and Technology event is a perfect case in point. Oxford, Warwick, Cardiff, UCL and many other schools all offer similar events. For those job seekers searching outside the parameters of the university environment, this Source Event (sponsored by the scientific journal, Nature) typifies the exceptional quality of the events on offer to recent graduates - or even longstanding professionals.
But that’s not to say that internships are the only way forward. Far from it. Certain schemes are highly competitive and there are other pathways on offer. For instance, often-scoffed-at ‘voluntary experience’ can be a great way of boosting your CV and showing future employers that you are prepared to work hard to gain your first real opportunity.
Spending some time thinking about your CV is also well worth consideration. Sure, you might not have a plethora of things to put down at this stage, but that’s why it’s important that you take the time to ‘place’ your CV to the right audience. In the absence of a large chronology of positions, you might want to avoid the standard ‘list’ format. Instead, why not emphasize your broader proficiencies in categories such as ‘Computer Skills’ and ‘Interpersonal Communications? The point is to make the very best of what you have. Displaying a very short list of previous positions is not the best way to go about it. And where you lack in strict performance metrics, an emphasis on your academic achievements would be advisable.
Indeed, taking the necessary time to perfect your CV may be essential if you are to catch the recruiter’s eye and apply your experiences to the requirements of the role. For example placing a ‘Qualifications Summary’ and a list of transferable skills ahead of your employment history may be the difference between a recruiter reading on and throwing your CV into the trash. Once you’ve completed an internship, be sure to make the most of it on your CV too. Use it as a stand-in for professional experience itself and point out the highlights of your time in the position. Testimonials from senior managers and executives can only add further weight.
Once there make it count.
Once there – in the form of an internship or anything else – you will still need to think (and act) carefully if you are to make the most of the opportunities that come your way. Getting though the door is just the start.
Once in the position, make every possible effort to impress. Yes, there is the fairly obvious task of dressing in a way that befits your enthusiasm for the position. More importantly, finding ways to go that ‘extra’ mile will likely result in not only a more favourable reference, but also the chance to stay on in a full-time capacity with the firm. For instance, asking your boss for extra workload, or the chance to extend your range of responsibilities will show both self-motivation and an impressive work ethic. Simply completing the tasks put in front of you is something, but it is those individuals that go beyond the basic requirements that are likely to stand out as the potential stars of the future. By keeping a regular work diary you will be able to ensure that you keep a record of your daily tasks and achievements. The ability to recall these achievements will prove invaluable when you come to apply for your next post.
In an ever competitive global job market, there are undoubtedly some genuine reasons for concern. No longer will a degree land you a position on its own and where competition for top roles has always been high, now even entry level positions are hard to come by. Acquiring the necessary experience can be even more of a challenge. Yet, for those graduates willing to think outside the box and take on extra responsibilities, the rewards are even greater than ever. What your employment record lacks, work experience may make up for; an excellent testimonial from a voluntary organization can only benefit your cause. With new obstacles come fresh opportunities. The only real challenge is taking them.