The pharmaceutical industry has a wide range of roles for medics, from clinical pharmacology where the clinical care of study subjects is your responsibility, to the position of medical adviser, which for some companies means the involvement is almost entirely with marketing. Wherever you start your career, you will find that the interviewing procedure is very different to the procedure in the NHS. Although you are being interviewed because of your medical qualifications and experience, your other skills are generally a major focus of the process.
First be sure and clear about what are your reasons for wanting to join the industry. The NHS appears to have plenty of medics who are dissatisfied with their lot, with GPs who are depressed by the endless stream of people turning up at the door and SHOs worn down at the impossibility of getting through the waiting list. For the industry however, this is not a good reason for turning up at their door. They only want you if you are actively looking for a career within pharmaceutical medicine, not just looking for a dream that no longer exists for you in clinical medicine.
What are the Options?
Jobs within the industry are not an easy option – many industry medics work just as many long hours as their NHS colleagues. However, they do work on projects which can (sometimes!) come to a satisfactory conclusion and are still able to have a positive effect on the health of many thousands of people, without having to see each of them individually. Think about which of the many roles in the industry might be suitable for your ambitions. There are many different books you can read which will help you to decide, including a publication by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) called “Careers for Doctors” and “Careers with the Pharmaceutical Industry”, published April 2003 by John Wiley & Sons, edited by Prof. Peter Stonier, AXESS’s Medical Director.
The main roles are as follows:
- where you will be responsible for providing medical input to studies where a compound is first introduced to man
Clinical Research Physician
– where you will be providing scientific input to Phase II & III studies, looking at dosage and comparators.
– where you will be working closely with marketing on the launch and ongoing support of products.
Drug Safety Physician
– where you will be responsible for the monitoring of all reported reactions for products in development and in the market
It is quite common for individuals to move from one type of role to another in order to broaden their experience during their careers.
For all roles a medical degree is essential. If you have additional scientific qualifications these can be useful in securing clinical pharmacology and Research Physician roles. Business qualifications can be useful for Medical Adviser positions. Once you are in the industry you will probably be given the opportunity to study for the Diploma in Pharmaceutical Medicine.
How do You Start?
Once you are ready to apply to the industry, consider your approach: you can make direct speculative applications to companies which work in an area which interests you; you can respond to advertised posts; or you can contact one or more of the specialist agencies working in this field. Direct approaches or responses to adverts mean you are in more direct control of the process, but can take up significant amounts of time and effort. Agencies can be very helpful in distilling your career thoughts with you, providing advice and guidance, but can be another hurdle to cross before you get in front of your potential employer. However, agencies also offer access to a wide range of jobs which never make it onto the open market, and can consider a large number of jobs on your behalf. They are also able to offer considerable help and advice on the process.
Choosing an Agency to Help
There are a significant number of recruitment agencies and other organisations vying for your CV. In order not to waste too much of your time, and to ensure you retain control, be selective. Review adverts and websites, and take advice from friends and contacts. You may want to consider the following:
What is the specialty of the agency, and how long have they been working in the clinical field?
Will the agency interview you prior to sending out your CV?
Do they provide career advice, and are they qualified to do so?
Will they consult with you at all times so you know where your CV is going?
The CV and Covering Letter
A successful application will always start with a well-constructed letter and CV. Both of these are vital even in these days of internet communication. Your covering letter and CV are sales documents with one purpose – to get you in front of the people who are recruiting. The covering letter needs to outline which job you are applying for, and why you think you are a suitable candidate for it. Highlight the aspects of your CV that are relevant to the position, particularly if you have a specific skill required by the role. Many of the people who will read your application will not be medically qualified, so make sure it is obvious which role you are applying for, and why your skills are relevant. The letter is an excellent opportunity to sell yourself, so don’t miss out on it.
You should review and possibly completely rewrite the CV you used to get your current NHS post. An industry CV is generally constructed in the following format:
Brief synopsis of experience and career aims – should be no more than 4-6 lines, and can be written in the third person
Personal details – include contact details, date of birth, nationality, and marital status. Also GMC registration status.
Education – in reverse chronological order, with the name of the establishment and dates. Include details of any intercalated or further degrees
Employment – also in reverse chronological order, with greatest emphasis on the current role and any clinical research experience
Specific skills – relevant skills and training for the position, plus management experience
Additional information - interests and non-work related achievements, such language skills or international experience. Interests should be to the point: ‘amateur dramatics’ conveys as much useful information to the reader as a description of your last starring role
Publications – if you have a large number of presentations and publications, and they are not particularly relevant, just list the number of each, or add to the CV as a separate appendix
The CV is best kept to around 3 pages excluding any appendix. If you have reached SpR level, you probably don’t need to list in full the PRHO and SHO positions unless the specialties you covered are relevant to the position. Try and emphasise any management experience you have, as medics tend to enter the industry in reasonably senior positions, so you may quickly have people to supervise.
Try to avoid the following:
Obvious gaps on the CV – put in what you were doing, e.g. travelling, temping, volunteer work
Humour – this is better demonstrated at interview when you can gauge your audience
Photographs – particularly in e-mail, as they take up a significant amount of disk space and may be rejected by an individual’s in-box
Fancy graphics – keep it plain and simple
Once the CV and covering letter have done their job and you have been invited for an interview, you need to start researching the company. As a medic, your experience in medical matters will generally be assumed to be OK. What the interviewers will be looking for will be:
An understanding of their company and the role
A thorough understanding of their current drug portfolio, including drugs in development
Evidence of the management skills required by a position of this level
Excellent teamworking and interpersonal skills
Your best sources of information here are the company website and the websites of other organisations such as the ABPI and NICE. It is also possible to get a lot of useful information on recent research activity from the company’s own Medical Information Department. If you are being put forward via an agency, they should be able to provide you with a significant amount of information about the role, company and interviewers.
There are many different types of interview, but within the pharmaceutical industry the usual types are:
Initial Telephone Screening
There may be a number of interviews on the same day with people from different departments. You should make the same preparations for informal or telephone interviews as you would for a more formal meeting – if you don’t come across well you may not get another chance. The informal interview can be quite disarming – particularly if you are used to the panel interviews of the NHS – and this can lead to informal responses. Make sure you always remember that you are being interviewed, and get across the points which sell you best.
For some positions you will need to complete tests. These can range from a fairly straightforward written test to full assessment centres where you may be observed in group situations. Always ask for feedback, as you may want to counterbalance the outcome of the test with other examples of your performance.
What Not to Wear
This is an area where you do not want to be remembered for the wrong thing. The pharmaceutical industry is relatively conservative, and it is usually safe to assume that business dress is most appropriate for interviews, even if a company has an advertised ‘dress-down’ policy. Men should wear suits and ties, and women should wear suits or smart jackets. Trouser suits are fine, and skirts should not be too short. For both, shoes should be dark and polished, and men should wear dark socks. Jewellery should be kept to a minimum, and perfume and aftershave toned down. There is nothing more off-putting to an interviewer than to be sitting in a cloud of strong scent.
You should also consider the weather and how you will be getting to the interview. If you are driving don’t assume that you will be able to park close to the building in the visitors spaces. Many pharmaceutical companies have large car parks but limited visitor parking, so you could end up walking some distance. Keep an umbrella in the boot.
During the Interview
As a medic you will probably be interviewed by a range of different people – you are an expensive investment, so they will want to get it right. Make sure you know who you are talking to, and what their specialisation is. Many of the HR interviewers you will meet have been recruiting medics for many years and have a thorough knowledge of the area, and can surprise interviewees who don’t expect a non-medic to question certain aspects of their CVs.
You will generally be interviewed by no more than two people at a time, often starting with HR and the Line Manager. If you are applying for a Medical Adviser role you are likely to meet the Marketing Team, as you will be an integral part of their tem. They will want to see evidence of your commercial awareness, and will usually have a say in the final decision to hire. You will generally not meet the Medical Director until you are on a final short list of one or two, unless it is a reasonably small organisation.
There are a number of standard questions which turn up regularly in industry interviews, including the following:
What are your strengths & weaknesses?
What has been your most challenging management situation?
How do you manage your time effectively?
What has been your greatest organisational challenge?
How do you deal with difficult people?
What is your greatest achievement?
Why are you leaving the NHS/your current role?
Why should we employ you for this role?
Generally the questions are designed to demonstrate your competencies in various areas by getting you to provide examples of past behaviour.
Always prepare a number of questions about the company, the role and the products to ask at the end of the interview. They are more likely to give the job to someone who seems interested and enthusiastic about the position and who is keen to find out more. If you feel brave enough, this is the time to ask if they have any reservations about you. If you find that out at this stage, you can do something about it. You should always ask an agency if they will be recommending you for a particular role, as it is their opinion which gets you onto the short list to the client.
If you are offered the position you need to negotiate an acceptable package. At this point it can be very useful to have an agent to act as a go-between. Decide on your minimum requirements and don’t push too far. In the industry it is often easier to get additional benefits rather than additional salary, as salaries can be determined across a group and therefore difficult to vary. Accept the offer in writing as soon as you are satisfied.
Remember, do the research before you start out. Working in the industry is very different to life in the NHS and has many different opportunities, but it doesn’t suit everyone. Be clear on your motivation, talk to as many people as you can and be honest to yourself. And if you go ahead, you could be the future Medical Director for GlaxoMerckPfizer one day….
Director of Resource Provision
AXESS is a specialist agency which has been working in the area of clinical research for the last ten years. Medically qualified applicants are interviewed Prof. Peter Stonier, a pharmaceutical physician with 30 years experience, and Sue Ransom, who has been placing candidates into new roles since 1993. We offer career advice and counselling, and a confidential marketing service.
Useful information & websites
Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)
British Association of Pharmaceutical Physicians (BrAPP)
Royal Station Court
Tel: 0118 934 1943
Fax: 0118 932 0981
Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine (of the Royal Colleges of Physicians)
1 St Andrews Place
Tel: 0207 224 0343
Fax: 0207 224 5381
International Federation of Associations of Pharmaceutical Physicans (IFAPP) Rendementsweg 24 E-I
3641 SL Mijdrecht
Tel: +31 297 285144
Fax: +31 297 256046