Do you really need prior experience to get a job in pharma?

When is prior pharma experience really required? Is industry experience truly a requirement at all? How do you get pharma experience if you can't get a pharma job to get pharma experience??  

I get a LOT of questions about how to get pharma experience in order to get a pharma job, when it seems like all pharma jobs want prior pharma experience.

This can be confusing and discouraging, but there's good news!

If you are applying to the appropriate level role (associate medical director, perhaps medical director), you absolutely do NOT need prior pharmaceutical industry experience even though all of the job descriptions will say you do.

So, be sure you are applying to the appropriate level roles. Sounds so simple, and it is! But I know that pharmaceutical company job descriptions can read like a foreign language to people who don't yet work in industry. Here are some tips to help you discern whether prior experience is really needed, and whether you're applying to the right level role.

Prior pharmaceutical industry experience IS needed for senior roles. Those aren't right for you (yet). Here are some indicators that a particular job may be too senior for you, if you're just trying to get your foot in the door:

  •  job title that includes 'senior' 'executive' 'VP' 'head' or anything C-level
  •  language that you'll be supervising or building a team of direct reports
  •  more than 5 years of pharma experience
  •  remit to develop and/or coach others
  •  responsible to oversee/guide the work of others
  •  'strong' or similar expertise in industry specific areas such as regulatory submissions
  •  'deep' or similar knowledge of the industry and environment, particularly regarding market access/payor relationships
  •  ability to work independently, without supervision
  •  building anything 'from the ground up' or 'end to end'
  •  hiring/firing/performance review responsibilities

But, prior pharmaceutical industry experience is NOT needed for entry-level physician roles (makes sense, right?).  Here are some examples of job description language that may sound intimidating, but is totally consistent with entry-level physician work, and you can expect to be trained/supported:

  •  joining (not building) a growing team 
  •  3-5 years experience in pharma (or less)
  •  cross-functional leadership (these are not people who report directly to you)
  •  clinical oversight of projects (not people)
  •  medical leadership of XYZ (that's why they are hiring you!)
  •  subject matter expert/therapeutic expertise (as above)
  •  collaborative leadership
  •  responsible for XYZ, decision maker for XYZ
  •  strategic input for XYZ
  •  hold matrix or enterprise partners accountable
  •  contribute to/ input on [even things you aren't necessarily familiar with today, like regulatory submissions, etc]

Obviously, there will be exceptions, particularly for smaller companies or startup environments (although these may have less stringent requirements, you will also have less support/training!).

This question comes up again and again - it is a key concern for my Industry Insider course students and coaching clients. Applying to the wrong level job is a recipe for rejection, leading you to feel discouraged and unqualified and hopeless, but that isn't the case!

I hope this post helps you to 'read between the lines' of job postings, and understand that you really DON'T need pharma experience to get your foot in the door. You just need to be looking at the right doors.

If you need more help with your career transition, please check out Industry Insider - it's got 12 hours of CME credit, and will help you land an industry job, step by step. 


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