Getting Ahead: Advancing Your Career Through Strategic Job Searching

At the cornerstone of any successful pharmaceutical development program is a well-developed and executed plan.

By Megan Driscoll, President, PharmaLogics Recruiting

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Most pharmaceutical professionals would agree that a proactive approach is a key element to success when dealing with day-to-day development issues. They anticipate potential problems and develop systems ahead of time specifically designed to handle the issues that are bound to surface at some point. Pharmaceutical professionals deal in grey areas on a consistent basis and have to weigh the potential risks in decisions they make every day. With proper planning being such an important part of success, it is bewildering to discover the substantial number of scientific professionals who do not apply the same proactive approach to their most important project...their own career.

In the following paragraphs, we will outline some simple strategies for advancing your career through a continuous process of proactive job searching. Most people think of job searching as posting a CV on the Monster board or submitting resumes to companies via on-line methods.

A better approach is much more strategic and involves a career long process which can be broken down into 5 simple steps: (I) establishing an individual development plan; (II) gaining new experience to improve your marketability; (III) creating opportunities within your current company; (IV) establishing and maintaining an active professional network to create external opportunities; and (V) evaluating your progress throughout the process. This might seem like an overwhelming process at first glance but as you will learn, it really involves some simple action items that anyone can follow. Whether your long term career goals involve moving up the company ladder, making lots of money, ensuring your own job stability or a combination of these things, following this process will allow you to attain your goals quicker and will help you to avoid getting stuck in a professional rut.

I. Establishing an individual development plan

The individual development plan is your roadmap to success. It is essentially an outline highlighting your current strengths along with the experience you need to gain in order to attain your long term career objectives. The first step in establishing your development plan is to set personal goals. This task seems obvious, but not many people actually take the time to physically write down their career goals. Where do you want to be in 5 years? How about in 10 years?

When your long term career goals are written down in black and white, it is much easier to evaluate what you can do this year to get yourself a step closer to reaching them. You may not achieve that Director or VP title that you desire immediately, but the steps you take now will better position yourself to attain that goal in the future. Another benefit of actually writing down your goals is that it will be much easier to realize when you are veering slightly off course. When you recognize a deviation early, a slight reorganization of your priorities can usually get you back on track. Conversely, if you are slow to recognize even a small variance from the course, you will end up having to do some major backpedaling.

Once you have established your career goals, the second step in creating your individual development plan is to update your resume. Do not wait until you are applying for a new position in order to do this. You should update your resume at least once per year.  Include new certifications and title changes that you have received and significant accomplishments that you have been a part of. Now is the time for some honest self-evaluation. Does your resume look more qualified for that Associate Director role you desire today than it did a year ago?

Share your resume with a colleague whom you respect and ask them to evaluate it critically. If you were to apply for a senior position in their organization, what would they say about your experience? Do the same with a recruiter that you trust. Use your own judgment as well as these second and third opinions to identify the experiences that you are lacking. Identifying your career goals and updating your resume allows you to build your individual development plan and begin to monitor your progress. Because you know where you want to go (career goals) and where you are (current resume), you can map out the experience you need to gain and interim positions that must be attained in order to reach your long term objective.

Your plan should include any training and coursework needed to gain new skills and projects in your company that can expand your knowledgebase. Write out the actions you intend to take to move along your path to advancement including steps to strengthen the weaknesses you have diagnosed.

II. Gaining new experience to improve your marketability

Your career goals are established, you have identified your weaknesses and outlined a development plan. That plan likely includes gaining exposure to new things. Why is this important? The more experience and responsibility that you can demonstrate on your resume, the more attractive you become to both your current employer as well as other companies. Read the biographies of executives in your field and you will likely see experience in a breadth of areas and within companies both large and small. This is not a coincidence. Dynamic leaders seek new opportunities for growth and hiring managers seek candidates whose resumes demonstrate accomplishments in a variety of settings.

We advise all of our candidates to treat their resume like an investment. Every day that you go to work is a little more time and energy invested into your long-term return. We firmly believe that the experience you gain, especially during the earlier portion of your career, is significantly more important than the wage you are receiving. That is to say, the difference between making $90K or $100K this year is insignificant when compared to what you will earn over the course of your career. Of course, all things being equal, everyone would like to make more money today.

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