Build a biopharma career
Image: NIBRT

How to build a biopharma career in 5 easy(ish) steps

31 May 2017

Want to work in the exciting world of biopharma? Here’s how to become a success in five relatively easy steps.

When it comes to building a fruitful biopharma career, you’ll need to know where to start. You’ll then need to build your experience and knowledge of the industry, and find one of the many jobs out there.

We’re only five months into 2017 and there has already been nearly 850 jobs in biotech and pharma announced in Ireland alone, with many more hiring on a continuous basis.

For those with an interest in pharmaceuticals, science and health, building a successful biopharma career can actually be pretty simple, providing you know how to start and where to go from there.

To help you, we spoke to Siobhán Browne, HR consultant at the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT). She gave us a step-by-step guide for how to build your biopharma career.

Get the right education

The first step to a successful career in any sector is to get the right education that best suits the career path. But what does that mean for someone who wants to pursue a biopharma career?

“Well, it depends on the area they want to get into,” said Browne. “They might do science or they might do engineering or they might do quality.”

Browne said the principle route for someone interested in biopharma is usually working in the actual manufacturing of drugs. This would require a core scientific background, particularly with a strong biotech or chemistry focus.

After that, most biotech or pharma graduates would go on to do a more focused level 9 degree. “They might have a general science qualification and then they might do a specific level 9 that’s targeted at biomedic or pharmaceutical manufacturing,” said Browne.

When it comes to making yourself as employable as possible, she said the industry is moving away from classical pharmaceuticals and more towards bio. “If you had a classical pharma background, you’d probably need to go and upskill in bio to make the conversion.”

She added that the more practical the master’s degree – for example, working with growing cell lines – the more likely you are to go into industry at a more advanced level.

Round up as much experience as possible

Education aside, candidates interested in pursuing a biopharma career need to get as much practical experience, involvement in the field and applied internships as possible. The more you can get while still studying, the better.

“That would absolutely elevate the nature of the role that they’re going to be able to secure as an undergraduate,” said Browne.

“Once they’re within industry, there will be very comprehensive training programmes that their employers will have in place.”

Gathering practical experience will help you upskill faster, especially when it comes to skills such as working with equipment or learning laboratory practices in an industry setting. This will help you stand out from those whose experience comes purely from education.

“All of the major employers in that space have sizeable annual budgets for vast career development and progression,” said Browne.

Perfect your biopharma CV

Once you have your education and you’ve gained as much experience as you can, it’s time to go searching for your first biotech or pharma job.

The first step to finding your dream job is to perfect your CV. This seems like an obvious step, and one that can apply to pretty much any career. However, crafting a CV for a biotech career requires particular care.

“A lot of the organisations have very significant numbers of candidates, so they tend to use a data mining tool when CVs come in first that helps them rank applicants,” explained Browne.

The kind of language you use in your CV and how frequently you use it is really important when applying for biotech and pharma jobs, because the data mining technologies will look for particular words, phrases and skills.

“Be sure to list the technologies, the scientific techniques and the systems that you have used and learned.”

Additionally, Browne said all major biotech and pharma recruiters trawl LinkedIn looking for candidates. Therefore, it’s important to treat your LinkedIn profile the same way you treat your CV, listing the specific skills and technologies you have learned.

Biopharma candidates should also join various industry groups on LinkedIn to help build connections.

Go to job fairs and events

When candidates go hunting for a job in the biopharma sector, there are plenty of options. There are many companies hiring right now if you have the right experience.

However, if you feel it’s a bit early in your biopharma career to be looking there, Browne said there are lots of job boards to get you started, including Springboard, Career Zoo and Biotech Ireland.

“[Candidates will] see the links to the various recruiters and employers, and they’ll see the opportunities that are arising.”

She also said there are lots of job fairs and events that give great advice to graduates as well as opportunities to meet the spectrum of people in the biopharma sector.

When it comes to movement within this field, Browne said it depends on how a particular company recruits.

“For example, Pfizer only recruits for entry stage through a third party.” This means that entry-level employees tend to only receive fixed-term contracts.

“Whereas, if they’re looking for qualified scientists or someone with a PhD, Pfizer recruits for those directly and offers them different career paths, longer contracts, opportunities for growth and advancement in the business.”

Decide how you want to progress

Once employed, you have made it onto the first rung of your biopharma career ladder. The final step is all about deciding where you want to go from there and how you want your career to develop.

“Businesses invest a lot in the people who go into them to make them very competent in their systems and standards, so they do tend to want to ensure they stay with them as long as possible,” said Browne.

This gives anyone working in biopharma multiple options to reach the top of their career. Browne said employees should think about whether or not they want to stay in a scientific role or move into a managerial position.

For people who want to stay scientific, they can either go to production, or research and development (R&D).

R&D people would hold PhDs and be constantly working on the development of new pipelines of drugs for the company, working closely with clinical trial organisations.

Alternatively, you could work directly for the clinical trial company. “Icon is the biggest clinical trials company in the world and they’re based up in Sandyford in Dublin, and they run clinical trials on a commercial basis for all the major drug manufacturers globally.”

Browne said that for those who want to pursue the management side of a biopharma career, they should consider doing an MBA or a degree in finance, with the intention of heading for an MD or CEO position.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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