Pharmaceutical careers involve working at the threshold of medical innovation – whether your job is within drug development, leadership, or advertising, there’s a role where every skill set can make an impact on the wider world of health.
In the UK, the pharmaceutical industry adds the most value per employee to the UK economy over any other sector, delivering £40.7 billion in turnover with just 66,000 employees across the country.
As a result, the pharmaceutical sector is well-funded by the government, and is expanding fast across the nation. In the North of England, and the Golden Triangle, pharmaceutical superclusters provide ample opportunity for scientific candidates to forge a successful career.
The question is, what type of pharmaceutical career is most likely to empower your success?
In this article, we’ll explore the two core careers tracks in pharma, and provide actionable advice to help inform and optimise your career decisions.
Read on to discover:
- What types of jobs there are in pharma
- How to assess whether a technical or commercial role is right for you
- Career pathways in the pharmaceutical industry
What types of jobs are there in pharma?
When working with pharmaceutical candidates, whether they’re a graduate or an established professional, we assess whether they feel they’re in the right role.
The core role types in pharma fall into two categories:
- Technical – Includes: quality assurance, formulation, analysis, drug development
- Commercial – Includes: project management, sales, business development
Technical roles focus on getting a product through drug development and are often responsible for some aspect of the technical delivery of a product.
Meanwhile, commercial roles tend to be client facing, and involve representing the company. This can include communicating with stakeholders about services and offerings, as well as working with suppliers and partners to deliver the commercial aspect of a project.
How to assess whether a technical or commercial role is right for you
When choosing between a technical or commercial career path, it’s important to establish your key drivers in the workplace. What specifically do you enjoy at work? Are you motivated by technical delivery and project completion? Or are you more interested in working directly with people and speaking to customers?
To help support your understanding, we’ve put together two checklists with just a few of the key attributes needed for a successful career in both areas.
The key attributes of a successful commercial candidate include:
- Motivated by KPIs and objectives
- Interested in company performance
- Interested in the commercial aspects of a product
- Strong communicator
- Motivated by stakeholder interaction
The key attributes of a successful technical candidate include:
- Motivated by a structured work environment
- Motivated by recognition for product delivery
- Interested in working in a lab environment
- Interested in being immersed in technical product delivery
When assessing the key drivers behind your career motivations, it’s important to consider things from a broader perspective, away from the direct job requirements. If you’re moving on from a previous role, take the time to identify what it is about your current job that’s inciting you to leave – whether it be location, company culture, or salary.
For those starting out in their career, think through what environment motivates you most, and assess whether that’s reflected by your target organisation’s company culture. Alongside this, consider what salary most suits your requirements and education level, as well as what location suits your long-term goals.
Pharmaceutical candidates looking for a greater salary often turn to commercial roles, where the target-driven incentives offer the chance to earn a greater salary. Meanwhile, scientists looking for a more on-hands approach to scientific innovation often turn towards more technical positions and build their salary through their experience.
Career pathways in the pharmaceutical industry
In my experience as a pharmaceutical recruitment consultant, I’ve found that as people working in technical roles progress, their careers naturally steer towards a more commercial role as stakeholder interaction increases with seniority.
Many professionals in technical roles develop their careers as managers, and eventually progress upwards into work as a director – at which point their previously technical role evolves and becomes both commercial, and technical.
For those that are dedicated to a technical career, senior technical experts in pharma tend to eventually become subject matter experts in a core specialism. As a technical expert, roles can be more competitive and harder to come by depending on the core specialism, but with the right expertise, often comes a lucrative salary, and a strong career trajectory.
In terms of forging a commercial career, the journey from a technical to a commercial role is common, and often quite seamless. However, if you’re away from the hands-on work environment a technical role offers, it can be more challenging to make the transition back to a technical role after some time working in an operational position (this is not to say that it’s impossible, but it is uncommon).
When making the transition from a more commercial role to a technical role, I would advise increasing your exposure to as much technical work as possible. In your interview, it’s important to reflect your drive and motivation with examples where you can show that you’ve worked to establish yourself as a technical subject matter expert.
Accelerate your career in Pharma with SRG
At SRG, we have over 30 years of experience helping candidates across the globe establish successful scientific careers in the pharmaceutical industry.
View our latest jobs in pharma below to find your next opportunity.
About the author: Behruz Sheikh specialises in providing innovative solutions around talent to companies across the life sciences sector, with a strong focus on pharmaceuticals, medtech and biotech. Having established a strong network across the north of England across SMEs, start-ups, and big pharma, he has provided a wide range of bespoke talent solutions to organisations from ad-hoc niche scientific searches to onsite RPO solutions. Behruz’s team specialise in placing a wide range of STEM roles spanning across bench to boardroom; typical roles include: analytical chemists, microbiologists, molecular biologists, formulation chemists, upstream biotechnologists, downstream biotechnologists, GMP quality specialists up to qualified person, and commercial roles such as project managers and business development managers.
Connect with Behruz on LinkedIn to learn more about our opportunities in the field.