How to build a great pharma career?

How to build a great pharma career?

Srinivasan Iyer,

CEO, MPower Business Facilitators

Do all the guys and girls who stand first in the class make it to the highest rung of the corporate ladder? Logically, they should be doing exceedingly well than others. However, research shows otherwise.

A number of scientific studies have rated IQ as accounting for between 4 percent and 25 percent of a person’s success on the job. Even if we take the upper limit of 25 percent, three quarters of the factors that make a person successful have nothing to do with IQ. Obviously, there’s more to success than IQ.

Most intelligence tests focus only on cognitive aspects such as memory, reasoning ability and problem solving for the simple reason that they are easy to measure. However, as early as in the 1940’s researchers found that non-intellective elements, mainly the social sensitivity and interpersonal skills, played a key role in making an executive successful.

Am I saying that IQ doesn’t matter? Well, not really. Let’s get this straight. Whenever a candidate is interviewed for a job, he is quizzed on his qualifications and experience. My experience as a consultant and as an interviewer reveals that qualifications are different from the knowledge a person possesses. Qualification is about earning the best grades while knowledge is all about understanding how to apply what you have learned. Sorry to say, qualifications don’t mean much. What the industry needs is knowledge.

As for experience, it’s not about the number of years that one has worked in the industry. What companies look for are skill and mastery over the subject. What about freshers with no prior experience? Well, here we look for potential to perform effectively on the job.

Often we find that a candidate who has an excellent resume is an utter failure when put in a team. Why? Knowledge and skills are just tip of the iceberg. What indicates how a person will perform on the job is his attitude towards life, work and people. Will he take initiative on the job? Is he trustworthy? Will he be a good team player? Can he lead a team in the future? All these boil down to attitude.

I prefer to bet on attitude. If a person doesn’t have the necessary skill or knowledge, the gap can be filled by coaching. But you can’t teach attitude. It’s a product of nature (genes) and nurture (upbringing). You can only hone it.

The complete set of knowledge, skill and attitude is known as ‘competency’. Competency is more than a combination of the right knowledge and right skills. It also includes the ability and motivation to deploy the knowledge and skills for achieving the desired performance.

Thus, competency includes appropriate behaviors, which cause performance.

Behaviours on the other hand are caused by a whole host of factors, some of which are deeply embedded in a person’s personality, like motives, self-image and values.

IQ, knowledge and skills are threshold competencies.

If you don’t have them, you don’t get the job. Once you bag the job, you can also get your first promotion solely on your technical skills. If you are a good performer, you may be considered for a supervisory role. Suddenly, you find that things are not in your control anymore. You are not only responsible for your work but also for the performance of your team members.

Getting work done from others is an art. Your technical expertise may not help much. You need man-management skills, ability to persuade others and take quick decisions. Attitude is the differentiating competency. It’s attitude that differentiates a star performer from average and low performers.

Some of the differentiating competencies that pharma companies look for are:

Self esteem

If you want to be successful, you need to have a realistic self-esteem. High self-esteem leads to over-confidence and low self esteem leads to an inferiority complex. Realistic self esteem requires that you have an accurate self-assessment. You need to know your strengths and limits.

Confident people have a strong sense of self-worth. They welcome challenges and difficult assignments. And that’s precisely what makes them stand out in a group and get noticed by the senior management of the company.

Can you go up to a leading doctor in your city and make a sales pitch? You may be good R&D scientist but can you work on a project that takes months to see the light of the day. If you are looking at a career in Regulatory affairs, you need a lot of self-esteem to deal with statutory authorities.

A ‘Go-getter’ spirit

Go-getters are people who have self-motivation and are passionate about their work. Highly self-motivated people are not driven by external rewards. They are driven by the desire to achieve. Faced with a challenge, highly self-motivated people do not give up. They are persistent and, thus, are more likely to be successful in achieving their goals.

People with high skill levels of self motivation initiate improvements in their jobs, departments and division. They succeed at difficult assignments more often than those with low self motivation. Their motivation is infectious. They also motivate their colleagues.

Your ability to build rapport with doctors, chemists, contract research agencies, foreign principals and vendors will be an asset to your organisation.

Self Management

The corporate environment is full of uncertainty. The pressure to perform is high. Pharma companies are now keen on hiring executives who can manage themselves better and who can grow in their career to become good managers.

Are you an optimist? Can you keep your disruptive emotions and impulses under control?

Can you be trusted to display honesty and integrity in whatever you do? Change is the order of the day. Can you adapt to changing environment?

Are you flexible in working with bosses and team members who have differing personality styles?

Do you have the achievement drive to set stretch goals and achieve them?

During your college projects, were you the one who took the initiative to complete the project? If yes, you will go a long way in your career.

Ability to plan

There are people who don’t know what they are supposed to do. We aren’t talking of them here. Then there are those to whom you give a job and need to constantly follow-up. These are average performers. Star performers are clear about their priorities in life and work. If your dream is to become a manager soon, you need to be good in planning your time and work.

A sales manager needs to set targets for each of his sales executives as well as stockists. He also needs to ensure that they deliver their targets.

A production manager has to plan his production schedules effectively such that resources are put to optimal use.You need to consider a variety of possible actions and come up with alternate plans. Once you draw a plan of execution, you also need to execute it well. However, do not stick to the plan when it doesn’t work out. It’s important that you assess the situation and the relevance of your plan to the changed scenario regularly and make changes in your plan accordingly.

Delegating effectively

You can’t do all the work yourself. You need to delegate work to others. Delegation doesn’t just happen. Just like any other task that you perform as a manager, you have to work at it.

First, you need to communicate the task. Describe exactly what you want done, when you want it done, and what end results you expect. You also need to explain why the task needs to be done and why is it important.

You must also provide the necessary resources and empower your tem members with the authority necessary to complete the task.

Team spirit

The interviewer would want to know whether you are a good team player. He may quiz you about a team project in which you participated and your primary role in the same. You may be asked about a team effort that did not work well and how did you handle it? And there could be a question on what do you like most and least about working as part of a team?

These questions are aimed at assessing whether you take initiative in team projects and whether you contribute your best. You may be a person with great potential and capabilities. You may have a number of achievements to your credit. But if you aren’t a team player, no pharma company will hire you.

Today, an R&D scientist cannot do only research. He has to work closely with his colleagues in the production department to commercialise the product. A product executive or manager cannot only conceive a product. He has to work closely with the sales team to form and execute strategies to make the product a success.


Leading from the front is what is expected by you. You will need to change your leadership style according to the situation. You also need to apply different leadership techniques with different team members. With some team members, ‘directing’ is required. For some people, ‘coaching’ works.

There are insensitive managers who try to bulldoze their staff. They think that steady criticism, backed by a loud voice and veiled threats of redundancy, will spur staff on to greater efforts. Some managers are introverted and shy and spend their time trying to avoid people, producing complaints of poor communication and lack of recognition. Others try to be ‘nice’ to everyone and withhold what needs to be said.

Team members value leaders who are human and who don’t hide behind their authority. The best leaders are those who aren’t afraid to be themselves. Managers who respect and connect with others on a human level inspire great loyalty.

Street smartness

This is the most important competency. It’s about understanding the pharma business and the pulse of the market. As an area sales manager, you need to collect and analyse market information about each of your company’s products and forward the product-wise business potential to your marketing team. You will need to come up with good promotion strategies to enhance customer awareness for your brands. You also need to monitor the activities of your competitors especially their new products, packaging and pricing strategies. As a product manager, you need to analyse whether the product segment is growing, de-growing or is stagnant.

If you believe you have the above competencies, hone them well and you will have a great career in pharma. There’s no stopping the person with the right attitude. The world out there is waiting for you. Pharma companies will welcome you with open arms. Who doesn’t want a star performer?