Career Advice for Graduate Students: An Evening with a Manager at Canada's Biggest Pharmaceutica

To kickstart an evening event on Queen’s University campus, Alex Lang showcased the unorthodox career path he took from PhD graduate to securing his position as manager at the largest pharmaceutical company in Canada. Although sitting with Janssen as the Manager of Medical Information for Oncology and Haematology, Alex explained that his career journey was akin to that of “drunk bumble bee” and not as straightforward as one might think.

The core of his message is one that can provide comfort to many – your career journey is not going to go according to plan. Sometimes things happen that you cannot anticipate but if you are prepared for the journey, you can learn from your experiences and become successful.

Some key take-always from his talk:

Your job search is a full-time job that you need to invest in.

  • Set realistic goals for your job search to keep you accountable. For example: contact 5 employers by the end of the week, update my LinkedIn profile by Wednesday, etc.

  • Craft your resume and cover letter specific to the job you are applying to and describe how you are the ideal candidate. The same resume should never be submitted to more than one employer. Lastly, your resume should include dynamic and key words that are listed on the job posting. Describe what you achieved, not what you did. Broad descriptions of your activities are not a good selling point.

  • Keep notes on what applications you have completed and which interviews you are attending. Take notes and write down reminders when communicating. Information can get lost when you are applying to many jobs across many companies.

  • Always be ready to network! This is how you find out about job openings and potentially get a foot in the door to employers! Be sure to have a business card available for anyone you meet and a 30-60 second elevator pitch about yourself!

  • The job description highlights the perfect candidate. The company has time restrictions and end up hiring the best candidate they see in that time. Alex stressed that you can typically apply to a job with 2 years LESS experience than requested as long as you meet all other criteria for the position.

Interviews are like final exams. Study for them!

  • Research the company and read recent press releases, annual reports, and other news. The more you know about the company, the easier it is for the employer to envision you at the company.

  • Be sure to gauge the environment and the typical dress attire and dress accordingly. There is a fine line between over- and under-dressing.

  • Verbally prepare for behavioural competency questions. These are typically the most important types of questions you will be asked. On average a 2-minute response is best and should follow the following structure: STAR (situation, task, action, results).

  • Be sure to set yourself apart, maintain good (but not awkward) eye contact, exhibit enthusiasm, and practice good personal hygiene. Small aspects about you and your performance add up in the end and are considered when the employer decides on whether or not to hire you.

  • Make sure to properly close an interview. Make sure that the interviewer has all the information about you that they need and clarify any points they are unsure about. Lastly, make sure to ask questions. Come up with a list of questions you can ask as this shows that you prepared and are interested in the company.

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