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Making it! Getting to the top of the Pharma career ladder

Making it! Getting to the top of the Pharma career ladder


How to make it all the way to the top

Over the last few blogs we‘ve looked at the traditional and common career paths that can be followed in the UK Pharmaceutical industry, especially for those who start in Medical Sales. However, if you desire to reach the very top this means being relentlessly focussed on achieving that. This requires not only consistent high performance over many years, but a special commitment that will come with a cost.


In this blog we’re going to consider what it takes to get into some of the industry’s really senior roles, from Country Manager through to Global Vice Presidents and beyond. 


What does “the top” look like for you?

The first thing to do is to put both of your feet on the ground and honestly ask yourself; ‘what does getting to the top mean for me? How high can I really get?’ This is entirely your choice and should have a personal meaning just for you. You need to think and plan your career pathway without an ego! There is a danger that if you are unrealistic and don’t hit the lofty heights you’re dreaming of then you’ll risk spending your entire career being disappointed. Additionally, you need to be careful to be appreciative of the scope of your ability and be realistic about what you can achieve. It is important to realise that reaching your potential is specific to you and will be different from other people’s paths.


Know what motivates you

The next thing you’ll need to do is make sure you know what motivates you both at work and as a person. There are a number of reasons people want success; status, financial security or even proving others wrong. Whatever your driver, it’s important you know what makes you tick. In order to get to the top you’re going to have to answer that question every time you go for a promotion, and there’s a right way and a wrong way to answer any question like this. Whilst we’re not going to go into that in this blog there are plenty of other articles out there that offer advice on how to get clear on what motivates you and how to communicate that to others when asked.


The other thing you’re going to have to do is consistently display the behaviours related to your motivation for almost every day of your entire career. For example, if you say you’re motivated by working in a team yet all you seem to talk about is money or status then others will see right through you and struggle to take you seriously. So be conscious of what you say and make sure it’s genuine.


Focus on what you’re doing now and be the best you can be in your current job

This ties into knowing what motivates you. If you can't find a way to motivate yourself to achieve your goals in your current job, then your future goals will be nothing more than unrealised dreams. In any walk of life it’s important to stay grounded in the present and again there’s a lot of information and literature out there that focusses on what that means and how to master it.


To keep it simple, in order to progress you’re going to need to stand out against your current peer group. This is going to be down to a combination of delivering results in your current role, the behaviours you display each day and having the support of your current manager. So whatever role you’re in right now find a way to enjoy it, learn and grow from it, and make sure you do what’s being asked of you in the right way.


If you genuinely believe in yourself and love what you’re doing then you should keep progressing and get to reach your potential. However if you’re just focussed on the next step all the time, and forgetting about the present, then not only are you not fully committed to your current job, you’re probably not really enjoying yourself either.  


Building your network

If you have decided that you want to stretch yourself and test how far your ability can take you, don’t be afraid to build support with senior colleagues who you respect within your business. Having a network of one or more mentors who can guide and advise you, sharing their own experiences of rising up the career ladder and the pitfalls/challenges that may await you can be invaluable. Also, don’t be afraid to be open with your current line manager and HR lead about your ambitions and try to build a PDP for yourself that will help you gain the cross functional experiences necessary to progress to a senior management role.


Sacrifices you’ll need to make

The next thing you need to consider is that working ‘9 to 5’ five days a week in your home town for twenty years probably isn’t going to be enough to charge up the career ladder. Don’t get me wrong, we’re definitely not suggesting that you can’t achieve great things in this way by being smart in how you work, however from the thousands of candidates we’ve interviewed over the last 20 years there’s never a success story without significant life sacrifices being made along the way.


For example, many of our clients insist that in order to become a national team leader you have to have worked in a head office. In a similar vein to get into a Country Manager or Director role you will have to work in an above country role such as in the Global or European team. In these types of roles you’ll need to travel a fair amount and as you’re not restricted by when your customers will see you then there will be plenty of times when you’ll have to get the mid-night oil out. So be prepared to work hard and long hours!


Keeping a personal: professional life balance can become a real challenge. Ambitious candidates consistently tell us that this can be difficult. It’s at these points that you’ll need to decide how well a ‘career focussed lifestyle’ suits you and your personal situation and what you’re going to sacrifice vs prioritise. This is an endurance game and you’ll need to become a master at living a life of endless meetings, company politics and at times personal conflicts. Often many years are spent in Head Office, in airports and living out of a suitcase. If you’re still keen, are sure this is the path for you and truly believe in yourself then the only thing left to say is - never give up!


Top Tip!

LinkedIn is a great way to see the career path that executive level individuals have followed.

Since 1998, CHASE has helped thousands of ambitious individual’s move their careers up the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare ladders and we’ve also placed many of today’s leaders in senior positions. If you’re interested in seeing how far you can go in your career then we’d love to hear from you. Simply send a CV to with a short description of what you’re looking for and a member of our recruitment team will quickly be in touch. 


Huw Nicholas

Executive Solutions Lead