As a Young Professional or a new graduate evaluating job postings, what level of position should I consider? How can I know if I would be a qualified candidate?

This article was published in the September/October 2016 edition of Pharmaceutical Engineering® Magazine.

This is a common question for new grads and young professionals in the industry. The functional areas in which newly graduated scientists and engineers frequently get their start are manufacturing operations and quality control (QC). With the proper education or training in place, many of these opportunities require minimum to no previous career experience. Associate-level job titles are common in these categories, such as manufacturing associate, QC associate I, associate scientist, or associate engineer. For candidates that do not have internships or other direct hands-on experience in manufacturing or QC, temporary or contract assignments may be a great opportunity to gain the experience required to be considered for full-time roles.

Most organizations write job descriptions very carefully, and often include minimum degree and experience requirements. When you see that certain credentials are “required,” these should be viewed as the absolute minimum needed to be considered qualified. While “preferred” skills and training are more of a like-to-have, candidates possessing these qualifications will have clear advantage in the overall consideration for the role. Internships and co-ops are often considered work experience, while academic research and projects are not. As long as you meet the minimum requirements, the job level should be in the general ballpark of what you are targeting.

You may find that opportunities within the functional areas you are pursuing require experience you do not possess. “How do you get experience when all the opportunities require experience?” you may wonder. You may need to consider a bridge position to gain the skills necessary to be a competitive candidate as a stepping stone to your ultimate career destination. LinkedIn can be a very powerful tool in gaining career-path knowledge.

Let’s say that you are interested in being a process engineer at an operating company. You have been exploring job descriptions, but you see that all openings require minimum experience that you do not possess. Try searching LinkedIn for individuals that are currently employed at the company in the position you are considering. Their profiles will allow you to see what kind of credentials these individuals possess, and more importantly, what positions they held prior to landing the job you want. With this data, you should be able to see trends that indicate how the people in those roles got their start, and how they were able to leverage their experience to move their career forward.

While the information you find online will help you a great deal, there is no substitute for networking. As an ISPE Member, you have access to some of the best events in the industry, each of which will allow you to network with other Members that can help you understand careers in the industry. Many chapters offer career events to give Young Professionals insight to career paths and what “a day in the life” might look like in various functional areas. The more knowledgeable you are about the roles you are pursuing, the better you can prepare and present your capabilities as a candidate. Who better to give you this knowledge than individuals currently in the positions you are pursuing? To find out more information about upcoming events, visit

Finally, it is important to be realistic about positions for which you would be considered qualified. Employers are flooded with highly qualified applicants, and it is a risky proposition to consider people who do not possess the experience and training necessary to do the job. You will need to carefully target jobs at which you can prove you’d be successful—not just jobs where you think “I could do that.”

Try putting yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes: What would make them excited about hiring you? If you can’t figure out why they should be excited about hiring you, this should be an indication that you need to move on to a different opening—one where you can make a compelling case for yourself. Ultimate success will be driven by your ability demonstrate specific evidence that you would excel in the role.

By: David G. Smith

David G. Smith is Principle Recruiting Partner for Biogen’s manufacturing, manufacturing sciences and quality organizations in the United Sates.

Send Your Questions to David

Do you have questions about job searches in the pharma industry? Not sure about your career path? Send your questions to We’ll publish your Q&A in an upcoming issue of PE magazine.

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