WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN YOUR FIRST JOB IN PHARMACY

Tom O'Connor, PharmD, MBA
Published Online: Wednesday, February 1, 2006
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I THINK I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE thinking: ?The job market is great. Everyone will find a job even prior to graduation, and I?ve got college loans to pay off.? All of these factors lead you to the impression that the best first job is the one that pays the highest salary. While I understand your preoccupation with earnings, some jobs are better than others even when the starting salary is lower. Let?s explore the factors that make for an excellent first job as a pharmacist.

Salary

I mention money first, only because I know that you are thinking about it first. The key to comparing salaries is to remember that it is not money that you really want?it is purchasing power. Before looking at the hourly or yearly salaries in order to compare jobs, remember to adjust the salaries to reflect their actual purchasing powers. First, adjust the salaries to the cost of living in the respective geographic locations of the jobs. It is one thing to say that you need to make more money in California than Pennsylvania; it is quite another to estimate just how much more.

Then, too, you must account for taxes. Taxes cut into your take-home salary, so be sure to consider them when you are comparing salaries. Be particularly aware of county or city taxes, because they vary even in small geographic areas and can be a significant amount of lost pay.

Finally, adjust your salary comparison to reflect out-of-pocket costs for benefits such as parking, health care, and eye and dental insurance. You also may want to adjust for travel costs to and from competitive job opportunities. The portion of benefits that you have to pay clearly lessens your take-home pay. Once you have adjusted competing salaries based upon cost of living, taxes, out-of-pocket expenses, and benefits, you will have a fair comparison of relative take-home pays.

Benefits

The value of employer-provided services offered to you that can be quantified in terms of dollars is your benefit. You will want to have health care, dental insurance, and eye care if you wear corrective lenses. You will also want a pre-tax retirement account into which the employer contributes based upon your own level of contribution. If one employer is willing to match all or a portion of your contribution to your retirement account, consider that amount as additional salary. Some folks call it ?free money,? because it is given to you just because you chose to save. Plan to contribute to your retirement plan at least the amount that your competing employers will contribute. Remember that a good retirement plan can mean a lot of future dollars for you, as Uncle Sam is letting you use both your money and the employer contributions to gain interest for you.

Just to demonstrate the power of compound interest over time, let?s say that you save $500 a month and your employer matches that with an additional $500. Since the government is not taxing it, you will have $1000 per month that will gain interest for you. Assuming that you stay with your first employer for 5 years, you will have saved close to $70,000 at a modest interest rate of 6% annually. That could be close to an additional year?s take-home pay!

Remember, too, that some employers will pay for you to take additional education. This is an important benefit, since you must take continuing pharmacy education to maintain your license and certificate, and diploma programs facilitate your career growth. Plan on taking full advantage of tuition reimbursement, and look for a first job that values professional development through education.

Company Climate

We?re not talking about the temperature here. Company climate refers to the energy, spirit, values, and culture of an organization. It also relates to their efforts to mentor young employees and support them through orientation programs and professional development career planning. While it is difficult to value ?company climate? in terms of dollars, it is the key factor that will contribute to the enjoyment and fulfillment that you gain through employment. It is difficult to define a positive company climate, but there are some clear hallmarks for it. Here are some questions to ask with regard to a positive company climate:

  • Does management consider your ideas for improving effectiveness or efficiency?
  • Do employees get together occasionally to have lunch or go out after work?
  • What is the turnover rate for employees?
  • Is there a clear path to professional advancement in the organization?
  • Do managers have an open-door policy, or must you make an appointment to discuss issues with them?
  • Is company gossip rampant or held to a minimum?
  • As you continue on the job, do you have an opportunity to take on more responsibility and new challenges ?

Those are just a few questions that, when answered in the affirmative, support a positive company climate. It is the intangibles that make the job interesting and rewarding. Please do not dismiss them when seeking your first position.

In summary, do not focus solely on salary. When comparing salaries, be sure to adjust them so that you compare take-home salaries and not gross salaries. Remember that it is important to start saving now for retirement, so value retirement plans that have significant contributions from your employer. Finally, remember that your job should be enjoyable, and that it is the company climate that helps to make it so.

Good luck in your job hunt!

Dr. O'Connor is the pharmacy student clerkship coordinator at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, Pa. He has taught clinical pharmacy and pharmacy management at 3 different schools of pharmacy and serves as the career counselor on the Pharmacy Times Web site.




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