Landing a Retail Pharmacist Position, Part 2: The Interview Process

MAY 08, 2018



In Part 1, we discussed the competitive pharmacy job market, and the importance of, and tips for a powerful resume. Now, we will help you get through the interview process, so you can land your retail pharmacist job.

I spoke with about 20 district and regional pharmacy leaders, and recruiters of large chains, and have lots of great insider information, and tips to share. Before I go into that, I would just like to add several personal pieces of my own advice—the first is regarding cell phones.

I have spent many hours with district pharmacy supervisors over the years on routine visits while at work. It is possible that several times over the course of an hour, they will receive important phone calls that they cannot ignore, and an interview will pause momentarily. Ignore the temptation to look at your phone! If you have to leave your phone in the car, by all means, do it. If you are interviewing in an office, wait patiently, leaf through company materials if they are available. If you are interviewing right there in a pharmacy, while the supervisor is taking a call, have a conversation with a pharmacist or technicians. Be engaged and ask questions—show you are interested! Scrolling through a phone shows that you are distracted, and not fully engaged. Also, avoid looking at your watch, or leave the watch at home.

Second piece of my own advice—if you have a PharmD, this does not make you above those who have a BS. One pharmacist emailed me telling of a candidate who did NOT get the job. Why? Because he was talking about something and said, “You wouldn’t get it, you don’t have a PharmD.” Even if your mama always told you how great you are, you are not better than your potential coworkers. Don’t come in with an attitude. Communicate that you will be a team player—you will help the techs because they help you, and they are an important part of the team. Without them, you will drown. So, don’t make them angry. Bring them coffee and donuts, and be good to them. Say 'thank you' when they go the extra mile or stay late for you.

Third piece of advice—be on time for your interview, 5-10 minutes early (no earlier than that, or you will just be in the way). Do not be late. If you are late, you might as well throw in the towel, unless there is a legitimately good reason.

Experience is always helpful to finding a job, so if you are still in school, try to find an internship. Often, you can continue with the company after graduation, and if not, at least you have some experience under your belt.

Experienced district and regional leaders of large chains who I spoke to, generally have a similar consensus on what they look for in a pharmacist:
  • Leadership—Candidate shows ability to lead, and motivate the team
  • A great coach—Someone who enjoys sharing knowledge with others
  • Team player—Candidate must understand role as part of a team, and the whole team works together to succeed.
  • Customer service oriented—This comes up with every single district leader—someone who shows empathy to both internal customers (colleagues/associates) and external customers (patients)—district/regional leadership emphasizes that you can train anyone to use a computer, but you can’t train a pharmacist to be friendly, engaging, and helpful. This absolutely must come across in the interview.
  • Great Personality—Do you go out of your way to explain meds, find cheaper alternatives if necessary, go the extra mile?
  • Clinical driven—For patient care services, such as immunizations
  • Ethics—Is the candidate trustworthy?
  • Integrity/focus on compliance—Companies look to protect profits. One fine or lawsuit can erase years of hard work for the team by erasing profits. Rules, regulations, and laws are in place to protect the patients—there is no gray area, but only black and white when you consider compliance.
  • Ability to multitask
  • Someone who will 'roll up their sleeves' and get to work
  • Ability to adapt and welcome change—Because pharmacy is always changing, candidates must not be resistant to change. A change-resistant pharmacist is one that won’t be satisfied or perform at a high level. Innovation and change must be welcomed.
  • Coachability/Flexibility/Able to accept constructive criticism
  • Involvement with pharmacy schools and/or professional organizations
  • Ability to think on their feet/respond to situational questions
  • Someone who fits the culture of the company
  • Experience, as well as growth oriented—Recruiters explain that they can afford to be picky in this job market. There are many great candidates that can be good staff pharmacists, but there are fewer that are future leaders, so a desirable candidate wants to grow in their career.
  • Excellent communication Skills/Personality to be the role of the most trusted health care professional in the community.
  • Enthusiasm—Someone who wants to work for the company, rather than someone who only wants a paycheck, but not desperation, which could be seen as a high turnover risk
Here are some DO’s for your interview:
  • Be genuine with responses
  • Be engaging
  • Be yourself and speak to your strengths, while acknowledging your weaknesses, and what you’re doing to improve them
  • Focus on how you would fit the culture of the company
  • Be sure to provide specific examples during behavioral interview questions—often interviewers are met with blank stares and/or vague responses. Give examples to illustrate your point, such as how you solved a tricky customer service situation. Behavioral questions are a big focus right now—use a list of questions to think about and prepare answers
  • Be sure to mention volunteer projects, which show drive and willingness to go above and beyond, which could make you stand out from the competition
  • Thoroughly research the company before the interview
  • Make eye contact
  • Bring an extra copy of your resume to the interview, on crisp, good quality paper
Here are some DON’T’s for your interview:
  • Don’t be too wordy with answers, and don’t appear arrogant (these two traits are viewed as things that could negatively impact the patients)
  • On the other hand, don’t be too short. Find a happy medium.
  • Don’t skip over the recruiter asking, “What questions do you have for me?” Surprisingly, many candidates do not ask questions, and this tells the recruiter that the candidate is not as interested as someone else who does ask questions.
  • Don’t lie about previous employment—and definitely do not speak badly about a previous employer. One of my experts likens an interview to a date—you don’t go on a date and talk about your ex, because the new interest does not want to hear about him/her—same with a job!
Every pharmacist applicant has a similar overall initial resume. Candidates really have to sell themselves and convey what makes them stand out in this competitive market. According to my experts, many candidates just talk about experience and do not focus on selling themselves—how can you help the company succeed?

Be yourself! Let your personality shine through. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to find the perfect fit for you—it is out there! Whether you are a new graduate or an experienced pharmacist looking for a new job, I hope these tips help, and I wish you the best of luck in your job search!

Karen Berger, PharmD
Karen Berger, PharmD
Karen Berger, PharmD, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy in 2001. She has worked in community pharmacies for over 16 years as a Pharmacist in Charge, staff, and floater pharmacist for a large chain. Currently, she is a pharmacist at an independent pharmacy in Northern NJ. She can be reached at karenmichelleberger@gmail.com
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