Pharmacy Career Advice from Big Brother

April 30, 2015

Here is a blueprint for professional success.

After several years of teaching in academia, I began to realize most people have similar questions and concerns about their career paths. In response to this, I developed what I call my “Big Brother” Session in the inaugural class of every term.

I named this class not after a bad reality TV show or an Orwellian nightmare, but a talk my older sibling once gave me. Before I began ninth grade, my brother sat me down and explained the do’s and don’t's of high school. So, I began to pay it forward and have been walking countless numbers of students through my tips for success in my Big Brother Sessions.

Young pharmacists receive an excellent education in clinical acumen, but often find themselves struggling to navigate their way (sometimes blindly) in the working world. Here is a blueprint for professional success:

1. Find someone who has the position you want.

Do you seek to become a director of a hospital pharmacy? Do you want to use your pharmacy skills to become an entrepreneur in the health care industry? Find someone who already has the position you are striving for, talk to them, and learn from them to better understand how they got where they are. Did they receive specialized training or skills to boost them into that role? Do they belong to special organizations? Did they attend particular networking events?

I have found most people are happy to at least speak with eager young professionals. Present yourself well, get your foot in the door, and be open to all opportunities that may come your way as a result. This includes working pro bono for projects.

2. Develop a skill, specialty, or certification beyond the status quo.

Regardless of whether you are looking for a job or currently have a job, you should always have an up-to-date resume reflective of how your particular skill set makes you an asset to any organization. Does the individual with your dream job have a master’s degree in a specific field? Did he or she complete an advanced level course or certificate? Perhaps you should do something similar.

Education is always an effective method to develop skills, establish your niche, and put you ahead of the pack. Whether it is a course, certification, or degree you pursue, increasing your knowledge base can't hurt. But, it may not help as much if you do not market yourself and your achievements correctly.

3. Market yourself.

Marketing yourself as the professional you are in the image you would like to be seen takes hard work, patience, and dedication. In addition to continuously fine tuning your resume, use social media to your advantage and make sure it does not become a liability. Specifically, make sure no online pictures, statuses, or tweets exist that you would not want your potential boss to see!

Also, imagine yourself as a brand name and that you are the CEO. Always strive to produce quality results in whatever you do so that when people mention your name, they will only have positive things to say. Think of it in terms of the public awareness of you. Your brand should only generate good publicity.

4. Get a mentor.

Your mentor should be someone you can relate to who is further along in his or her career than you. Whether your mentor is that individual from Tip #1 or another experienced individual in your field, he or she should have a great deal of insight into the industry and help you navigate your career path, ideally because they already made a similar journey.

When you do meet with your mentor, remember we have 2 ears and only 1 mouth for a reason, so listen twice as much as you speak.

5. Have a timeline with short-, intermediate-, and long- term goals. Review them weekly and make sure your actions align with them.

Review your timeline and goals every week (I do this every Sunday). Ask yourself: “Am I working towards my goals? Are all my actions aligned with my future vison?” If either answer is no, then you need to elevate your game. You can’t expect to be the next subject matter expert or cure a disease if you don’t start learning more and doing more.

6. Make 1-month, 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year plans.

This is how you reach your short-term, intermediate-, and long- term goals. Begin with an idea of what you want to accomplish and where you want to be in 10 years, and then work backwards. This will not only be your timeline of what events will need to occur and when, but also serve as a detailed map of how you’re going to get to your goals.

In making such a detailed plan, you will realize how much work is involved in order to get where you want to be, but just think how much farther along you will be compared to your peers for doing this.

7. Negative people are like anchors, so surround yourself with positive people.

Here is a good story to bring this point home. In 1954, Roger Bannister was the first person to run the 4-minute mile. For years, people said it was simply impossible. Once news of his great accomplishment spread, more and more people found themselves able to run a mile in 4 minutes.

People can either drain the life out of you or inspire you to achieve greatness. Surround yourself with the Roger Bannisters of the world, not the naysayers.

I hope these tips help you find your place in the professional world. Your career is counting on it.