A career in pharmacy can last a lifetime, but for those just starting out in the profession, getting that first job can seem like a minefield of choices, preparation and uncertainty.
How do you work out which sector you want to work in? Where do you look for vacancies? And if you find something you want to apply for, how do you demonstrate you’ve got the skills needed for a role you may never have done before?
In this article, we ask seven pharmacists with a variety of experience from across the profession what they look for when employing a pharmacist.
1. Don’t be afraid to get it wrong first time
Get as much experience as possible by being a locum in lots of different settings, and don’t make any major decisions until you’ve had time to reflect. Speak to other pharmacists to find out what their experience is, build relationships and ask your contacts to help get you into work at, for example, a GP practice for a few weeks, to see where you feel comfortable, but also what will offer you a stretch.
And don’t worry about it — at this early stage, whatever you try is all good experience. Even if you decide it’s not right for you, it’s still valuable as it helps you grow and decide what you do want to do, as well as giving you experience of how different healthcare settings work.
Mike Maguire, managing director at Marton Pharmacy, Middlesbrough, and a member of RPS English Pharmacy Board
2. Contact the recruiter before the interview
Whatever the job, the most important thing is knowing what the position will entail — which is particularly important with roles that can often have wishy-washy descriptions.
Contacting the person who is advertising the job before you apply shows you are serious about it. Even if you don’t meet all the criteria, don’t be afraid to have a conversation with the recruiter to get a better understanding of what they are looking for so you can demonstrate other ways you can apply your current skills to the job you are going for.
You also need to pay attention to the job advert when you sit down to fill in your application. Make sure you answer all the questions, and use the job specification as a guide for evidencing all the qualities and skills it mentions when writing your personal statement.
I’ve seen so many applications where people don’t do that, or include information that is not relevant, so they don’t make it to the interview stage. Of course, don’t sell yourself short, but even if you have all the postgraduate qualifications in the world, if you can’t show how you meet the criteria in your application, you won’t get shortlisted.
Dimple Oza, specialist community mental health pharmacist at Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust
3. Get a mentor
There are many pharmacy professionals who would be happy to provide advice and support to newly qualified pharmacists — particularly if you show genuine enthusiasm for a particular setting or sector of work.
Find people who are working in areas that interest you and drop them an email or connect with them on social media. As a result of the pandemic, there are also numerous webinars and online events offering the potential for you to meet colleagues and build professional relationships.
Seek out a professional mentor — someone who can provide guidance and support with goal-setting, developing contacts and exploring career opportunities. A mentor doesn’t have to be from your sector of work — there are many benefits from speaking to someone with an alternative perspective.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) offers a professional mentoring scheme for members and I would highly recommend it. Having a mentor provided me with the support and motivation to start a role in a new sector, and that career move was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Anna Robinson, specialist clinical pharmacist and RPS Early Careers Pharmacist Advisory Group member
4. Research your interviewers
Being able to talk to the interviewers on a personal level can be beneficial, so find out as much detail as possible about them and the company.
Review their LinkedIn and Twitter, and follow them professionally before the interview, so you can be in tune with what they are talking about. If it is on their agenda, it needs to be on mine if I want to work there.
Remember that not every company will be right for you and rejection is not necessarily a bad thing — it might just not be the right role for you right now. If you are rejected, think how you can grow and develop from there. If you’ve had a few interviews, all in the same field, and are not getting anywhere, then reset and consider whether that is really what you want to do.
Thorrun Govind, is a locum pharmacist, a trainee lawyer and a member of the RPS English Pharmacy Board
5. Ask about development prospects
In the interview, asking about development prospects is a great way to establish what an organisation intends for the role. It also demonstrates a keen attitude to learning, and a determination to hone your skills to better serve the organisation and patients.
If you can demonstrate skills such as effective organisation and time management, then it shows you are suitable to successfully undertake courses and development opportunities, and it highlights just how much the organisation will benefit from your desire to progress.
I would only feel compelled to accept a role that is as dedicated to my development as I am — job satisfaction and development opportunities are mutually inclusive and if it is important to you to learn, then it should be important to your employer.
Laura Buckley, lead primary care network pharmacist in East Yorkshire
6. Know your worth
It is always important to ensure that you are being paid fairly for the role that you are doing — and women in particular need to get better at advocating for ourselves.
It can be uncomfortable when first asking for a pay rise or negotiating a salary and benefits, so do some research about comparable roles and see what salary range to expect or what band it falls into by asking around in your network or talking to recruiters. Find out what benefits your organisation offers that you would like to negotiate on, such as flexible working patterns.
Before you go into the meeting, think about what salary you would be happy with or the package that you really want, then your fall back: what is the minimum you would be happy to accept? This will help you be prepared to negotiate for your desired salary or package.
It’s important to be confident, self-assured and direct, so practise the conversation with someone you trust to help build your confidence.
Amandeep Doll, pharmacist and inclusion and diversity coordinator at the RPS
7. Ask for feedback if you are unsuccessful
Not getting the job is not the end. It may just not be the right time for you, or they were looking for a different skill set — something not always obvious in the advert.
The best thing you can do is ask for specific feedback. Ask them what you did that resonated with them and the position. Also ask them which competencies they were looking for that you did not demonstrate well enough during the interview. This is where the real opportunity lies for your next interview.
Next time, revisit this feedback and think carefully about how you can demonstrate your skills and competence through examples that are relevant to the job you are being interviewed for. Preparation is essential to help avoid disappointment. Ask a friend (or RPS mentor) to ‘mock’ interview you, focusing on the core competencies of the position. Remember, it is not about how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up.
Jay Badenhorst, superintendent and managing director of Whitworth Chemists in the north of England
Further information and resources
There are plenty of specialist job sites advertising roles in pharmacy, as well as others you may not have considered.
NHS Jobs is the dedicated online recruitment service for the NHS.
PJ Jobs lists vacancies and research opportunities. You can also upload your CV and sign up for email alerts for new vacancies.
CK Clinical advertises locum and permanent vacancies in scientific, clinical and technical industries.
Emed Careers has pharmaceutical, medical, biotech and healthcare jobs.
Jobsinpharma.com advertises vacancies in the life science industries.
Mediplacements advertises a wide range of pharmacy vacancies.
Pharmfinders advertises permanent and locum roles across the UK.
PPR UK lists a range of job opportunities in pharmacy.