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Career Advancement Strategies Without the Noise

Sep 26, 2014

What hot skills are pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical companies looking for today? What jobs are most in demand? What do companies want in their quality and regulatory or their manufacturing and process science professionals including those at the Director and Vice President levels? Can you give me some advice on my resume?

These are common questions asked of my team. Even if you are not looking, the answers should still matter to you as career planning means thinking about your next career move even when you are not actively looking.

The Good News and the Bad News

First, the bad news. Like you, every week I get bombarded with “noise.” There are so many sources providing input and suggesting direction. Many even conflict with one another. Unfortunately, there is no way to muffle these conflicting pieces of information.

Now, the good news. Every week, I speak with many different pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industry executives (both current and future) who not only serve as authoritative sources of information themselves but also point me in the direction of additional resources from which I can draw some viable conclusions. The first conclusion is that you are already looking in the right place; the PDA Letter can serve as one such career resource. The fact that you are tuning into it and what its members speak about, means you’ve been able to hone in on a reliable source amidst the clamor.

What’s in Demand?

You’ve probably already seen the roles listed here as being “in demand” for the past couple of years, and will most likely continue to encounter them. While the titles continually remain the same, however, that doesn’t mean the skills sought remain constant.

Functional areas where companies seem to have consistent needs include:

  • Quality assurance, quality engineering and quality systems leaders focusing on harmonization
  • QA leaders who specialize in external quality
  • Senior, principal and other high level individual contributors who focus on improving CAPA plans and investigation processes
  • Cleaning validation professionals
  • Automation/process control validation engineers
  • Quality and regulatory professionals who understand drug combination and/or drug delivery devices
  • Process engineering and manufacturing technology professionals
  • Senior managers and directors in procurement and supply chain

Skills Sought and In-Demand Positions

The following are areas where you will see new emphasis. By gaining experience in these areas, you may positively impact your career.

  • Ability to lead the deployment of QbD, QRM and other ICH Q8–Q11 topics
  • Development and support of drug combination and/or drug delivery devices (e.g., autoinjectors, pens, self-administered devices, etc.) as well as the understanding to lead compliance and regulatory departments in this changing regulatory environment
  • Evaluation and implementation of single-use technology including bioreactors, filters, bags, connectors and tubing
  • Particulate prevention, testing and reduction
  • Maintaining consistency in the manufacturing processes
  • Improvement of investigations and CAPA processes
  • Global/multisite harmonization success (most often of quality systems and validation processes)
  • Quality “on the floor”
  • External quality oversight
  • Protection of the global pharmaceutical supply chain
  • Cold chain challenges including packaging and validation
  • Automation and control systems
  • Risk-based validation methods
  • Risk identification and analysis
  • Finally, there also seems to be a large increase in the volume of high-level individual contributors

Much of the information above was also confirmed by a FPC of Atlanta survey of U.S. FDA-interfacing biologics and pharmaceutical leaders. According to the results:

  • Over 55% of respondents included QbD and Quality Risk Management as the skills to be in highest demand over the next three years,
  • Ranking second was single-use technologies, including disposable bioreactors,
  • Other skills showing increasing emphasis included cold chain, cleaning validation and cell line management, and
  • Industry niches indicated to be driving the most demand included biosimilars, cell-based therapies, monoclonal antibodies, orphan drugs and personalized medicine.

Moving Beyond Technical Skills

We, as professionals, have the ability to lead, and also the ability to program ourselves. So, what “programming” do companies want in Quality, Regulatory, Manufacturing and Process Science professionals, especially for those at the Director and VP levels?

They want to know that you are an expert at what you do and at the challenges they need you to handle—and not just the standard (or job description) responsibilities expected of someone at that level. Closely correlated, they also want to know you can tackle challenges that aren’t necessarily in the job description.

When they talk with you, they want to hear that you can effectively communicate your expertise; that you can impart that expertise on others; and that you can get others moving toward needed or targeted goals. (Hence, the increased emphasis on “influence without authority” and the growth of situational and behavioral questioning.)

They need to hear you can communicate clearly, and demonstrate a track record of accomplishments relating to relevant responsibilities. If you do not communicate effectively, then your likelihood of successfully navigating the interview process is compromised. Your resume should include enough detail regarding your accomplishments and responsibilities to open the door, but you must be able to communicate your ability to be effective.

They don’t want to think you are impatient or impulsive. Taking action quickly does not mean doing it without thought or strategy. Examples you give should demonstrate thought, strategy and action. Unfortunately, prospective employers can quite easily draw conclusions of impatience, impulsiveness or desperation before they even speak with you or look at your resume. How? By applying indiscriminately to a multitude of roles solely based on title or location—especially within the same company. It is simply just not realistic to imply that you are a good fit for such variety. Besides the potential of losing credibility, the employer may be left to wonder which role is most appropriate for you, and likely cannot allocate the time necessary to determine where you best fit.

An employer wants someone who can minimize the obstacles. Your ability to do so can be communicated through challenges previously faced and the successful results achieved.

They want to know you can communicate your strategic leadership abilities and that your skills and knowledge base have kept pace with current industry requirements and direction.

In a related FPC of Atlanta survey regarding the most desired traits for Director and higher level candidates, “Strategic Leadership” was a runaway winner. Immediately following were “Technical Depth” and then “Technical Leadership.” Surprisingly, “Successful Career Trajectory” finished lower than these three. These are encouraging results if you are someone who is considering a lateral move or a move geared toward increasing your technical depth.

Executive Presence

With strategic leadership such an important factor, it makes sense to review how you project an Executive Presence. While many articles have been written on the subject, here is what should come across in your interviews and on your resume:

  • The ability to make tough decisions. While this trait is more clearly described and discussed during the interview, the decisions you make and their results can be shown on your resume.
  • Communication. When communicating verbally, you should be clear, you should be confident and you should be approachable. You should also sound natural. If you don’t, practice by making recordings of yourself, listening and refining your delivery.
  • Confidence. But avoid overconfidence.
  • Passion. Your passion and your strengths should come out when you answer the “tell me about yourself” question, the “why are you qualified for this role” question or questions where you need to demonstrate via example.
  • Being audience-centric. When speaking, an executive tailors his conversation to the audience. How you speak with a hiring manager differs from how you speak with a team of subordinates.
  • Remaining calm in a storm. Your resume can summarize your successful navigation and your live presentation can walk through such successes and demonstrate how you navigated challenges with poise.

Now, How About My Resume?

First, let me tell you something that may surprise you—I’m not a big fan of resumes. The first time I speak with someone, it is preferably because they were recommended or referred. As such, it is usually without having seen their resume. In this manner, do you know what needs to stand out about them? It is how their accomplishments and skills are presented as well as their overall communication. That is what has to grab and keep my attention. In other words, it is you the person, not you the flat piece of paper (i.e., resume).

Some say public speakers or lecturers have approximately seven to ten minutes to get and hold an individual’s attention. With conversation in general, 60 seconds is a common number. With selling, ten seconds is often a rule of thumb.

When it comes to your resume, though, those numbers don’t apply. With a resume, you also have to grab someone’s attention but the rule of thumb here is six seconds.

There are countless articles on how to write your resume. Some are really good. But put a large group together, even a good group, and you’re still faced with what I talked about in the beginning—noise. To keep it simple, here are four rules I suggest you to try to incorporate:

  1. Easy on the eyes — Less paragraphs, more bullets and more white space.
  2. Relevancy — When a resume is quickly reviewed, correlated key words will pull someone in for a closer look.
  3. Progression — Show it if you have it. If you’ve been promoted, show it. Don’t just show ten years at one company with only one title. Show how you’ve progressed and why you earned that promotion.
  4. Accomplishments — Quantify them if possible. Think about PowerPoint presentations you’ve viewed. Which caught your attention more? The ones lacking quantified data or the ones showing such via numbers and percentages?


Searching for a new job is something that happens over a period of time. Career advancement and the strategies you choose to use are an ongoing process. They are interlaced with what you are doing now, what you want to be doing eventually, and all of your future jobs along the way. So, even if you are still in the early stages of your career, these strategies are something you should, and can, exercise control over if you program yourself accordingly.

There’s a din of career advice out there—a raucous chorus of conflicting information from varying sources. I hope this information helps to drown out the “noise.”

About the Author

Ira Mann leads nationwide Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical and Medical Device contingent and retained searches as the Senior Director of Quality, Validation & Regulatory Affairs Executive Search and Professional Development for FPC of Atlanta, a recruiting firm specializing in placements across the United States. With more than 13 years in the recruiting industry, he is an expert at placing top professionals in the Quality, Validation, Regulatory Affairs, Cold Chain, Environmental Monitoring and Sterilization specialties.


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