Pharmaceutical Career Opportunities for Every Major
Guest alumni blogger Madeline Sands shares how she applied her CAS degree to a career in Pharma and how you can too, no matter what degree you are pursuing at Lehigh.
As a 2018 graduate with a B.A. in Science, Technology, and Society and a minor in Sociology, I start my story at the conclusion of my junior year at Lehigh. In the summer between my junior and senior years, I interned at Pfizer in a Corporate Communications role, which led to me to an interest and eventual career path in pharmaceutical advertising.
My Pfizer Internship
In the midst of junior year internship madness, I truly had no idea where to turn or what I wanted to do. Then I was connected to a family friend, who was working for Pfizer at the time. After learning of my STS major and the types of courses I was taking, she recommended I apply for the Pfizer Summer Student Worker Program, the company’s official internship program. After two rounds of interviewing, I was accepted and placed into a Reputation Communications role, which was a part of the Corporate Communications department. My role allowed me to work one-on-one with senior leaders in the space. Over the course of the summer, I completed multiple projects, including the development of a marketing plan for an internal campaign, which is still used at Pfizer to this day.
One of my favorite parts of my internship was participating in meetings led by our partner agencies. I was able to get exposure to creative minds who were developing the commercials and campaigns that we see on TV and social media every day. After speaking to my supervisors about my post-college plans, I was encouraged to start my career in the advertising agency world as well. I quickly turned my job search focus here in my senior year.
The Job Search
Throughout the search, I primarily capitalized on relationships and contacts I had formed through networking. My supervisors at Pfizer had connections they were willing to share with me, and I quickly set up chats with them to secure interviews. I also looked up top-ranking agencies on Ad Age and MM&M (Medical Marketing & Media), and reached out to talent acquisition contacts through LinkedIn. On my resume and cover letters, I made sure to highlight any experience I had that was based in marketing and communications, such as the campaign I worked on at Pfizer. Along with my resume and cover letter, I attached a copy of my marketing plan so interviewers could review tangible applicable work I had done. (Pro tip - you can include media on your LinkedIn profile within your experience sections as well).
While your job experience, major, and GPA can definitely help you secure an interview, in my experience, the most important thing to convey once you are in the interview chair is your hunger and ability to learn on the fly. Working in an agency environment requires adaptability, quick thinking and decision making, proactivity, and enthusiasm. Highlighting these skills is what eventually led to job offers. I actually ended up accepting a job at an agency that I learned about through a Lehigh alum via word of mouth!
One month after graduating from Lehigh, I started my first full-time role as an Account Executive at an agency in Manhattan. After one week of onboarding and about two weeks of shadowing my manager, the training wheels came off, and I was officially introduced to my clients. I was placed on various accounts, each account representing a different pharmaceutical product. These accounts varied in therapeutic areas and pharmaceutical companies - I worked across a breadth of products, from cardiovascular to gene therapy.
My primary responsibility was to ensure that all projects (digital and print promotional materials) were delivered on time to our clients and with accuracy. I built strong relationships with my clients by regularly leading meetings and email communications. I was also responsible for written materials, such as project briefs, reports, and research. While I certainly learned a lot about how to write the perfect email or develop a beautiful slide deck, the most important thing I learned was how to be agile, think on the fly, and develop strong instincts. Advertising agencies are, at the core, team-based, and I grew my team leadership skills tremendously.
Starting in January of 2021, I took a leap of faith and pivoted to a new agency, where I had the chance to oversee work directed towards a new audience. Thankfully, my coworkers and mentors were extremely supportive of my decision; I learned so much from my first job and I am extremely grateful for the experience. Since making the switch, I have had increased exposure to new areas of the industry, such as pitching for new business wins and more involvement with sophisticated strategic planning initiatives.
Pharma Agency Perks
I have LOVED my time working in the ad agency space – I can’t stress this enough! I have learned so much and I truly believe my time at Lehigh prepared me for success. There are huge benefits to working in a pharma agency, including quick promotions and salary increases, breadth of experience working on multiple products, and fluidity between agencies. Additionally, the job is practically recession-proof – while many industries were halted by the emergence of COVID-19, pharma advertising boomed.
What you need (and what you don’t)
I never would have imagined working in the pharma industry early in my college career - I was not pre-med, I never took an engineering or a marketing class, and I did not take a single science class beyond an environmental science class and lab in college. Don’t let this stop you from exploring roles in pharma: you don’t need a B.S. to succeed in this career path. As long as you have an interest in connecting patients with healthcare and strong communication and team-building skills, you can thrive in this industry.
I know COVID-19 has greatly impacted the job market and many post-grads are looking for roles. While I think these roles could absolutely be filled by CAS or College of Health students, any Lehigh student could absolutely have a future in pharma advertising. To get started, here are 3 preliminary steps:
Consider the variety of roles open in pharma and identify the role you think you’d be the best fit for.
Are you an Art or Design student? Consider an Art Director role.
Are you an English student who loves to write, or a Health, Medicine, and Society student who wants to explore the most compelling language for patients? You’d make a great Copywriter. If you’re an expert proofreader, maybe the Editorial track is for you.
Are you detail-oriented and organized to a T? Try Project Management.
Do you thrive in leadership roles and get excited about making new connections? Consider an Account role.
Networking got me started, and has been a critical part of my career journey. Don’t be shy! The best advice I got was talking to folks who had previously or currently work in the industry. If someone has a good experience (or a bad one) somewhere, they’ll shout it from the rooftops. You can use Lehigh Connects or the LinkedIn Lehigh alumni page to identify people to send messages to. You can also reach out to talent acquisition and team members on LinkedIn. Showing proactivity and interest is extremely important, and even if your conversation does not lead to an interview, it can definitely provide you with insight that you can take with you as you progress in your career.
About the Guest blogger
Madeline is currently an Account Supervisor at Havas Health Wave, part of Havas Health & You, located in New York City. She has more than 3 years of healthcare advertising experience across a variety of brands and disease categories. She has supported and facilitated the development of tactics and initiatives directed to healthcare providers, consumers, and payers for pre-commercial, pre-launch, and launch products across US markets. Connect with Madeline on LinkedIn.