Pharmacists Can Still Land Their Dream Job, If They Know How to Stand Out

Kyle Davis | November 6, 2019

We have all heard the rumors: the pharmacy market is getting more and more saturated. If you are a pharmacist, a pharmacy student, or even a pharmacy technician and haven’t heard this, you would have to be the pharmacy equivalent to Scotty Smalls, the kid from The Sandlot that didn’t know who Babe Ruth was. You’re killin’ me Smalls!

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Despite the market feeling flooded by pharmacists, we all have that one friend who landed an awesome job that they absolutely love. There is also a good chance this friend didn’t graduate at the very top of the class. So, how did they get that job? What did they do differently? What made them stand out?

Obviously they did something different and stood out. Now, before you take a backpacking trek halfway across the globe to do some soul searching for what makes you unique, it might help to first look at some things you can do to increase your chances of creating, finding, or landing the perfect role for you.

Let’s talk about some of the ways you can change your approach to the pharmacy job market to ensure you get into a role you are passionate about.

Learn to adapt and create your own space – yes you can (and should) do this

Pharmacy as a profession, whether we like it or not, is an evolving field. Those who can embrace the change will stay ahead of the curve.

I recently attended a presentation hosted by the Texas Pharmacy Association where a panel consisting of Ron Jencopale, Debbie Garza, Scott Lason, and Raj Chhadua had this to say to the audience:

“Pharmacy is changing from a commodity-based service. We need to pivot and embrace technology. We aren’t waiting for the age of the robot to come, it’s already here. With Amazon and many other start-ups entering and disrupting the market it is going to change medication delivery. We as pharmacists are now going to have to market a better service than distributing a commodity.”

While some may fear it, this is actually an exciting time for pharmacists to be entering the market. With the constant stream of new technology coming out, we have WAY more opportunities to reach patients and impact their health through means we were never capable of before. Just like the innovative changes in gadgets around us, we need to innovate and create ways to provide a better service than just dispensing the same old amber vials that have been around since the Great Depression.

One example of pharmacist standing out by creating his own space is Pharmacist Adam Chesler. Adam put this principle into action when he left his well-paying job at PTCB as Director of Strategic Alliances to join a startup called TelePharm. Why? Because he realized pharmacists need to find a way to improve patient access to care, and telehealth is the future of healthcare. When TelePharm was created there was no national expert in telepharmacy, and it was the perfect way to adapt and lead the charge. Adam says “I saw telepharmacy as a better way to provide access to pharmacist care but couldn’t find a repository of information about it online. That gave me the idea to become the specialist, and now I love my job.”

I know Adam. He loves his job AND he even gets a lunch break. Welcome to the future of pharmacy my friends.

retail telepharmacy

Telehealth isn’t the only technological innovation shaking things up. Pharmacogenomics is another largely untapped market. Those who specialize in this practice now will have a lot of potential for career growth down the road. Pharmacist and owner of Rx Clinic Pharmacy, Amina Abubakar had this to say about our role in the pharmacogenomic space, “We need to take ownership in this space now rather than later because it’s harder to try to get something back than it is to start showing interest and potential early on.” Sure it worked out for Jerry Seinfeld to make a TV show “about nothing”, but here in the pharmacy world we can’t sit idly by watching opportunities slip right through our fingers while still expecting to find success.

3D tablet printing is another cutting edge technology in its infancy. Remember how excited everyone was when they first found out you could add mango pineapple flavoring to your cough syrup in the pharmacy? I almost looked forward to getting sick just to try it out. Almost. Now, think of how excited everyone will get when they find out you can 3D print a tablet. The demand in this sector will take off as technology improves and the practice gains popularity. Not only is it a novel practice that makes this exciting, but it will be incredibly useful for numerous reasons. Plenty of possibilities could await those who show initiative to get into this space early.

Obviously this isn’t a complete list of recent innovations in pharmacy, so it is important to get in the habit of looking for these kinds of new opportunities to be the disruptor in the market, rather than being the one that gets disrupted. You will be surprised by what you may find.

So, how can you find these new opportunities and continue to learn so that you’re best positioned to be the one to get a job in the space? The answer is networking.

Build your network

Ever heard the saying, “Your network is your net worth?” Turns out, it is actually true. Alex Barker from Happy PharmD had this to say about his personal network. “Your network is how you’ll find new opportunities, job openings, and learn new career skills. Every job I ever got was because of who I knew.” Networking can help you learn about new and innovative jobs and maybe find a job that’s right for you. Sure networking isn’t the only way to land a job, but it is 100 times easier to get an interview when you know the interviewer.

In many instances, online job listings are employers’ least preferred method of hiring a potential candidate. Pharmacist and senior executive John Gregg once told me, “Online job boards are always my last option for hiring a candidate. I would much rather hire someone who I have met before or was referred to me.”

That means some of the best and most desirable jobs are going to be first handed out to people who employers know will fit the bill, especially when it comes to new and innovative fields. If the interviewer DOES know you (and likes you), your odds of getting the job increase.

Well, how do I network with the people doing all the hiring? When I first started pharmacy school I thought “building your network” was a 3 step process.

  1. Introduce myself to the “big shot” pharmacist
  2. Ask him/her how often they hire at their company (as I hand over my fancy CV)
  3. Connect on LinkedIn so they remember me and want to give me a sweet job offer

Honestly, I was that bad. I’m glad we can all laugh at my own folly now because we all should know better. That’s not how you network. Networking is not about trying to get freebees and favors from people. It is about finding ways you can provide value to others.

How do you give a colleague something of value when you are jobless or in school?

Start by developing a genuine professional relationship over time and earning the trust of your network. Trust takes time to build, but it is essential. People are much more likely to refer someone they know and trust to a friend who is hiring. It’s silly to expect someone you just barely connected with on LinkedIn to go out on a limb for you.

As a rule of thumb the best time to build your network is before you need it. If you approach a well-connected individual and start asking for immediate handouts, you risk coming across as desperate or selfish. This isn’t the kind of person others go out of their way to build business relationships with. If you are genuinely interested in others, they will more readily welcome you into their sphere of influence.

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People gives some great advice on this point. “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” If you don’t believe me, try it. You will see more doors open by doing this than self-seeking any day of the week.

Now that you have found your niche and built your network the real fun begins. It is time to make yourself stand out to get the jobs you want.

Stand out from the competition

If you’re looking to transition to a new area of pharmacy and think you’ve found the most ideal role for you, it’s going to be important to stand out from the competition as you apply and try to land the job. Pharmacist Brandon Dyson’s article sheds some light on the real nature of market saturation and how pharmacists applying for jobs can stand out.

In his most recent experience, he had a job posting for a part-time clinical oncologist position in Austin, TX. In under seven days he had 49 candidates apply to the job. While it may sound depressing at first, it helps to look at the numbers a little deeper and analyze them. After all, wasn’t learning how to analyze the whole point in having all that clinical literature pounded into our heads during pharmacy school?

The article has an incredibly reassuring statement (or terrifying if you completely lack ambition). Dyson said, “More than half of my applications were complete garbage.” Yep, you read it. Complete garbage. Not subpar, not just so-so, but complete garbage.

What exactly constitutes a “complete garbage” application to Brandon? Let’s take a look.

The article reads,“65% of the applications I received were immediately out of the running (7 incomplete applications, 19 with no cover letter, 3 with a one-sentence cover letter, and 3 with the wrong institution on their cover letter)…”

For those of you who hate math, I will sum it up for you really quick. 32 out of 49 applicants did not even make it to the point where their CV was looked at. In the end, 6 out of the remaining 17 candidates were contacted for an interview. That’s almost a 35% chance of landing an interview simply by submitting your application properly. Now things don’t seem so hopeless, do they? These are much more manageable odds.

Write a great cover letter

One of the most important things you can do to stand out to the hiring manager is customize your cover letter for the specific job to convey your qualifications and passion for the position at hand.

If you want to be one of those 6 out of 17 candidates getting the interview, you have to market yourself better than anyone else. This is where your cover letter comes in. If the interviewer doesn’t know who you are, without a strong cover letter, your resume is just another piece of paper in their recycling bin.

Your cover letter is basically an elevator pitch and you are the product for sale with your salary attached as the price tag. Just imagine yourself on the hit TV series Shark Tank. Your cover letter is the 30 second sales pitch you need to get your “sharks” to buy into you as a potential hire. If you can’t grab their attention in 30 seconds, they might echo Kevin O’Leary’s words and give you an “I’m out.”

What makes a great cover letter?

For starters, it doesn’t involve the use of a prefabricated template from a Google search. You want to convince the interviewer you are indeed different from everybody else; and using a generic template doesn’t do a good job of showcasing your unique skills.

How do you get noticed without making a pink scented resume? (Sorry, pulling an Elle Woods from Legally Blonde won’t help you in the pharmacy world)

For a cover letter to be successful you should include three main things:

1) Highlight your unique skill set and accomplishments

2) Let them know what value you bring to the table

3) Inject your personality so an employer can get a feel for what a great person you would be to work with.

Above all else, do not make it look prefabricated and unoriginal. Try to imagine yourself in the employers shoes reading dozens of applications. An originally written cover letter with a good hook (that actually makes you want to read the rest of the page) would be such a breath of fresh air, and the person reading it should be more inclined to give you an interview.

In the end, the purpose of the cover letter is to help you move on to the next step and be one of those 6 out of 17 people who actually get interviewed. If you were wise enough to find your niche, build a solid network, and set yourself apart from the rest of the field, then trust you’ve got what it takes to nail the interview.

Can you land an awesome gig that will make everyone else jealous? You bet, if you stick to these principles we learned here and perfect them. You can score your dream job and get a lunch break.

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