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How do today’s graduates view a career in pharma sales? And what more could the industry do to attract the best talent? Caroline Wilcher, Recruitment Director for Ashfield Commercial and Patient Solutions UK discusses misconceptions, career opportunities and the choices she made. 

It’s 25 years since I graduated. I remember at the time my tutors trying to push me into a career in research and development, but I was convinced sales was the job for me. And when I look at the rewards my career has given me so far, I know I made the right choice.

Today, R&D jobs are few and far between, but while there are plenty of opportunities to build a career in sales, sadly there’s still a stigma around it.

It’s a perception of the industry we’re continuing to work really hard to change, and I think we’re getting there. We have a strong graduate presence at more than 20 UK universities – appearing at careers fairs, presenting to undergraduate groups and using our graduate ambassadors to liaise with students who are considering a career in pharmaceutical sales.

This connection with universities is fundamental to graduate attraction and it’s something the industry as a whole should, in my opinion, do more of.

“Sales ticks a lot of boxes for graduates”

Once you speak to graduates and actually explain what a career in sales involves – the level of professionalism, the development opportunities, the high-level discussions you have with clinicians, the advances in digital technology, and most importantly the chance to improve people’s lives – they quickly realise it ticks a lot of boxes for them.

As a result, we receive around 300 applications a month for graduate jobs, so the message is definitely getting out there.

The graduates we see today generally have good science or business degrees and are strong communicators. They also tend to have a lot of confidence, energy, ambition, and are very target driven, which makes many of them ideal for sales. The industry itself is changing, with pharma companies embracing a more multi-channel approach to sales that involves exciting new technologies. That’s something that really attracts today’s digitally savvy graduates.

We also know that recent graduates are very proud of their academic background and really want to continue their learning. They expect structured training and career development, are open to working on their development areas, and regularly seek feedback on their performance.

“Sales opens up so many other opportunities”

I know I’m biased, but training and development is something we do well at Ashfield, and again it’s something the industry could do more of to attract high-quality people. Everyone at Ashfield, including the senior management team, has set goals, with performance management and individual goals feeding into talent planning.

By having this overview of talent, we can quickly review career aspirations against internal vacancies and align with succession plans across the business. This is really important in such a diverse and dynamic business that is reliant on good people doing a great job for our clients.

And that’s the other great thing about sales: not only is it incredibly rewarding, with the chance to make a real difference to patients’ lives, but it opens up so many more fantastic career opportunities. There are so many people in the industry and at Ashfield – myself included – who started in a really rewarding sales role and have then had the opportunity to move into further rewarding and influential roles in the future.

I’m so glad I made the choice I did all those years ago. I couldn’t recommend a career in pharma sales more.

For more information on careers at Ashfield, please follow this link to visit our careers website. Alternatively, please forward your CV to careers@ashfieldhealthcare.com, or call a member of the recruitment team on 01530 562476 for an initial discussion about your career aspirations.

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