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Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals

Career Information

The pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies must adhere to many laws and regulations to provide safety to their consumers. With this, there is a variety of opportunity within these organizations. Typical departments include:

Business Development Legal Affairs
Clinical Research Manufacturing and Supply Chain
Commercial Strategy Marketing and Sales
Corporate Communications Project Management
Engineering Quality
Finance and Administration Regulatory Affairs
Human Resources Research and Development
Information Services andTechnology Strategic Planning

Opportunities in the pharma/biotech industry exist at every career level. Scientists who have graduate degrees are in demand, but so are workers with science-related bachelor’s and associate’s degrees. Workers with no scientific background may find jobs in administration, finance, law, marketing, and other areas.

Biotechnology Industry

Biotechnology, at its simplest, is technology based on biology. Biotech firms use microorganisms and proteins to create vaccines and medications to cure rare illnesses, diseases, and testing procedures. The biotechnology field is very heavy in research and development, and can focus on treating organisms outside of people, like plant, animal, etc.

Pharmaceutical Industry

The pharmaceutical industry creates, develops, and manufactures brand and generic medications for the world. These medications are created mostly by chemical base synthesis that allows some medications to be created generically. The pharmaceutical industry mostly focuses on the manufacturing process of the drugs rather that the research and development.


Job & Internship Search

Before you begin your internship or job search, know where you want to be within the industry and within the organization before you apply. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Which sector interests you? It is important to consider if you want to work in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals or medical devices because each sector is different. Biotechnology refers to the process of leveraging a cellular or biomolecular process in order to create products. Such products could include biofuels to fermented beverages. Pharmaceuticals is a specific branch within biotechnology in which the focus is on creating medications. Medications can be derived from purely chemical compositions, or from cellular organisms (in which the latter is referred to as biopharmaceuticals). Medical devices are instruments used to diagnose, prevent, and treat diseases or other conditions. Think about which area you want to work in when considering your job and internship search.
  • What type of role are you seeking in biotechnology/medical devices/pharmaceuticals? Various roles exist within these industries. Roles include positions in research, operations, engineering, quality control, quality assurance, communications, marketing, sales, and corporate functions. Opportunities in all of these areas can start at the undergraduate level.
  • What type of work setting interests you? The work environment within these industries varies by company. Each field includes roles within laboratory settings, manufacturing, office settings, as well as within large and small organizations.
  • What issue do you want to solve using the integration of science and technology? These industries focus their efforts on resolving various health issues impacting the world today. For examples, organizations may focus on oncology, therapies for viruses (e.g. hepatitis C and HIV) and genes, and creating renewable chemicals for pharmaceuticals. Consider which issue(s) you are passionate about to discover organizations that work to resolve those phenomena.

***Having difficulty answering these questions? Meet with your Career Adviser or Counselor to learn more about these industries and to discuss your career interests.

Skills Needed
  • Flexibility
  • Cross functional teamwork
  • Analytical ability
  • Communication skills
  • Time and project management
  • Technical and design (for research and manufacturing roles)
  • Engineering coursework (for manufacturing based positions)
Internship/Full-time Positions
  • Laboratory Assistant (full-time and intern)
  • Research Associate (full time and intern)
  • Quality Engineer (full-time and intern)
  • Manufacturing Technician (full-time and intern)
  • Data analyst (full-time and intern)
  • Rotational programs for different areas of the organization (typically full-time)
  • Medical Science Liaison (full-time)
  • Field Application Specialist (full-time)
  • Business Development Manager (full-time)

Job Search Tips for Success

  • Consider temporary and contract opportunities: Most large biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical device firms are more likely to recruit undergraduate students for rotational programs on-campus. For full-time technical or research roles within organizations, employers are more likely to hire lean for these positions. Employers are more likely to work with staffing agencies to hire individuals for contract/temporary roles due to not knowing how far the product development process will go with a given product. In order to enter into these industries, student should consider temporary/contract employment through work with staffing firms in order to build their experience. To learn more about specific staffing agencies, schedule an appointment with your NCA career adviser.
  • Target your resume: Tailor the description of your experiences and accomplishments to the type of work the organization and business unit are doing. For example, if you are applying for a research position in an organization that focuses on oncology, highlight your oncological research experience to make yourself stand out in the application process. If you do not have specific experience in the role you are applying for, talk about the transferable skills you have developed in other activities that relate to the position you are applying for.
  • Emphasize your cross-functional teamwork experience: Various business units interact within these industries in order to complete different projects and initiatives. Talk about collaborative projects on your resume and in your interview in order to highlight your ability to work with other teams and with co-workers who possess areas of expertise different from your own.
  • Contemplate your career advancement plan: With an undergraduate degree, more advancement opportunities exist with business-related roles (e.g. sales, recruiting, operations, and marketing). There are fewer advancement opportunities available for those with an undergraduate degree in research roles since senior level research positions require an advanced degree (e.g. a doctorate or master’s degree, depending on the organization. Some organizations also prefer to hire researchers with postdoctoral experience). However, one can still start their research career with an undergraduate degree.  Before undertaking your search, consider what you want your career track to look like because an advanced degree may be necessary to progress your career.  

Employer and Industry Resources

Job Search Resources

Get Involved

Northwestern Student Groups
Campus Resources

Resumes & Cover Letters

Here is a Biotech Resume Sample.

More samples to come!

Interview Tips

Before interviewing with a biotech or pharmaceuticals company you should learn everything you can about the company, its core science and technology, and its business strategy. Being knowledgeable about the company will allow you to highlight your most relevant skills and accomplishments and will also help you develop thoughtful questions for your interviewers. Here are some additional tips to help you prepare:

  1. Questions: Expect questions that probe both your technical and non-technical skills.
  2. Interdisciplinary: Be ready to articulate your interdisciplinary skills. Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies function through the collaboration of interdisciplinary teams, so having the ability to communicate well with people of different educational backgrounds is crucial to being a successful candidate for a role in biotech or pharma.
  3. Trends: learn about current trends in biotech and pharmaceuticals by reading scientific news and blogs [Drug Discovery TodayNature, and Chemical and Engineering News.]
  4. Biotechnology Company vs. Pharmaceutical Company Interviews: Candidates at pharmaceutical companies will most often be interviewed by bench level scientists, who will ask questions that assess the candidate’s technical and communication skills. Candidates interviewing for research positions will often be asked to give 30 – 45 minute seminars based on their research. Interviews at biotechnology companies, however, may be conducted by the CEO or a higher-up with a business development role. Instead of giving a research presentation, candidates will likely have one-on-one or small group discussions about their research.
Interview Attire

While workers at biotech and pharmaceutical companies will dress at varying levels of formality depending on their roles (researchers may wear white coats or informal attire, while people in business-related roles may dress more formally), as an interviewee you should err on the side of formality. Consider wearing a suit or a blazer with dress pants or a skirt.

Sample Interviewing Questions and Prompts
  • Why do you want to work at our company?
  • Why do you want to work in this industry?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Walk us through your resume—what are your greatest accomplishments?
  • Tell us about a time you creatively solved a problem.
  • Tell us about a time you led a team.
  • How would your team members describe you?
  • Tell us about a time you had a conflict with a team member.
  • What do you know about us?
  • What are the most difficult challenges facing biotech/the pharmaceutical industry?
  • Tell us about a time you failed.
  • Why are you the best candidate for this position?

Recruiting Timeline & Methods

It is important to note that many biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms recruit outside the typical on campus recruiting timelines. Many of their internship and full time positions are recruited for in late Summer and early Fall. We encourage you to always look in Handshake for new postings, as well as company websites, for their open positions.

Examples of Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Companies

  • Baxter Healthcare
  • Abbvie
  • Takeda
  • Fenwal
  • GE Healthcare
  • Medtronic
  • Siemens Medical Solutions
  • Genentech
  • Eli Lilly & Company

Key Things to Do to Prepare

Market Yourself
  1. Make sure your resume is in a clear format and tailored to the job you are applying to. For some tips, please visit NCA’s resume building tips and set up an appointment with a career adviser.
  2. Have an online presence and be sure to monitor information that potential employers can see.
  3. Network! Ask your friends and people you know in the industry about biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies that are hiring. Have them refer you directly.
  4. Connect with Companies and Alums through LinkedIn. Try not to get lost in the job application black hole.
  5. Attend information sessions, conferences, and webinars to learn more about the industry and their opportunities.

Next Steps

  • Conduct informational interviews with alumni at biotech or pharma organizations to build your network and learn about their experiences
  • Become involved in relevant student groups to build your skillset
  • Research employer and industry resources to learn about trends