There are hundreds of pharmaceutical companies in the UK, employing around 73,000 people, but starting a career in the pharmaceutical industry can sometimes prove difficult.
Many pharmaceutical companies offer employment for recent graduates and some offer special graduate schemes. However you may still not know what jobs are available to you, or what you want to do.
You can find out more about the many different jobs in the pharmaceutical industry, and how people have got into these roles, by viewing the Case Studies section of this site.
What graduate jobs am I eligible for?
The type of job you are eligible for largely depends on your degree. There are many examples of graduate careers in the pharmaceutical industry such as medical writers, pharmacologists or clinical scientists where you would need a science-based degree. Some roles require specific degrees, such as a degree in chemistry for a job as an analytical chemist.
However, you don’t necessarily have to be a scientist to work in the pharmaceutical industry. There are many opportunities for MBA employment, and there are numerous roles in the commercial and support functions of the industry, such as promoting medicines or being part of the human resources team.
Graduate schemes act as a transition from university to work, often giving recent graduates the chance to experience a range of roles, develop a comprehensive understanding of the industry and be trained in the skills needed to perform the job. Although graduate schemes in research and development are the most common, many of the larger pharmaceutical companies also offer graduate schemes in non-laboratory roles. These can be a great way for scientists to move away from the lab, or for non-scientists to enter the industry. Professional training offered as part of these schemes may also lead to further qualifications in areas such as clinical research management or accountancy. 2-3 year programmes include the Innovative Medicines and Early Development (IMED) graduate programme, offered by AstraZeneca, as well as GSK's Future Leaders Programmes. information on these schemes can be found on the companies websites. As many pharmaceutical companies are global, once through the door you may have access to jobs all over the globe. Some non-research graduate schemes offer, and may even require, you to spend a period of time abroad (see Working Abroad for more information).
How do I find graduate jobs?
Large pharmaceutical companies tend to advertise graduate job vacancies on their websites or through university careers sites. They may also use graduate recruitment agencies (such as Milkround, Prospects or Target Jobs) as well as on-campus events and brand managers to advertise these positions. Being signed up to these agencies’ mailing lists and attending on-campus events can be a great way to find out about graduate opportunities. Although smaller companies within the pharmaceutical industry also take on graduates, they don’t normally advertise graduate jobs and schemes explicitly so you may need to approach them speculatively, or ask them about your eligibility for applying for advertised roles. To find out which companies offer graduate employment and graduate schemes, search our Pharmaceutical Recruiters page. You can use the links on this page to find available vacancies at each of the companies and the contact details to contact the recruiters directly.
When do I apply and when do they start?
If you want to start working straight after graduation it is a good idea to start applying early on in your final year. Applications for graduate schemes often close before the end of the Autumn term and are highly competitive. However, it can be problematic applying for a graduate scheme that requires a minimum degree grading when you haven’t had your results yet. Sometimes a company will offer you a place - provided that you get the results required - or if they like you a lot and see potential from your interview and previous results, they may even offer you the job before you graduate! Alternatively you may need to consider taking a year after graduating to apply. This can be a great opportunity to get some relevant industry experience, helping to strengthen your applications. Other graduate jobs are advertised on a rolling basis throughout the year, and could start at any time.
What is a typical salary?
The average starting salary for a recent graduate starting work in the pharmaceutical industry is around £27,500; however this can vary depending on the job and normally ranges from £24,000-£31,000. It will usually state the salary on the job advertisement but if not, you can verify it with the employer. Whilst on a graduate scheme you can normally expect to be treated as a full employee and therefore get the associated benefits, which may include a bonus plan, medical insurance, training opportunities, car allowance or gym membership.
Last modified: 20 September 2023
Last reviewed: 20 September 2023