You’ve completed your education and training and you’re ready to enter the job market—but where do you start? If you’re looking for a career in a laboratory role within the pharmaceutical or clinical industry, it’s first important to know what to expect, what type of position you’re seeking, what skills are required of you to fulfill the responsibilities of your chosen role, and what steps you should take to land the right job.
Clinical and Pharmaceutical Lab Services Market Insights
Lab services is a lucrative industry to work in. The global clinical laboratory services careers market had a value of $200.3 billion USD in 2020, according to a Market Analysis Report, with an expected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.7% over a seven-year span from 2021 to 2028.
The heightened development and prevalence of chronic diseases present unmet needs of patients and a significant healthcare burden, only increasing the demand for early diagnostic tests with quick turnaround times and enhanced accuracy and reliability for adequate treatment and satisfactory outcomes. Additionally, rapidly advancing technology leads to improved productivity and reduced costs, but it also compels the hiring of skilled workers who are trained to utilize sophisticated tools and equipment.
Many lab services or laboratory professions are consistently considered highly desirable in surveys conducted by Jobs Rates Almanac. Criteria for ranking jobs include salary, stress levels, work environment, outlook, security, and physical demands. Laboratory technologists ranked 23 out of 250, while medical technicians came in at 36.
Per the Western European Clinical Laboratory Services Market, Forecast to 2022, diagnostics is an integral part of healthcare with the demand for diagnostic services increasing exponentially. Additionally, a rise in new technologies is helping to lower costs and offer faster, more reliable testing and results, leading to a shift from reactionary care to predictive and preventive care. Individualized treatment is at the heart of the future of lab careers, providing incoming graduates with the opportunity to make personal and meaningful impacts.
Now is an exciting time to start your career in a lab-focused role. This guide will fill you in on everything you need to know to secure the lab services job that’s right for you.
What Are Clinical and Pharmaceutical Lab Services?
Lab services includes medical services related to lab tests, diagnostics, treatment, and disease prevention. These services include tests performed directly on patients and specimen collection for accurate analysis and results. Clinical and pharmaceutical laboratory professionals aren’t typically seen on the front lines of healthcare, but the information they obtain is used by physicians, nurses, and other medical practitioners to care for patients appropriately.
Currently, the clinical lab careers market accounts for less than 5% of hospital costs, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Still, approximately 60-70% of all decisions regarding a patient’s diagnosis, treatment, and medical plans of action are determined by lab tests performed by medical laboratory scientists—meaning lab services’ roles are paramount to patient health outcomes.
Lab Services Roles
There are many different roles to fulfill in a clinical or pharmaceutical laboratory. Some careers you might consider in lab services include:
- Laboratory Technician
- Molecular Biologist
- Biochemical Analyst
- R&D Researcher
- Validation Engineer
- Pharmaceutical Specialist
Laboratory technicians assist scientists and technologists, working under their supervision to perform general lab tests. They might prepare specimens and take samples, perform basic analyses, maintain laboratory equipment and tools, and contribute to scientific research efforts alongside a team of scientists and other laboratory specialists.
Molecular biologists use advanced technology, such as PCR (for example used in Covid-19 analysis), to study molecular structures and their functions. They conduct research that aims to formulate theories of cellular and biological components, concepts, and functions as they apply to real life. The goal is to make sense of biological processes at a molecular level to better understand medicinal and other impacts on our cellular makeup.
Biochemical analysts use laboratory instruments and techniques to gather and analyze biological and chemical samples. These analysts often manipulate various materials for objective research involving chemical processes occurring within living things. The aim of a biochemical analyst working in a clinical or pharmaceutical lab is to ensure quality control, solve biological problems, attain early and accurate diagnoses, and explore customized treatments that work for each patient as a whole.
Research and development (R&D) researchers help conceptualize or create knowledge, products, processes, methods, and systems. In a laboratory setting, these individuals are involved in the first stage of the development process that leads to innovation in healthcare. As an R&D researcher you often develop into the role of an associate scientist or even a scientist, although scientists often hold a PhD degree.
Validation engineers perform tests to make sure various instruments and equipment used in the lab work correctly and according to the right quality standards. This validation is performed against established standards, making exact measurements to determine what pieces might need to be replaced or repaired in a process called calibration. Lab equipment and instruments need to be at optimal capacity to function effectively and provide accurate results. A validation engineer has the scientific and technical knowledge and experience to ensure lab instruments and equipment are working properly.
Pharmaceutical specialists prepare medications in hospitals, pharmacies, medical clinics, or other healthcare facilities or settings. These specialists help to ensure that patients take the proper dosages of their prescribed medicines and educate them about possible side effects, interactions, and other important information about the proper usage of medications. Pharmaceutical specialists also need to know and adhere to regulations specific to the products they’re dispensing.
Is a Lab Career Right For Me?
Certain characteristics may make a person better suited to a career in lab services, and the pharmaceutical industry is broad enough that different types of personality fit different types of positions. As you consider various roles in the lab, it’s important to know what skills, talents, or attributes might help you succeed in your chosen vocation. A prime lab services candidate might have critical thinking skills, the ability to make quick decisions or adapt, attention to detail, or technical and computer skills. But having every advantageous trait is not necessary to find a great lab position.
Most importantly, you should have a desire to work in a clinical or pharmaceutical lab, collect and analyze specimens, record data, report results, and help patients and their physicians retrieve accurate diagnoses and information to aid in the treatment and prevention of diseases.
Experience and Training: What Do I Need To Know To Work in Lab Careers?
The type and amount of experience, training, and education you need to work in lab services is dependent on the specific role you choose within the profession. Most lab services careers require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and some hands-on experience. You can also continue your education, attaining a master’s degree or even a PhD if your passion is research. But for most lab jobs, especially hands-on positions, a BSc is sufficient to meet the requirements. You might need to take science, math, and statistics courses to gain the requisite knowledge to succeed in any of the above clinical or pharmaceutical lab services roles.
To accumulate experience and training while you complete your education, you might consider an internship, apprenticeship, or other hands-on training programs. Some of these programs are paid, and others may lead to long-term employment opportunities. You might also consider partnering with a staffing firm to land roles in lab services. Staffing agencies often offer some flexibility and variety in your day-to-day work routine.
Finally, some lab services positions require specific certifications to obtain suitable employment. You may need to pass specific credentialing exams and acquire certification through an accrediting body before you can secure specific jobs in the lab. You will also likely need to adhere to several safety standards or pre-screenings to perform your job duties per established protocols, guidelines, regulations, or laws.
Two of the most well known and most used credentials in the industry are Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Good Laboratory Practices (GLP), used as quality guidelines for the production of pharmaceutical products. Gaining knowledge and experience applicable to these guidelines will really help boost your CV.
Starting My Lab Career: How Do I Find a Job?
You finished your degree and training, so you might think the hard part is over. But finding a job can also be challenging if you don’t do your “homework.” With some preparation and self-awareness in addition to your schooling, you can instill the confidence needed to land the perfect job in lab services.
Here are three tips to get you started toward your lab services career:
1. Set Clear Goals
You can’t know what to search for if you haven’t established your career goals. Creating goals for yourself can be challenging initially. Goal setting is its own skill set that requires dedication and self-discipline. Your goals should be SMART—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound—for you to derive the most benefit from striving to reach them. It’s also important to be flexible when working toward specific goals because you might need to revise your plans as you move forward in your job search.
Before you begin creating your goals, ensure you have a strategy for success, which means you need someone or something to hold yourself accountable. Once you know you must progress in your goals to make a good impression, write them down. Writing them down will ensure your goals are specific and clearly defined.
Finally, you need to have a plan to execute your goals. A 2006 study showed that having a plan “significantly improved” postdoc participants’ training experiences, leading to increased satisfaction and productivity. Plans are important to realize your goals.
Examples of goals you might set to aid in your lab career job search include:
- Create a target list of companies you want to research and apply to. Choose pharmaceutical, clinical, diagnostic, or lab-based companies and roles you’re genuinely interested in rather than applying to anything and everything and settling for something you’re not enthusiastic about.
- Meet a set number of people daily or weekly who can assist you in landing the perfect lab services job. This goal requires you to initiate connections and interactions with strangers. You can soften the blow of possible rejection and go easy on your nerves by getting someone you already know to introduce you to someone else within their inner circle who influences your chosen occupational sphere—meaning try to stick with other lab career professionals to gain the most traction from the relationship. Networking is key to gaining the right exposure and speeding up the job search process.
- Get involved in professional activities to continue enhancing your resume. It’s tempting to sit back and wait for the offers to roll in while binge-watching Netflix from the comfort of your couch or soaking up the sun at the neighborhood dog park with your canine companion. But your “off-time” is best spent volunteering and connecting with like-minded individuals in the lab services market who can give you a boost with your career objectives. Organize an event for a local healthcare organization or run for a position on the board of directors at a medical- or lab-focused entity. Essentially, show potential employers that you’re ambitious or a thought leader in your own right—bonus points for establishing yourself as a go-getter in your particular field of interest.
2. Be Realistic
You want to be careful not to pursue opportunities in the lab that are simply unrealistic. For instance, it’s unlikely you will land the role of a clinical or pharmaceutical technologist or laboratory scientist with only an associate degree. However, you could work as an assistant or technician while continuing your education and gaining real-world experience.
Additionally, you don’t want to pressure yourself to find a job in the next two days. It’s just not likely to happen. Instead, for example, you would need to determine how many interviews you’d like to try to secure within the next two weeks and go from there. The second timeframe is more reasonable and sets you up for eventual success rather than instant failure.
In other words, when you create goals for your job search, it’s important to make them realistic so that you can accurately gauge your progress and celebrate your achievements along the way, thereby boosting your self-confidence and inspiring you to keep working toward your overarching objective—acquiring your coveted lab careers job.
The easiest way to set realistic expectations for yourself in your job search is to assess where you’re at and plot a course of action for where you’d like to be six months, one year, or even five years from now. Then, determine how you will get there by deciding how you want and need to accomplish your career goals.
The most important thing to remember is that finding a job isn’t always easy. It’s often tricky and fraught with challenges. But you must be patient with yourself and the process so that you don’t find yourself searching again within the year. You want to find the right fit, which can take time and persistence.
3. Know Yourself
You need to know yourself to be successful in your job search. You might be completely invested in your chosen vocation and excited to start your next professional venture in lab services. Still, if you have no idea who you are, what you want, or the things that drive you daily, you’re unlikely to make a persuasive case for yourself to potential employers.
You must identify and understand your specific skills, talents, strengths, weaknesses, values, and personality. Some questions to consider before interviewing include:
- What makes you a solid candidate for your position of interest?
- What experience are you still lacking in your anticipated lab role?
- Do you have plans for additional learning and advancement in lab careers?
- In what areas do you excel—personally and professionally?
- What variables are you willing to compromise to get the job you want (i.e., pay, location, etc.)?
According to career and life coach Jacqueline Mitchell, interviewed by CNBC Make It in April 2022, your job search should be considered the same as dating. CNBC quoted Mitchell, stating: “This is a relationship that you’re getting into. If you don’t know what type of relationship you want, and you go out there seeking a relationship, you’re going to get offered so many different things that don’t align with your values.”
You know you want to work in lab services and might even know the specific role you’re hoping to fulfill, but that’s only part of the job search equation. Company research is also imperative when seeking the right fit. Per Mitchell, the top three things you need to know before walking into an interview are:
- Your boundaries (i.e., hours you’re willing to work, emotional and mental limits, flexibility you need to have, etc.): This is part of self-care and self-preservation for your long-term wellbeing in the workplace.
- Your values: This involves narrowing your search and zeroing in on what’s important to you (e.g., collaboration, opportunity, future advancement, cultural satisfaction, job security, etc.) and what you really want so that you match with a job that makes you happy.
- What life you want to live: This is all about the lifestyle you want (e.g., city versus country environment, 9-5 job versus independent contractor, etc.) and how your job fits into that picture. This last one will inevitably change over time, and it’s unlikely you’ll achieve all your life goals early on with your first or even fifth job. But it is something to think about so that you know you’re working toward a life that brings you contentment, self-realization, and joy.
Partnering For Success: How Can Oxford Help Me Advance My Lab Career?
When you partner with a staffing firm dedicated to bringing people together to meet needs and solve complex problems within the lab services industry, you’re able to highlight your expertise, energy, and commitment to multiple laboratory clients across varying projects and communities. In addition, staffing agencies recognize each independent consultant’s strengths to promote quality alliances and help create and amplify rewarding careers.
Whether you’re unsure where to start or know exactly what you want in your career in lab services, working with a trusted partner can only help elevate your personal and professional goals.