Skip to Main Content
by Vault Careers | August 28, 2017


biotech startup

The pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry produces drugs and other products that help people and animals live healthier lives, recover from injuries, and fight illnesses. From its humble origins in local pharmacies and apothecaries that prepared “home remedies” during the Middle Ages, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology (or pharma/biotech) industry has grown into one of the leading industries in the world. In the U.S., it's the third most profitable industry in terms of percentage of revenues. It's also home to cutting-edge biological and chemical research, and offers numerous and various career opportunities.

Scientists with graduate degrees are in high demand, as are workers with science-related bachelor’s degrees. In addition, workers with no scientific background can find jobs in administration, finance, law, marketing, and other areas. The bottom line is that pharma/biotech is a major job provider in the U.S., and the employment outlook is extremely good for well-qualified job seekers in this industry.

Although, today, 87 percent of employees in the U.S. pharmaceutical industry work for firms with more than 100 workers (such as Pfizer, Sanofi, Merck, and GlaxoSmithKline), there are plenty of opportunities to be had at pharma/biotech startups. These startups often offer a creative, entrepreneurial atmosphere, which can be especially appealing to younger workers. However, startups can also provide far less job stability than large pharmaceutical companies, since their products are often unproven and their failure rate is high. On the other hand, working at a successful startup can provide valuable experience, which will also look great on a resume. And startups often offer employees ownership stakes, which can translate into huge payoffs.

In any case, before joining a pharma/biotech startup, make sure to assess its mission and business plan, and look for the following five traits.

1. Strong management teams.

Startups managed by people who have industry experience and a solid track record are more likely to succeed.

2. Productive corporate culture.

Test the waters during the interview process. Ask yourself if the employees you meet look happy. Do they seem passionate and enthusiastic about their work? Do the interviewers treat you with respect? Are the facilities and work stations clean and comfortable? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, reconsider taking a job at the company.

3. Credible technology and strong potential for market success.

Read as much as you can about the company. Find out what industry experts think about its technology and market potential.

4. Reputable investors and financing.

A quality startup should have reputable investors. They are often industry insiders with a proven track record of funding pharma/biotech startups. Many investors hold seats on the board of directors, so you can learn about their backgrounds by visiting the startup's website, checking the directors out on LinkedIn, and Googling their names.

5. Solid reputation among former employees.

Talk with former employees at industry conferences and via social media. If most are positive about the company, it’s a good sign. Be careful listening to negative feedback. A former employee who was fired or laid off might have nothing nice to say about a company even if his or her work experience was mostly positive. Be wary, though, if many former employees have similar negative reports about the company.

This post was adapted from the new Vault Career Guide to Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology.