Featured, Professional Advice / Opinions:

Pharmaceutical Fellowship Tips

By: Sean Caltabiano, Ramya Mathew & Praneeta Nagraj

Timeline Overview

5th Year: Start thinking about recommendations

  • Your preceptors on rotations and faculty you have worked with are great people to ask for letters of recommendation

July–October (or sooner): Research

  • Start thinking about areas that you would be interested in pursuing (e.g., Regulatory Affairs, Medical Affairs, Clinical Development, Marketing, Health Economics Outcomes Research, Pharmacovigilance, etc.)

September: Register early for Personal Placement Services (PPS) to save money

October: PPS opens

  • Start reaching out to your recommenders for your recommendation letters so they will be ready to submit by the 2nd week of December

November: Fellowship Information Day (FIND

  • Takes place at Rutgers University

December: ASHP Midyear Conference (2015 New Orleans!)

January: On-site interviews



  • Start thinking if a fellowship/job in pharmaceutical industry is right for you. Try to get a rotation at an industry site if possible. If you already know which area you are interested in, try to get a rotation in that area. If you don’t know which area you are interested in, try to get any experience you can. Depending on the rotation site you get, definitely try to set up one-on-one meetings with people (PharmD’s if you can) in different departments. It is good to just talk with them and ask how they got to the position they currently hold (school, fellowships if any, Medical Science Liaison (MSL) position, etc.).
  • Get involved in as many projects that your preceptor allows you to. The more experience you get at these rotations, the more you will be able to talk about during your interviews and the better you will look as a candidate.
  • If possible, consider doing a summer internship at an industry site. Many big pharma companies take summer interns – It is worth a shot to even ask if you can set up a shadow day even just to gain a better understanding.
  • The next best option is to conduct some Google searches to find out about positions available and what their overall job is responsible for.
  • Go through the brochures of each company that you’re interested in – it gives you a great description of the responsibilities of each fellow and the company in general.
  • There are many programs that offer fellowships – some are within industry, some are half industry and half with a university/hospital, and there are others that are Association Management. Look into all of your options and then narrow it down from there.
  • While on any rotations, start to think about who you would like to write a letter of recommendation for you. Most programs require three, but it is a good idea to ask four people to ensure you will have at least three when applications need to be submitted. The last day of the rotation is a good opportunity to ask your preceptor if they would consider writing a letter of recommendation for you in the future. If you had the rotation months before you need the recommendation letter, try to maintain some contact with the preceptor.

Personal Placement Services

  • You must register for PPS and pay a fee ($75 in 2014). If you register before PPS opens it is cheaper. Once it opens, the price more than doubles!
  • Definitely register early and be ready the day it opens. Interviews are usually on a first come first serve basis, so to ensure you interview with the company you like for the position you want to pursue, act fast to submit that request.
  • To complete your profile you will need to upload a CV and you have the option to upload a picture, and compose a career objective.
  • Inside PPS you are able to search fellowship positions that have been posted across the country
  • Through this service, students schedule interviews taking place at the Midyear Conference. To schedule an interview, you submit a request to the fellowship program.
  • St. John’s and Rutgers Fellowships will be posted here as well, but this is only to provide you information on the fellowships they are offering. You have to email the contact for the St. John’s Fellowship Program and set up an interview with them.
  • You can only schedule interviews for Rutgers programs in person at Midyear. Other fellowship programs, for the most part, will allow you to set up through PPS and email – take advantage of this opportunity!

Fellowship Information Day (FIND) – Specific to the Rutgers Fellowship Program

  • This takes place at Rutgers about a month before Midyear. Rutgers has the largest fellowship program in the country with 17 partner companies. This event is free and it usually starts in the afternoon through the evening. They give a presentation on the Rutgers program and then some of the Rutgers Fellows give short presentations on the various positions available.
  • After the presentations, there is a two-hour meet and greet with the companies. Speak with the companies you are interested in and ask them any and all questions. Try to make that first impression count before you hopefully have a chance to meet with the company at the Midyear Conference. Leaving a lasting impression helps with interviews later on. Be sure to also follow up with any Fellows you meet and programs you find interesting.

Midyear Conference

  • Things to bring to Midyear: CVs, thank you cards, business cards (optional), padfolio (or professional folder of some sort), suits, comfortable (but professional) shoes, water bottle, and snacks (you are busy and don’t always have time for a decent meal)!
  • At the conference, PPS (a huge room in the convention center) opens for interviews on Sunday and runs until Tuesday. If you are interested in any Rutgers programs, people start getting in line VERY EARLY Saturday morning. You cannot schedule any interviews with the Rutgers programs until Saturday morning.
  • I (Sean) flew in Friday evening. Rutgers opened officially at 12 pm Saturday morning, but the line started forming very early (4 am). I arrived at 7 am and was the 220th person in line. I was still able to sign up for all of the interviews I wanted, however some of my friends who arrived at 8 am did not secure interviews with all of the companies they wanted. Do not rely on these times; use this experience to make your own plans.
  • Rutgers has some interviews beginning on Saturday from about 2-5 pm, which continue Sunday – Tuesday, 8-5pm. When you are scheduling your interviews, it may be beneficial to have an interview with a company you are not as interested in just to get the pre-interview jitters out of your system
  • Personal Business Cards- It can be good to give business cards out at FIND or Networking events, but when you are interviewing at Midyear, the interviewee is usually the one to ask for the business card because the interviewer already has your CV with every contact you have.
  • Bring snacks and water– Midyear is hectic and your days will consist of interviewing and prepping for those interviews. Many people don’t find the time to eat an actual meal during the day so it is highly advised to bring snacks so you can last through the day without crashing. Granola bars, nuts, or anything that’s quick and easy. Also make sure to drink water since you will be doing a lot of talking throughout the day.


  • Make sure you are organized with your schedule. Keep track of the interviews you have and arrive at least 15 minutes before you are scheduled. It is in your best interest not to schedule interviews back to back because it can take a little while to get from one booth to another. Keep this in mind when scheduling interviews and leave at least 30 minutes between each interview.
  • You want to make sure you have a CV to give each of your interviewers for each round. People told me to bring 50 CV’s printed on (32 lb.) resume paper.
  • The interviews are generally 30 minutes with 1 or 2 interviewers. For Rutgers and many other programs, there are 2-3 rounds of Interviewing before potentially getting a reception invite.
  • Before interviewing, it’s a good idea to read through the brochure for the specific fellowship you are applying for.
  • Get familiar with the current fellows and preceptors for the programs.

Tips on preparing for the interview:

  • Before I interviewed with the companies, I created an index card to review before the interview. On the card, I included the preceptor/fellows, the mission of the company, and some of their current products or main therapeutic areas the work with.
  • Lastly, look on the website to research the company pipeline or trials they are conducting. Know some of the key points so you are prepared to tell them what you know about their company or why you chose to apply to their specific fellowship if they ask. If they don’t ask you to tell them about their company, when they ask if you have any questions at the end, you can ask them a specific question about their pipeline or any trials to show that you are interested and you have done your research.
  • Be sure to always ask questions at the end and make sure they are relevant as well. For example, if a Fellow is interviewing you, you may ask about a project that has been most exciting for them to work on or one they are proud to have worked on so they can share what they have done and you have an idea of what you can be a part of.
  • Thank you notes– At the end of the interview, you should ask for your interview’s business card to write a thank you note. You can either drop the thank you note off at the table later in the day or the next day. Use the business card to make sure you spell your interviewer’s name correctly. I like to write thank you notes generally, so I purchased some nice correspondence note cards (Original Crown Mill) to give out. I think it is just a good habit to get into.
  • A note to all: The interview process can be stressful, but try to enjoy yourself. It is important to understand that interviews are a two-way process. You are also seeing if the program you are interviewing for will be right for you too – think about that as you ask your questions too.

Interview Questions

  • The interviews generally ask behavioral questions to gain a sense of your past experiences and what you will be able to offer to the company.
  • Read up on the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, and Result). This basically provides a way to answer questions in an organized way.
  • I made a 1 page interview review sheet to glance over right before my interviews which included:
  • Strengths; weaknesses; major characteristics about me; what makes you different/unique
  • Key stories/answers to questions an interviewer might ask including:
  • A time you had worked on a project and it ended up going in another direction (I was asked this during several interviews)
  • Something you failed at
  • A time you had to make a split second decision
  • An ethical dilemma you faced
  • A time you had a challenging boss/advisor
  • A time you had a group project and the role you played
  • A time you had to represent a group of people’s opinion
  • A conflict with a coworker
  • A time you had to conform to a policy you didn’t want to
  • A problem you had and how you solved it
  • A difficult decision you had to make
  • A process you had to improve
  • Also be prepared to answer questions such as, “Why this specific program/role? Why do you want to pursue a career in the Pharmaceutical Industry?”
  • You can look up residency/fellowship/behavioral questions to see a broader list.
  • If you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer right away, you could ask them to repeat it or rephrase it. Before answering, breathe, gather your thoughts, and then answer.
  • Know your CV well! You are the expert on it! You should be prepared to talk about anything that is on your CV. This includes presentations, rotation experiences, publications, research, journal club presentations listed, etc. Do not be afraid to include interesting skills that you have on your CV whether it is computer programming or martial arts; these are things that set you apart. Just be sure to organize it properly. Some people bring copies of one or two of their presentations and/or publications to their interviews.
  • Be yourself– You don’t want to sound like a robot that has practiced and memorized their answers to certain types of questions. Try to make the interview more like an easy-flowing conversation. It’s definitely easier said than done, but try not to let your nerves get to you and show them your personality while remaining professional. This goes a long way! Generally the people you interview with are the ones who you will be working with throughout the Fellowship.


  • After 2-3 rounds of interviews, top candidates will be invited to receptions. Some companies (not all) will have their own receptions, while others will invite their candidates to the general Rutgers reception on Tuesday night (for Rutgers Fellowships only). These receptions are INVITE ONLY and are the best way to gauge how you’re doing.
  • The general consensus is that if a company does NOT give you an invitation to their reception (if they have one), then you are probably not one of their top candidates; apply at your own discretion.

Navigating the Receptions

  • Kudos for getting this far! The companies are interested in you and this is your chance to show them who you are and a little about your personality.
  • Attire: Cocktail, Business Casual
  • Men – suits; Women – cocktail dress, suit dress
  • Before the receptions, try to get something small to eat so you are at ease at the reception.
  • There will be food and drinks at the receptions. This is an informal networking setting. It is okay to have an alcoholic drink at the reception, but it would not be advisable to go back for more as you will have to continue speaking to multiple people. Do not feel pressured to have alcohol – water is acceptable.
  • Rule of thumb: Keep one hand free at all times so that you can shake hands with the people you meet.

Company sponsored reception: (Monday before Rutgers reception – typically)

  • There is a possibility you will have more than just one reception invite, and if you do that’s great! Be sure to manage your time wisely based on the time of each reception. If two programs are at the same time, then go to the one that interests you more first and then the other second if you still have time. If you get an invite and do not make an appearance, it may show the company you are not interested.
  • When at company-specific receptions, do your best to meet and speak with the current Fellows, Preceptors and Program Directors.

Rutgers Reception (about 7:30-10pm)

  • This is the big one! Every company and program at Rutgers will be represented here. After a short presentation, you will be on your own to navigate the room and meet with all the programs you are interested in applying to.
  • At this point, you should have an idea of what companies are interested in you and also which companies you are definitely interested in applying to. Be sure to make time to meet with all of the programs you will be applying for. It can only help you at this point.
  • If you are unsure which company to meet with first, try starting with a company you feel you did not get to spend as much time with at a company sponsored reception (if they had one).
  • In general, navigate the room and meet as many people associated with the partner program/company (companies) you are interested in. This is your last opportunity to leave a lasting impression of yourself before Midyear ends.
  • Enjoy the event, and just like you did with the interviews – be yourself!

On-Site Interviews

  • If you have made it to this stage – congratulations! After Midyear, starting as early as the following week, companies will start reaching out to candidates to set up on-site interviews after application material has been submitted.
  • In order to get an on-site interview for Rutgers, you MUST have your CV, letter of intent, and at least ONE letter of recommendation uploaded to the Rutgers Portal.
  • As far as on-site interviews, every company does it a little different, but all will most likely include a presentation component. From my experience, I have had presentation topics assigned by the company and I also had one that told me to choose a topic of my choice, as long as it’s relevant to the position. The presentations are a way to gauge how you are as a presenter (style, voice, eye contact, etc.) and will also include a Q&A after. This is the fun part of the interview, and a way for you to seal the deal with your program of choice and meet your potential future colleagues and Preceptors.
  • After your on-site interview, be sure to email a follow up thank you to anyone you met during your on-site interview, the Preceptor, and current Fellows. Following up and saying thank you is good etiquette to follow and also reaffirms your interest to the partner company.

[pubmed_related keyword1=”pharmaceutical” keyword2=”fellowship”]

Published by Rho Chi Post
Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.