Process Development Director: An Informational Interview Report

[Thanks to Dillon for sharing his informational interview report on how to become a process development director at a pharmaceutical company and related work information.]

Business process

The person I chose to interview is the director of process development at a specialty pharmaceutical company. This person is also my dad. For many years I’ve always asked him about his work because it always seemed very interesting to me. The company produces drugs for both humans and animals. His actual job is to manage people and help develop methods for manufacturing the drugs, administering the drugs, using the drugs, and marketing/producing the drugs on a commercial scale. What appealed to me most about the work is that you got to see both sides of the coin; one being the development phase of the drug, and the other being the process and eventual sale of the drug on a commercial scale.

The first question I asked him was how did he get into his current career. His response was “The president of the company and I worked at a restaurant together for many years. He decided to move on from the restaurant business and start his own business. He later came back for dinner and requested that I work for his company.” I asked if he considered this to be the norm, and he responded that it was mostly luck. I asked how would you normally go about finding a position like yours. His reply was “I would assume one would start from the bottom up, assuming you’re coming straight out of college. If you had prior work experience, and were looking for a job in this area, you might be hired directly into a higher position.”

Me: How long have you been working for this company?
Director: 25 years

Me: What kind of work does your job require you do?
Director: I manage 3 departments (Process Development, Logistics, Analytical,), and I’m responsible for making sure, currently, they’re all CGMP compliant. Each department has different tasks and requires different ways of managing them. Mostly it is being creative and making sure people stick to the tasks at hand, and making sure what needs to be done, gets done.

Me: What kinds of expertise are required?
Director: Perfect management skills, fundamental understanding of science and practicality. Believe it or not, you just don’t sit behind a desk and bark orders all day.

Me: What kind of degrees would be suitable for this type of career?
Director: A business degree, science degree and an engineering degree would all be suitable for this type of work. Each department has its own needs.

Me: What are employment prospects like?
Director: It depends on the company, the economy and the person you’re working for.

Me: What is the promotional rate like?
Director: Because of the size of the company, it’s good.

Me: What about outside this company?
Director: I can’t say for 100% certainty, but I would assume good as well. The Process Development department is fundamental to all companies, and a good manager in the position is invaluable. I know prior to me coming to this company, the president went through 10 different people in a matter of two months before hiring me.

Dillon: What is the starting salary for a job like this?
Director: Depends on the company, but I would venture to say between 80 and 100k.

Dillon: How secure in the job?
Director: In an economy like this, I would say it’s one of the more secure jobs out there. Though that isn’t without saying, in an economy like this, anything can go.

Dillon: What is the work environment like?
Director: I would say the work environment is intense; we’re working to get things done yesterday. You always have to be on top of your game. If you fall behind, the whole project, and even the company, can fall behind.

Dillon: Is it a healthy environment?
Director: Most of the time, working with my groups is fun, working with outside groups can be stressful. Sometimes the fact that each of the groups can be at odds with each other can be stressful, but usually it’s fun and challenging.

Dillon: What do you, personally, enjoy the most about your work?
Director: Getting thing done. In R&D and Compliance, things can go slow, and sometimes not even work out in the end. With Process and Development, things usually work themselves out. There’s always an answer out there, or there’s always some more efficient way to do something. The question is where is it?

Dillon: What is unique about your work?
Director: Well we’re creating new products, and there’s a lot of discovery, and a lot of development. Also a lot of FDA involvement, following guidelines and adhering to strict rules. If you step out of line even for just a little bit, years and years and millions maybe even billions of dollars go down the drain.

Dillon: You like this uniqueness?
Director: Basically, yeah.

Dillon: What is the economic forecast for this industry?
Director: Well we’re making new drugs for cancer, so it’s optimistic, as long as there’s money to be made, it’s good.

Dillon: Would you recommend a career in this industry?
Director: With all certainty.

Dillon: Thanks for the time, and answers.
Director: You’re welcome.

A lot of the information I got from the interview was new to me. Things such as the work environment, and skills required were either completely new, or somewhat new. Though, possibly the newest thing to me was the pay that you got starting out. That was a real eye opener. I was expecting to hear around 50-60k, but after doing some of my own research, I confirmed what had been said regarding the starting salary of a Process Development manager. This was rather exciting because that’s great pay to start out making, and would defintely help get my feet off the ground when starting my own career. Another thing that peaked my interest was the promotion rate. I knew from accounting that you could expect to be promoted every 5-6 years, while my interviewee said it wasn’t uncommon to be promoted every 2-3 years.

The rest of the other information was not exactly new, in the sense that I figured on most of the things, and he confirmed them for me. Things such as the economic forecast for the industry, and the degrees required were kind of a given to me, but nonetheless he confirmed them reinforcing what I had figured anyways.

The most interesting thing was the work environment. Personally I would hate, and do hate, being stuck in a cubical doing boring work all day, every day. I need it to be challenging and intense to keep my interest. This was really good news for me to hear that this was an intense and challenging work environment. It really reaffirmed my view on my career choice and helped put it all in a positive light. If it wasn’t I’d have to seriously reconsider my career path, cause I know I couldn’t do a 9-5 cubical job. Though, it may be a little late in the game to do that.

The interview was plenty helpful. I got to see how the workings behind the scenes went, and I got to see how the job I want in the future actually plays out. It also showed me what kind of classes I need to make it in the career I want, and thankfully I’m on the right path. Overall it was thoroughly enjoyable. I got a tour of the facilities and got to see how a manager handled his work in this type of career. I got to sit in on a conference call, and even got to see a meeting with employees and how each of the different departments was handled and how they interacted. It really opened my eyes to what the career would be like. There’s nothing you can read in a text book that would describe the experience itself and what it’s like to actually see the job played out and how people interact and how things get done.

Thank You E-Mail

Dear xxxxx,

Thank you for your time with the interview. It was extremely informative and helpful in showing me how my, hopeful, future career will be like. The tour of the facilities was wonderful and gave me an idea of how things are laid out. Also sitting in on the conference call and the meeting with your employees was highly educational. It really showed the human side of things, that business isn’t really just this machine that is thoughtless, and what kind of skills are needed to manage people.

Thank you again,


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