The purpose of creating this article is to introduce students to different job positions, their requirements, and advice on how to attain them. Use this article to read about the different job positions you may be interested in and connect with these professionals. To watch our Career Panel webinar, please click here.
Jenn Bonilla (She/Her): Linkedin
"My family background is Mexican (Jeres, Mexico) on my Father's side and German/British on my Mother's side. My two younger brothers and I were born here in Fresno, California.
Growing up, my parents were farm laborers. My Dad also worked as a grocery clerk and then as a pressman at the Fresno Bee. At times, he worked more than one job to ensure we were cared for. My Mother never worked outside the home but would babysit for extra money.
I personally started working when I was 10 by either selling greetings cards door to door or by going out to the fields with my Dad for a couple of summers (I'm a terribly slow grape picker). Later in high school, I worked as a bus person in restaurants or at retail stores.
I graduated from Clovis West High School but it was a challenging senior year. I almost 'dropped out' because I was so frustrated that at that time my family was not supportive of me going off to UC Berkeley, who had a program for minority students. It just was not part of our culture or expectations that we would move away far from home and go to college.
After high school, I ended up working at a local psychiatric facility in Fresno as a certified nurse aide. After a year of working and messing around, I went back to school at Fresno City College. My plan was to become a nurse, a registered nurse, but an English professor convinced me I could aim higher. He helped me secure a place at UC Riverside where I was a pre-med student. Throughout my college years, I worked and went to school full-time. I was not quite sure what I really wanted to do so I eventually decided to move back to Fresno where I went to Fresno State for 2 more years to graduate with a BA in Psychology."
"I worked in psychiatric facilities for 7 years, 6 of which I was also going to college. I had a practical knowledge of Abnormal Psychology and was even leading group therapy for people who had survived a suicide attempt. I personally find people very interesting. I also found that my classes, especially my research classes in Psychology, were really fun for me. I liked thinking about how to design an experiment to better understand the brain and human behavior.
At Fresno State, I took a class that was called 'Independent Study' where you design and execute a research project for a grade. My project was to better understand bilingualism: Spanish native speakers vs. those who learn Spanish later in life and how cognition varies between these two groups of people when interpreting Spanish. I worked with a terrific professor and my experiment not only generated interesting data but was published in what was at the time an important Cognitive Psychology journal.
My professor encouraged me to apply to graduate schools. I didn't know what that was but when I learned that they pay YOU to go to graduate school - minimal loans are needed - I was very interested. In addition to that, on a personal note, I was in a very difficult, abusive relationship and I needed to escape California. There was some drama going on which I kept very private but I knew I had to get far away.
Thus, I applied to schools and was accepted at several including Rice University, UCLA, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. I ended up choosing Princeton University and felt like I had won the lottery. I spent five years there and graduated with a Ph.D. in Psychology. Going to Princeton University I felt both wholly unprepared having never gone to prep schools or other elite undergraduate schools and excited and determined to not miss this chance to succeed in an Ivy League. I still celebrate every April 22 the anniversary of my dissertation defense."
"My current job position is Senior Vice President of Portfolio Strategy. This is an executive position so the pay is quite good; salary + bonus + stock options in the company can exceed $1 million per year. Entering into the industry with an advanced degree but no direct experience (salary + bonus) typically starts in the low 6-figures.
An advanced degree is essential to growing as an executive in the Pharmaceutical industry. It can be an MBA, Ph.D., JD, or MD, something that shows the world you are a constant learner and a good thinker. You have to show that you can solve complex problems and get things done. Very often this is how hiring managers think about advanced degrees.
Some positions of course require medical degrees, such as clinical scientists, but there are many jobs that do not require a science degree. A few things that are common to all are: being a fast learner, interested in science, and possessing sharp analytical thinking with excellent written and verbal communication skills.
The Pharmaceutical industry has many ways one can enter and contribute. Some are science-based while others are business-based or technology-based. It is a great industry filled with the smartest people who genuinely want to create great new medicines to improve human health.
Personally, I got my first job by applying to it via a local newspaper! Since I had just graduated from Princeton, it gave me an edge. They invited me for the interview because they were curious about how an Ivy League Psychologist might do. This is one of the many advantages of going to a 'known school'. It may not seem fair, but it is true - the name of your school can carry weight with hiring managers when they are deciding who to spend time interviewing or not.
My first job was as a 'business analyst'. I did not have experience but what is so great about this industry is the investment larger companies will make in people. My first employer, Merck & Co., sent me to various classes to ensure I quickly got up to speed so that I could do my job. My first salary was $60k per year + bonus. Today's initial salaries are in the low six-figures."
"You become more and more valuable the more you learn and try new roles."
"Once you are in the industry work hard and learn. Learn all you can about the business and science. Stretch yourself and change jobs regularly to diversify your experience and knowledge base. You become more and more valuable the more you learn and try new roles. It is also very important to meet people, to show your humanity, passion, and talent. Be kind to everyone - you will depend on word of mouth in addition to your own achievements to keep moving around and moving up in this industry (probably true for any industry!).
Don't be picky about what job you take, just get into the industry and start to learn. It is a highly mobile business and if you don't like your job, as long as you are doing it well and building a reputation for being a good problem solver and a kind person, you'll be able to move around quite a bit until you find the role you really love and thrive in!
Ask for advice frequently!"
Haanieh Riah (She/Her): Linkedin
"I was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. I got a bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering and worked for a few years in sales and marketing roles in the Chemical industry. I left Iran when I was 26 and came to the U.S. to get my MBA. The first job out of Business school was in the Finance group at Genentech. The rest can be found in my LinkedIn profile."
"My title is Senior Forecasting and Decision Analysis Manager. I consider myself an internal consultant. I provide training on various methods of revenue forecasting with a focus on a long-range forecast that supports strategic decisions that companies need to make in the next 5-10 years.
Payment really depends on the level of experience. If someone is just doing the modeling work, it could be considered an entry-level position post Business school. If one is experienced in decision analysis, it's a higher-level position. $170-$240K.
"High-level expertise with Excel and modeling is also a must. In addition, understanding basic finance concepts, probability, and having some statistics background is helpful."
An MBA or a master's in economics is usually required. High-level expertise with Excel and modeling is also a must. In addition, understanding basic finance concepts, probability, and having some statistics background is helpful.
I became aware of this position while I was doing something similar at a smaller company. All midsize to large companies would require this. The nature of the role would be very different at smaller companies and startups. Also, there are considerable differences in strategic planning based on industries, e.g. software vs. pharma.
I enjoy my job very much. I get to work on a variety of different projects and have to interact with cross-functional teams and individuals from higher or lower levels of management. There are always a few months of the year that are a busy time for us, usually when planning happens. The coolest part of the job is when I help people translate qualitative notions into numbers as well as when I help them interpret quantitative results into qualitative insights. It is a supporting role and I help teams make decisions."
"This could be an ideal position for you if you enjoy: efficiency, working with numbers and spreadsheets, making sense of numbers and translating them into insights, and working in teams."
Jenn Buechel (She/Her): Linkedin
"I'm originally from Winnipeg, Canada. I grew up in rural Manitoba, on the outside of the city of Winnipeg. My folks did not go to university; my dad was a tailor and my mom was a baby nurse - she went to a technical professional college.
When I was 18, I left Winnipeg and I chose a program at Queens. I got a scholarship to attend Queens University to study Chemical Engineering. My two favorite subjects in school were physics and chemistry. When I was talking with my family about what to study, my dad said, 'Whatever you pick, you better pick something that you can live on your own.' This was one of the main reasons I chose engineering.
When I entered Queens, as an Engineer, I had to pick a couple of art classes to fill up some of my electives. I ended up taking a lot of English classes while I was doing my chemical engineering degree. By the time I graduated from Chemical Engineering, I only had to do a couple of courses by correspondence in a night school to be able to get my English degree as well. In the end, I graduated with both degrees."
How was your experience in STEM as a womxn?
"The good thing about going to an all-girls high school was that I didn't think there was a difference when it came to being a womxn in STEM, but I think that was pretty naive. I always saw myself as equal to men and I expected to always be treated equally.
It wasn't until I got into the executive ranks in some of these companies that I've worked at that I saw how unequal we are treated. I think that it is so unusual to see a womxn in STEM that it distracts from you being a novelty yourself. Fortunately, I had a lot of crowds that really looked out for me. I had a lot of friends, both male and female, who looked out for each other. I think that outside of the social stuff that I had to deal with, I did not really see an issue at the university. It is not until later that it really hits you, mostly in the work field."
"My current title is Global Future Council at Biotechnology and I am creating a blood test to detect cancer early so it can be diagnostic. It would be a blood test like the ones you would go and get for pregnancy or cholesterol. As a chief operating officer, I'm running all of the different functions required to get this product out to launch. I mean we're a very new company right now but the idea is that I'll have software engineers, biology engineers, robotic engineers, marketing people, and lab operation people. Those are the groups of most importance to me.
I think there's a lot of character traits that are required to do a job like this so I will break them into different groups. To do a job like mine, you need to really have a strong analytical horsepower. You need to be able to tell a story and be able to weave together a lot of different opinions to figure out what the right answer is. In this case, problem-solving skills and influencing are ideal.
Out of those three things, analytical horsepower is number one. To get that, it doesn't matter if you have a Chemical Engineering degree or a Mechanical Engineering degree or a Biostatistics degree; you just need to be able to really understand how to do analysis. You can either take public policy, communication, or marketing at school. The table stakes are to have a degree, ideally in some kind of analytical aspect. The skills required to run teams, have people work for you, and be responsible for people's work are really important to develop.
The roles of product management and COO are integrative connective tissue roles. I think that in companies that are public and have a lot of revenue, the average salary could be around $200-250K a year.
I love my current job. I love the people I work with and I love the product. I think the number one thing for me is the product."
"Once you're in a university, what's really important is that you understand what other people pick, what drives their motivation, and what makes them behave in different ways. Sometimes, that means that you end up not being as worried about the mark and you work more on the social aspects like how to get people from really diverse backgrounds to get along. This is good because these are the kind of skills that don't just improve the product in business but improves society.
"My number one recommendation is to take courses that improve critical thinking because we don’t have enough of that right now. Figuring out how to influence and communicate is number two."
My number one recommendation is to take courses that improve critical thinking because we don’t have enough of that right now. People are applying really light analysis to really complex problems. Figuring out how to influence and communicate is number two. Hopefully, you can do that in a discipline that has a lot of analytics behind it.
I also recommend taking a course in Bioinformatics, it is huge right now. Everything right now is Bioinformatics. We don't have enough people who understand biology and how to analyze it. Those folks right now are writing their own ticket for whatever they want to do because they're so rare and so needed. It's a huge field."
Henry Eng (He/Him): Linkedin
"I grew up in the Washington, DC area as an only child. For most of my life, I have been on the east coast. I went to college down in North Carolina and worked in New York for almost ten years as a bond trader on Wall Street. I later moved to the West Coast to work for Genentech, where I've been for the past seven years now within the Finance organization.
Additionally, I'm from an immigrant family. My parents, both physicians, actually escaped from China during the cultural revolution and had to restart their careers here, which ended successfully. I come from a background where education is highly valued.
Starting off at Duke University I was actually pre-med because of my parents and their background. I was good at the sciences and took all the pre-requisites to do that. However, I realized that you have to really want to be a physician given the amount of school you have to go through to become one. When I saw how hard my classmates, who were also premed, were studying for it and how much they wanted it, I realized that I didn't feel the same way. I did well in the classes and got good grades but I just didn't have the passion for it if I am being honest."
Why Economics and a minor in Computer Science?
"Economics was just something else. I used college to take a variety of classes to explore and see what I was interested in. Economics just felt like a good mix of real-world applications and science, as well as having a quantitative bend to it. I just really enjoyed the class I took and it became very easy to end up as an Economics major. I took Computer Science as well just because I thought it would be interesting and I ended up really enjoying it. It teaches you a new way to think and problem solve that's very practical and useful to this day.
I also went to NYU Stern to get my MBA part-time. During that time, I was working on Wall Street. There's a lot of things that I took away and learned from it. Although I'm very grateful for that experience, it was also very stressful. Markets move all of the time and never really stop. There are some days where you're graded every day to see if you made or lost money and how you did amongst your peers.
"I took a lot of different classes in a lot of different areas trying to figure out where I wanted to land."
There's so much money involved people just lose sight of things. They're normally good people but they get put in compromising situations that can lead to bad outcomes. For me, it was actually a very depressing place to be. I didn't feel like it provided me with purpose. I felt like I was just moving money around for a bank. So, I went to Business school part-time to figure out what to do. There, you can specialize in certain areas and I honestly did the same as in undergrad: I took a lot of different classes in a lot of different areas trying to figure out where I wanted to land. Finally, the one class that I took that really pushed me in the direction I am now is a Health Care Economics class which I found so fascinating."
"My current position is the Global Head of Business Development at Genentech. A lot of it was not strategically planned. It's just been more about opportunities presenting themselves and me being able to take advantage of them, of course with some risks along the way. Back in college when I was trying to think about where to go next, I was finished with all the requirements for pre-med but I still wasn't fully decided that summer. The summer between junior and senior year, I wanted to work in NYC just to experience it and see what it's like.
I applied to anything that was in NYC, most of them being Wall Street jobs. Unfortunately, I was failing at all my NYC interviews. My last shot was for the job with Morgan Stanley in their fixed income department and I didn't know what fixed income was. For some reason, they liked me enough to bring me in for their second round of interviews which were really intense. I remember one director asked me during the interview, 'I can ask you an interview question or you can tell me a joke,' and I decided to tell him a PC joke. He was shocked because I don't think anybody ever goes that route and I think that's the only reason I got hired there.
That summer I had a blast and I thought maybe I'll do this for a couple of years then I'll go to Business school and figure it out. So I ended up going to Bank of America instead because I would be able to trade right away. Then a couple of years turned into nine years. I didn't mean to do it for as long as I did, but it is an industry that pays quite well. I learned a lot about myself since you're put under pressure every day. I think it really got me comfortable with high intensity and high-pressure situations. But as I said before, it didn't feel very meaningful.
It wasn't for me. I went to Business school and I continued to do it for a couple more years. It traded well throughout the financial crisis but back then I was the type of guy who hit a lot of singles and doubles but never home runs. When I went to Business school and started getting into health care, I thought at the time Obama had just been elected that there was a lot of talk about the affordable care act and revamping the health care system. I thought that health care tech would really come in and disrupt the industry.
My focus then was trying to get into that space somehow, someway but it was very difficult. A lot of these were startups and startups don't have traditional hiring practices where they bring in interns and hire people. It was just kind of like networking and I even started thinking about doing my own startup along the way. I figured numbers are numbers, even though Wall Street finance is different from corporate finance. I figured I could still do that jump.
I was looking for stuff in the Bay Area, anywhere that would just get my foot in the door, and then I could figure it out. What ended up happening was my wife did an informational interview at Genentech and they liked her but they didn't have an opening at the time. When they reached back to her, she said 'I already found an opportunity but my husband is looking.' So that was the big switch that got me in the door with Genentech.
The current role I'm in now is Partnering Finance where we spend about 10 Billion in R&D (Research and Development) a year trying to find new drugs and cutting edge science. We focus on tough stuff like cancer, Alzheimer's, etc. My predecessor said to me, 'This may be a good role for you because you have a background in understanding value, negotiation due to your Wall Street background, and science.' Going back to my pre-med roots and kind of re-embracing that was kind of neat.
I wanted to be exposed to the part of the company that has a place for long term planning since you don't see that in most industries at all so I ended up applying for the role. We have three different R&D units and this is just focusing on one of them. The fact of the matter is that we're not going to come up with all the science; we go out and look for other companies that may be much smaller than us who may have some cool ideas but don't have the money to take it forward. We say we'll partner with you, you brought the acid this far, let's take it over, we'll blow this out and hopefully, it works out and we'll pay you for the handover.
There is a lot of negotiations with small companies trying to help them bring the best science to the market. Part of my role was to help access the value of these opportunities, think about how much to pay, and think about a deal structure that makes sense to both sides depending on the goals of the company and on the goals of ourselves. That started about four years ago and about a year and a half ago there were some strange structures in the company where there are several partnering groups that all got merged into one. When this merge happened, my team agreement was to support the larger group. We grew in size from 3 people to about 8 people. Now, I have a team that I help manage; there are a few of us that are in Switzerland and a few of us in San Francisco.
Since I am managing a global team, I end up working probably around 50-60 hours a week right now. For those in positions below me, it's probably more normal, it really depends. Our work is atypical to most corporate finance jobs because negotiations can go on and get very intense. As a team we collectively range from 40-80 hours, it just depends on the deal flow and how busy things are. To be clear, my position is at the senior director level, which is I guess from entry-level maybe four or five levels above. For salary, we're upwards in the 250K and up. For entry-level I think it's closer to around 100k.
I like that I am helping drive good business decisions, seeing what cutting edge science there is, and doing things that could hopefully lead to cures and treatments; all really awesome aspects of the job. The other point, which is more generic, is that I enjoy the management people quite a bit as well. It's very stressful but it can be very gratifying as you see the people progress and hopefully become better than you. That's the other element that I take from it. For me, I actually don't know how much higher I want to climb up the corporate ladder. There's a balance between family life and work life and I have a good balance where I am at right now."
"Entry-level within finance is more about liking the numbers and being able to tell a story with them that can help with decision making. Corporate finance at the end of the day is very simple; our job consists of helping the company decide if the initiative that is being considered is worth going through with. However, worth and value are very subjective. The way that finance helps with narrowing down the value is by showing as much context as possible. The more context we fill in, the more able people are to make decisions about what to do with the money in their budget.
So when applying to a position like the one I have now, I think being able to be curious about that context and being able to express a story with that context is the most important.
I would say, just be curious. I think that being more curious and willing to learn, even if it's tangential, can be very helpful in the long run. I had no idea that my career would lead me here and that it would be motivated by interest, not money.
I've come to the conclusion that I probably won't ever make as much as I did on Wall Street and that's okay! I think money is very helpful in the beginning but once you reach a certain level it doesn't bring happiness. I think that the most meaningful and important thing is to ensure you build strong relationships, go with the networking part a little bit.
Building strong relations can be the most fulfilling thing for anybody in their career and I can guarantee that. So always focus on that. Maintain those relationships in a natural and organic way, I think that will lead to good things."