Jamie Kellar

How to develop your career and achieve early success

Jamie Kellar is an associate professor - teaching and acting director of the PharmD Program at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Toronto. She coordinates and teaches in the mental health and addictions, and health systems courses.

Here are her top 5 tips for new PharmD grads:

Career success is the ultimate goal for many professionals, including those just getting started on their professional journey. This is definitely top of mind for our newest pharmacy graduates, particularly as their careers are starting at very challenging times.  COVID-19 has changed the pharmacy landscape particularly for those new to the profession.   Although these are challenging times there is no doubt that success is attainable.  Let’s explore this further.

What is career success?  What does it look like?  How will you know when you get there?  Developing a career is a process that requires individuals to reflect deeply on what success means to them and what steps they will take to reach their desired goals.  Below are five tips that I have found useful on my journey towards career success in pharmacy.

1. Define Success

Success evades a simple definition.  As such, it is important to take time to determine how you will evaluate your success as you move along your career continuum.  Some individuals’ measure success by things such as job titles or income level, whereas others, measure it by job satisfaction or the joy of collaborating with colleagues. Determining how you will define success is important, as it is what will guide you in making choices about current and future opportunities.  It is easy to fall into the trap of letting society define what a successful career should look like, however purposively determining your own markers of achievement will ultimately lead to greater satisfaction. 

Check out these success metrics from Harvard Business Review (HBR).  These metrics will help you determine if you place greater emphasis on the subjective or objective elements of your work, thus emphasising what you value.  Ultimately, for many individuals a combination of subjective and objective measures translate into satisfaction.  Going through the exercise of determining what markers you assign higher value to is useful, as it will inform what success will look like for you.

2. Practice Persistence

To build a successful career will require numerous actions; however, in my experience persistence is vitally important.  Another article in the HBR notes persistence is an important strategy for success.  The author, Heidi Grant, writes that we often blame failures on lack of ability, but sometimes the problem may be lack of persistence.  Simply put, we failed because we did not hang in there long enough.  The good news is that persistence can be learned, and when we learn to act with persistence, we can meet difficult challenges head on.  Developing the ability to stay the course when things are not going exactly as hoped or planned can often yield big results, but it takes patience and practice.

3. Accept Failure

It has been said that the road to success is paved with failure. This is a very important concept, as it helps us view failure as part of the process of creating a successful career.  Failure is a critical ingredient to achieving your ultimate career goals.  Failure can stir up feelings of being inadequate and can be uncomfortable to accept.  However, when explored more deeply it can shed light on areas we may need to develop further, or it can be a sign that we want to explore another career direction.  In many cases failure can open us up to new possibilities or opportunities we may not have otherwise considered or even noticed.  In my career, there are multiple examples of failures, but each led me to re-evaluate my plan and determine if my goals or visions changed.

4. Build a Team

To be successful often requires a team.  Most successful individuals understand that they cannot achieve their vision alone. Successful individuals spend time building mutually beneficial personal and professional relationships that energize and support their goals.6  Professionally speaking it is important to surround yourself with colleagues who support your growth and development, who can be a sounding board for your thoughts and ideas and who can motivate you to persist when things get challenging.  A personal support team is also important, as you will need loved ones to help around the house and to cheer you on when your career is demanding your time and attention.  Building a successful career takes a village – and if the village is strong, the possibilities are limitless.

5. Find a mentor

Having a mentor, who exemplifies your definition of success, is one of the most valuable tips I received early in my career.  Now, finding a mentor may sound easy, you find someone you admire professionally and ask them to be your mentor.  Well, it is not that straightforward.  As Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says, “one thing you don’t want to do is ask someone, ‘Will you be my mentor’.  It’s unnatural.  You have to adopt one.” 

In my opinion, what she is getting at here, is that for a mentorship to work there must be a connection, a relationship that exists between the mentor and the mentee.  Hence, you need to get to know people in your field.  Meet with several people, learn about their work and their interests and overtime as a relationship develops you can discuss a formal mentorship arrangement.  Overall, it is the relationship that is created that becomes the foundation for the mentor to help shape the mentee’s character, values, self-awareness and empathy.  A mentorship relationship will develop beyond professional skill enhancement, delving into value-based qualities development, which is essential for professional growth.7 The best mentor is committed to helping the mentee become the fullest version of themselves, both professionally and personally.


Building a successful career is a process, which does not occur overnight.  Those who enjoy success have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and the impact they want to make. Take time to think about what a successful career will look like for you and develop a plan to achieve your vision.  This article highlights some key tips that have been useful in my career development, but there are many others that may also be useful.  

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