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Pharmacists: Take Control of Your Career – An Interview with Neil Patrick

Do you remember that class back in pharmacy school where we learned those skills necessary to manage our CAREER as pharmacists?  That class which taught us the essential expertise necessary to protect and promote our pharmaceutical livelihood as new graduates, then as experienced pharmacists and then again when nearing retirement?  That class where we were given the resources necessary to achieve our goals and objectives with respect to our profession in order to obtain the desired outcome of our dreams?  Yes.   That class.  Remember it?


Neither do I.

But the more I talk to other pharmacists and health care professionals it seems to me that class is needed.  Time and again I find myself communicating with those who have found themselves, unexpectedly, at a dead end in their career.  They are unhappy and uncertain about what to do.  So, on behalf of those who find themselves in a similar situation I have reached out (overseas in fact!) to a new friend and experienced career guru, Neil Patrick.  Neil is not a pharmacist, but he is one of the most qualified and truly concerned individuals I have encountered when it comes to helping  40+ professionals think through career issues and provide practical advice toward reaching their goals. 

Neil has been directly involved with three award-winning businesses in his career.  He has been a guest lecturer at some of the top UK business schools including the Cardiff Business School where he teaches courses on Marketing, Strategic Management, Leadership and Entrepreneurship.  He is the creator and founder of the 40Plus Career Guru website, and he has agreed to talk with us about career issues which are relevant to pharmacists, but also anyone looking to take control of their future.

1)   Neil, could you tell us a little about yourself and what led you to the development of the 40 Plus Career Guru website?  In other words, how did it all begin?

I’ve been involved in building businesses all my life. My first business was when I was 13 and still at school…but that’s another story. After being a founding director of three major UK financial firms, last year I decided that something was missing in my life. After much soul searching, I realized that the missing thing was that I was passionate about making a difference to people’s lives beyond just my customers and employees. And I love helping people build new businesses for themselves.

I’ve also been a visiting lecturer at some of the top UK business schools for over ten years now. Typically, I help senior business executives develop and execute better strategies to grow their businesses or start new ones. I also teach undergraduates who want to start their own businesses after graduation, about the basics of successful entrepreneurship. Plus I have a wide variety of business clients that I provide consultancy services to.

To me, at the core of every successful business is just one thing – impressing and delighting customers. Every time. That’s it. Somewhere along the line, I think too many businesses have forgotten this. They worship the false idols of growth and profits above all else. And if you do that, you sow the seeds of your own demise.

Simultaneously, I observed that my own peer group of baby boomer professionals were facing an unprecedented crisis in their lives. It’s a perfect storm of recession, personal over-indebtedness, collapsing asset values, rising job insecurity, redundancy, dependent children and parents, ageism and an increasing inability to keep pace with the realities of a digital world.

I’m convinced that there’s a fundamental global change happening in the west that most people are completely under-equipped to deal with. There are solutions at a personal level, but because of the speed and magnitude of these changes, this generation will soon be facing much greater problems unless we act fast.

I have always believed in setting big personal goals. And this is my biggest yet. I made a simple decision, that I’d do everything in my power to help mature professionals deal with this crisis and although I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it, I set about it nonetheless. In August 2012, I put up my first website and blog and got started.

2)   What sorts of special challenges face the 40+ crowd with respect to their careers?

Well I think most people in this age group can relate to at least one of the elements of the crisis I describe above. These issues have a cumulative effect too. The higher the number of the above that an individual has to cope with, the harder it is to find a way to break out.

So for example, if you have a job which you desperately need to keep in order to meet your financial obligations, you work very long hours to ensure that you give yourself the best chances of retaining that employment. But there’s a hidden and lethal cost to this. Your family relationships suffer. Your stress levels rise, you work yourself into the ground because you feel you have no choice. Your health suffers and there’s very little joy in your life. And that’s no condition to be in to excel at your work or in your life as a whole. And to cap it all, even if you work yourself into the ground, there’s still no guarantee your job won’t be axed in the next reorganization.

It’s all a far cry from what we were taught to expect in our lives when we were in school and university. Back then the rules for success were simple. Work hard and get good educational qualifications. These will get you a start in a good career. Work hard in your career and by the time you are in your 40’s you’ll be a mature and wealthy professional who can start stepping off the gas and easing your way towards a comfortable retirement. I don’t think too many mature professionals are experiencing this outcome, nor will it ever materialize for them without some drastic revisions to their approach to their careers.

3)   When did you launch your website?

It’s still early days. The website and blog have been running now for seven months. And I’ve been delighted at the positive reception and support I’ve received from thousands of people around the world. I try and add something that I think is relevant and helpful everyday. It’s a living and breathing entity and I think it’s unique because it deals with a very specific but large group of people and a particular problem they face, in a very broad way.

There are dozens or even hundreds of career advice websites, there are job boards, there are online recruiters, there are baby boomer special interest forums. But I take a wide perspective, so I deal with the global and national economic outlook, ageism, job hunting, career development, self-employment, digital and social media. Everything in fact which relates to the crisis I described above.  And I’m always thinking, ‘what can I provide for free that will help people?’ not, ‘what should I write about that will get me higher up on the search engines and how can I squeeze some cash out of this?’ And I think that’s pretty unique.

Unlike just about every business I’ve set up before, there isn’t a business model at the core of 40pluscareerguru. It’s an organic thing that will shape itself and grow in a way based on what people tell me they want. I am putting myself out there and simply saying, ‘I understand what you are dealing with, I know some neat solutions, and I’ll help you anyway I can’. Wherever I can I will do it for free, but sometimes I have to make a charge if the task requires a significant investment of my time and effort – I have bills to pay just like everyone else!

I don’t think that too many venture capitalists will be queuing up to invest in such an altruistic and loosely defined business model. But if we go back to my core mantra of delighting customers, then it’s absolutely the way to go!

4)   How exactly does your website help mature professionals better manage their careers?

There’s no single answer to this. Everyone is different. Everyone’s situation is unique. So I have to try and provide information and help that covers a very wide spectrum. But nevertheless there are some very common issues I encounter. These include breaking out of long term unemployment or underemployment, trying to change from being employed to self employed, setting up a home business, turning around failing businesses, finding a new and better job, learning how to exploit social media for career development. I cover all of these topics and many more on my blog.

For people who need more specific and detailed help, I provide free advice and input to many people in my network via Linkedin. I also produce free reports that I think will be helpful and give people new ideas about their options. Some people want very specific help and guidance however and that requires a considerable time investment on my part. And I have to make a charge for this – but there’s no set fee – every case is different. I am writing a series of e-books now on key topics that I think will be relevant and valuable to try and expand the number of people I can help in a way that is very low cost for them.

It’s a simple idea really. If you just want new and helpful information, follow my blog and my Twitter account. If you want my input directly to help you, connect with me on Linkedin. I can also call on a large number of other experts who are in my network including recruiters, coaches, resume writers, academics, social media experts, entrepreneurs and business leaders.

But to really make a big difference, I need to have a voice at government level. I am not a politician and never will be. I believe that most western governments don’t have a grip on the crisis that they are facing. I think there’s a direct conflict between their aspirations to retain or attain power and the policy decisions they now need to make to deal with the potential collapse of the western economies as we know them. I consider that every new follower I get on Twitter and every visit to my blog is a vote that gets me closer to having a big enough voice to be taken seriously at government level. That’s the only way I can make a really big impact.

5)    It is becoming obvious to many pharmacists today that once they reach a more “mature” age, employers might be less likely to appreciate their experience.  Finding a job may also be challenging.  Keeping a job can be a constant worry.  From your experience in business and thinking through these issues, what general advice might you give to such people?  What can we do to prevent our age from being a disadvantage in the workplace? 

I think this is an issue which affects many professionals, not just pharmacists and healthcare professionals.  The career  world has changed much more in even the last couple of years  than most people realize. When you are in a job, it’s easy to become  blind to how the world around us is changing and what we need to do to stay current and relevant within it.

Take Linkedin for example. These days, just about every professional has a Linkedin profile. And they think that therefore they have that base covered. That’s so wrong.  It’s like having a car in your garage that you never drive. No-one sees it. You don’t use it. It doesn’t serve you in any way other than perhaps the satisfaction you get from knowing it’s there. 

More importantly, unless you take constant active steps to invest and develop that personal asset, it  serves almost no purpose whatsoever. The acid test for this is to just look at who and how many people view your Linkedin profile each week. If it’s say just 4  or 5 and they are all in your network already, that’s a sure sign that your Linkedin presence is doing nothing to develop your personal value. Zilch.

Linkedin is  a  social media platform, albeit that it is purely about our professional lives. And a common misconception is that social media is all about what we do in our social time and the things we like to discuss with our friends. I think social media is seriously badly named because it creates such a constrained view in people’s minds about whether or not it is relevant to their professional success. In this digital age,  like it or not, credible online visibility and status is just about the most valuable asset any of us can have.

Once mature professionals accept this reality and direct their online activities accordingly, they start to reshape their potential future prospects. Better still, they prove through this that they are not as digitally illiterate as younger generations like to think we are. I have so many professional friends who spend hours and hours on the Internet in pursuit of their hobby interests, but are loath to invest even a small proportion of that time in developing their professional opportunities online. If and when disaster strikes them with their career, it’ll be too late. These things cannot be achieved in a few days or weeks. It takes constant daily attention.  Even just 30 minutes or so a day is a seriously good investment of your time.

6)    As I talk to pharmacist friends, and other health care professionals, I find quite of few have aspirations to do something “more” with their skills, experience and ideas.  But although our education was heavy on medicine, it wasn’t very extensive in business or marketing.  Where would you suggest someone begins with their idea?  Are there some general principles or steps someone should take when it comes to evaluating their ideas and plans?

I understand this issue Jason. The good news is that you don’t need an MBA from Harvard to  start to develop these things.  And the other key breakthrough is that you don’t need to be an IT whiz kid any more either.  As recently as 3 years ago, I was investing tens of thousands of pounds in setting up new websites for my businesses. Today, I can do a basic website myself in about an hour for free!

Every good business is founded on a very simple concept. It finds a problem and provides a solution to that problem. Of course there are lots of other details around  product, price, promotion etc, but at it’s core, this is what a business does. And if it does this in a way that customers love, it’s got good prospects of success.

So for an individual entrepreneur, the opportunity is to take what you know and  find a way that you can commoditize that knowledge and expertise by applying it to solving a problem that people have. But you must remember that you should make what you can sell, don’t try and sell what you can make.

Today the internet has revolutionized the opportunities for small business people. It’s global reach means that even if your offering is very specialized,  the fact you can reach out across the globe, means you can still succeed. Before the internet, this would have been impossible without spending thousands or even millions in  complex and expensive distribution networks and agents.

But for all these opportunities, there is one critical additional thing I think most people need. That’s good advice and input from people who’ve done it already. That’s another reason I set up 40pluscareerguru. I don’t pretend I have all the answers, or even that I’m a guru. I’m just a  business person with a great deal of entrepreneurial and business education experience.  I have committed myself to building a network with the very best global experts that I can find and I’m making myself available to people who think I can help them.

The final piece of advice I’d give is that if you have an idea, just do it. You shouldn’t be afraid to fail for the very simple reason that unlike even 5  years ago, because you can now set up and test your ideas for almost nothing, the costs of failure are virtually zero. If you try something and it doesn’t work , you’ve lost nothing. In fact you’ve  gained something valuable because of the lessons the experience has taught you. So my advice is to be fearless, get expert advice, start small and be persistent if things don’t always go to exactly to plan  –  they never do!

7)    You talk a lot about online opportunities in your free report.  Can you tell me a little about the types of opportunities that someone in health care might look to engage in online?  Any thoughts on that?

Well Jason, I’d  not claim to know very much about the health care field. What I do know is that we have an aging population that is increasingly active online and that health issues of one kind or another affect most of  them. So the market potential is large and growing.  There’s growing interest in alternative medicine, organic foods and natural remedies, so these are possibly good sectors to consider.

Mental health matters are another area that I think hold potential. I don’t know about the provisions for this in other countries, but in the UK,  NHS patient help for this is very poor with long waiting lists and limited treatment options.

8)    What are some of the ways that individuals can turn their online presence into enough income to actually make a living?

The list of ways you can do this is almost endless. And that’s actually a problem in itself.  I’d not say that the answer is you must have a blog or you must write ebooks or you must set up affinity programs…or whatever. Your business model needs to be appropriate to your expertise, what you are doing, who your customers are and how they want to engage with you.

Another mistake to be wary of is believing that you can create an income stream so quickly that it allows you to give up your job within a couple of weeks or months. There are dozens of case studies where individuals have allegedly done this and made large amounts of money quickly. But the problem is that these are not typical and it’s not a particularly great idea to simply copy them. After all how many  great businesses simply copied someone else?  Your business should reflect your own uniqueness and your own passions. Learn from others, yes. Copy them ,no.

If you remember the earlier point I made about starting small and the fact that you don’t need to invest much other than a little of your time, I firmly believe that the way to go is to steadily invest whatever time you can in learning and testing out your ideas. That’s the key message here, you CAN afford to fail. In fact failure is a valuable return on your investment, because it increases your own personal asset value and potential for future success. So just do it, make a start, and LEARN. But start it NOW,  because if or  when you suddenly lose your job in the next corporate reorganization downsizing or whatever, you’ll probably not have the time or  money to allow you to do this. Start now and think of this as a career insurance policy!

But get help too. It doesn’t have to be from me, you decide who  to work with, but I’d say investment in expert input from an experienced practitioner is the most valuable investment you can make. As I said earlier, I love helping people start and grow their businesses and where I can I will help them for free.

9)   Neil, it is my hope that some folks reading this interview might have some ideas of their own they want to pursue and would benefit from the experience of a business and marketing professional such as yourself.  How can any of my readers best get a hold of  you?

Well Jason, I’d love to hear from any of your readers who think I may be able to help them. Thanks so much for the interview – these are great questions and I really enjoyed answering them!

I have an about.me page here: http://about.me/NeilPatrick

My Twitter account is here: https://twitter.com/NewCareerGuru 

My blog  is here: http://40pluscareerguru.blogspot.co.uk/

But to get straight into a meaningful conversation, it’s best to connect with me on Linkedin  here: uk.linkedin.com/pub/neil-patrick/4/496/a47/

Last but not least, my free report which goes into more depth about these topics is available to download here:  http://www.40pluscareerguru.com/free-report/

I would sincerely encourage any of my readers who are looking for solid, experienced business and/or marketing advice to reach out to my friend Neil Patrick.  I’m glad I did. 

Thanks Neil for your very thoughtful and insightful replies!

Last modified: April 17, 2023