harmacy assistants are in high demand across the province, making it the perfect time to start considering everything you need to become one. In Alberta, 55 per cent of employers hired pharmacy assistants in the past two years, with hourly wages starting at $16 and topping at $25.89. This means that it is a career with a comfortable degree of stability that can provide you with a good source of income. Let's take a look at what the role entails.
Pharmacy assistants aid pharmacists and pharmacy technicians with compounding, packaging and labelling pharmaceutical products, gathering patient information, assessing prescriptions, inventory management and recordkeeping, to name a few. But according to Rexall Pharmacy Manager, Basema Al-Tayeh, establishing a relationship with customers is the most rewarding part of taking on this role.
As a member of RxA’s Leadership Cohort, a province-wide group of pharmacist leaders, Al-Tayeh adds that effective communication skills, initiative, confidence and the desire to help others are all qualities of successful pharmacy assistants.
“The person must have the desire and the passion of helping patients,” she says. “It’s not like they are taking this as a job, [rather] they’re taking it as a career.”
“That will make a huge impact.”
A pharmacy assistant diploma is the most effective way to achieve your goals. If there is one piece of advice any student of any field of study should take with them, it is to be sure to invest in a program that offers a practicum. Whether you are a university or college student, this component is vital for success. Experience is a crucial element in any resume, right next to your education. Think about it, if most students invest in practical experience and you don’t, what will make you stand out of the crowd?
The best ways to prepare for a job interview are:
Proper education, knowledge of the medical technicalities and improving your communication skills will take you far in this journey to becoming a pharmacy assistant. But what better way to prepare to get the job you worked hard to achieve, other than by familiarizing yourself with some of the questions you may be asked in the interview. Here are some questions to think about before entering the room.
This is a popular question asked in any interview, regardless of expertise level or industry. But what are employers looking for when they ask this question to a potential hiree? Well one answer is to relate what it is about yourself that got you interested in working in the medical field, or more specifically, in pharmacy.
Example: “I’ve always known that I wanted to work in the medical field, but it was in high school when my interest in pharmacy began. This pushed me to take a pharmacy assistant program to get a head start in my career.”
Employers always want to know why you chose them over their competitors. Is there something special about their practice, location, business or their employees? It’s up to you to decide what makes their business different from the rest.
Example: “I’ve been going to this pharmacy for years and have admired the excellent customer service I’ve received every time. I noticed the attention to detail of employees who take care of me and my family’s medication needs. Not to mention, the unrelenting care you provide to everyone who walks into your pharmacy. If I want to learn from the best, why not start here.”
Be honest. Know yourself first before you walk into your interview. This question is not new in the hiring process. It tells employers what to expect of you and gives them a good idea of what qualities you can bring to the team. Think of pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and assistants. What qualities do they need to succeed in their role? Now, think about yourself and what qualities you already have that could help others when you get hired for the position. State examples to prove it.
Example: “I believe that my attention to detail, multitasking abilities and emotional intelligence can be a big asset for the role. Similar to your team, I want nothing more but to care for every person who walks through our doors. I’ve worked in retail throughout school, and developed most of these attributes on the job. I would start with taking care of customers while completing our inventory requirements, complete customer orders according to their specifications and deal with customer complaints by listening to the problem and checking what our team could do to help them.”
Nobody’s perfect. Therefore, don’t act perfect, for that could be your biggest mistake. We all have our weaknesses, but our ability to recognize our flaws and be aware of what we are doing to overcome them is what catches an employer’s attention.
Example: “I am aware that I can be easily distracted from my work at times. Now, I start my day with a list of accomplishments I need to deliver upon. This is a measure I have taken to ensure I meet my daily and weekly deliverables.”
Effective customer service is important for pharmaceutical professionals. With many similar businesses nearby, their business can depend on it. Think of how you would deal with a difficult customer in your own way, and cite past experiences when you can.
Example: “I am aware that we have to build strong customer relationships, and dealing with difficult customers is an opportunity to start building. I always make sure that the customer knows that their concerns are heard, and based on our policies, I check if there is anything more we can do to help them. And if not, I’ll be sure to politely communicate with them the extent of what we can offer. The important thing is, even if we end up losing one, we can’t lose the trust of customers around us during the incident.”
How you can cope with stress is important for employers, as this tells them if you can help in solving problems during moments of intense pressure.
Example: “During my last internship, there were several times when multiple assignments were handed to me and were required to be completed in a short period of time. I find that communication, prioritizing responsibilities and organizing tasks are essential during moments like those. Understanding what deliverables need to come first and what tasks need to be done next can help you plan accordingly. If I was behind on a particular task, I would communicate this to my team, just in case anybody can help. It’s good to be honest with yourself and know how much you can do and ask for help when needed.”
Similar to many work settings, teamwork is important. It is essential for employers to know how well you can handle conflict or misunderstandings. Will your actions worsen the conflict or reduce tension within the workplace?
Example: “I would approach my coworker first to see if I may have done something wrong and what I can do to correct it moving forward. If my coworker, however, would wish to not discuss any matters regarding the conflict and the tension continues, I will speak with my manager in private if this hinders my work performance.”
As always, be honest, and only tell them what you truly know. Or if you are unsure of something, tell them that as well.
Example: “I understand that we would be dealing with a lot of confidential information with regards to our customers, and that this type of information cannot be disclosed other than to the customer the medication is prescribed to. I’m unsure if there are any exceptions to these rules.”
This is another simple question that speaks volume to your character. Are you going to brag or explain the details of an experience and how it is a good example of service to others? There is a difference. What you say and how you say it matters.
Example: “There was a time when I was new to a job and was unsure about many things. I had to work with customers right away because the store was very busy. I attended to as many as I could and communicated that I may not know all the answers, but I’ll communicate their needs to a supervisor when I’m unsure. It was a long day but in the end, I enjoyed seeing them leave with more than what they came in to buy.”
This question allows employers to know if they are the right fit for you. If you benefit from a job financially, employers want to know how you can benefit from them in your journey to developing your career. Ask yourself, what is your anticipated career path and how do you wish to reach your long-term goals with the jobs you are applying for.
Example: “I want to be a pharmacist one day, and I believe that this role can help me get there. I’ve learned a lot in the classroom, and there’s a lot more work to be done. But for now, I need to learn and grow from practical experience before I move forward to the next phase of my career.”
“You know how you feel good when you help somebody?” asks Al-Tayeh. “All of us have this in our blood. By nature, we love to help people.”
But the desire to make a difference requires a lot more work than just dreaming.
“The only way [to become a pharmacy assistant] is to have the course in college. It’s not enough to do it virtually, you have to attend the classes to do the labs,” and to practice how to deal with patients in real life.
This kind of dedication, along with your new-found pharmaceutical knowledge, attention to detail and motivation to learn more and help others will make you a guaranteed candidate for success.
We hope this guide gives you a headstart in your career. To learn more on what it takes to become a pharmacy assistant, review our list of pharmacy assistant qualities to make you stand out and our tips on building an effective resume.