Chase the experience, not the pay grade

By Alex Collins

I can still picture the scene – Week 1 at GSK: sitting in my grad scheme induction, completely overwhelmed by the size of the big, glass building I’d just stepped into (GSK House); wondering to myself how I would ever make sense of the new world in front of me.

Then, into the induction steps a guy named Phil Priest (who I’ve recently found out has left GSK). He addresses the crowd confidently in a pair of shiny brown loafers and welcomes us all to GSK. He talks eloquently about what he does and how he got to where he is. He’d worked in a load of different teams, different (and random) departments across multiple countries. I remember thinking it wasn’t your typical career path. It was fascinating; and then he said something I’ll never forget.

"Chase the experience, not the pay grade; take on something that scares you"

He told us the best piece of career advice he’d ever been given was to “chase the experience, not the pay grade.” Basically, instead of going for the jobs with the big salaries in an area you know inside out, challenge yourself. Go for roles outside of your comfort zone; and do something that’ll stretch you, maybe even scare you but ultimately, give you invaluable experience - the salary will come later. Then when you do rise through the ranks you can do it three times faster and you’ll have three times the number of job options – and as Phil suggested, you can even go three times further.

The world needs experts, but it also needs people that can help connect the dots; and I see loads across GSK– from graduate level, all the way up to people like Dipal Patel, our GM in Singapore, who has worked in ten roles across four different countries or Jo Le Couilliard, who has just moved back to the UK from Singapore to head up GSK’s Global Commercial Transformation, is a fantastic example of career breadth and bold moves (and I find her pretty inspirational for it).

What has ‘breadth’ meant for me?

Just two years later, I’m now in my fourth role, working in my second different department, fifth different team and my third different country. Although I have yet to ‘rise through the ranks’, I’m starting to see the benefits of breadth and why I should continue ‘chasing the experience’ just like Phil told me to.

I feel as though I’m able to start connecting the dots; working across multiple teams, sharing great ideas; never getting too comfortable and learning something new every single day (I should add that I’ve had an awful lot of fun doing it and met some fantastic, inspirational people along the way). The best part is that I still haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s out there – I’m excited for what my future with GSK might look like; where I could go or what I could do next.


“Remember not to miss the shiny thing in the corner of your eye”

If I would add one thing to Phil’s advice, it’s to be ready for the opportunity. You need to be in the right frame of mind and willing to take that leap of faith. I’ve always said – and it won’t work for everyone –never be too focused on one thing so much that you miss the shiny thing in the corner of your eye – that opportunity that might scare you but will give you that piece of invaluable experience which will give you the edge in the long run.

And you don’t have to go global to get breadth; it can be a change of job or even just some extra responsibilities in your current role but it’s pretty much vital if you want to get ahead. After all, the higher you go the more of the company you have to represent; and therefore the more of the company you have to understand.

Who knows when/if I’ll ever make it big at GSK, but I know for sure that Phil’s advice will still be ringing in my ears. Oh, and I now own my own pair of shiny brown loafers too.