Field Trainers: Oh, the Places You’ll Go
Feature Story – by Tim Sosbe
Field training can prepare you for a variety of career prospects. Even if you don’t want to stay in training.
There are a lot of advantages to being a field trainer, and not the least of those are the prospects that come with the role. While some professionals can spend a career happily as a field trainer – the satisfaction of the role is another advantage – it’s also true that the role can prepare you to go a lot of interesting career places.
Those career prospects were the topic of a Jan. 21, 2022, LTEN webinar, Field Trainers: Career Prospects Beyond the Field. Click here to listen to the on-demand webinar.
At the webinar, four LTEN members with field training backgrounds and responsibilities came together to discuss the career potential of their field colleagues. In short, the prospects were plentiful – inside and outside
of training careers.
Where’s the Right Path?
At the program, moderator Alison Quinn, now director of medical affairs training at Kite Pharma, kicked off the discussion with a question about how trainers know they’re on the right track.
Melissa Lowe, senior manager of sales enablement and learning for Philips, questioned if there is a right path, given how career goals vary from person to person.
“Careers and skill development can be more like a jungle gym than a progressive step-by-step ladder or staircase,” she said.
To answer that question for yourself, she advised, ask yourself some questions. Does your career feel right? Do you feel challenged? Are you excited about it and about helping others?
“As you really look at the lens of a pathway, think about the skills and the competencies,” Lowe said. “Are you getting what you want to get, feeling challenged and stretched? And emotionally, is it a good fit? Is it
something that drives your passion and energy to wake up every day and help others?”
Erica Sambraus, field skills development manager for Novartis, agreed that field professionals should know internally whether a position is right, versus right at the moment.
“If you’re not feeling that way, there are so many skills you can learn and take into other things,” Sambraus said. “A lot of it is just checking in with yourself and saying, ‘Is this really filling my cup?’ It goes back to that old adage: If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Michael Tomlinson, area business leader for Arizona and Nevada for Eisai, said he urges his field trainers to trust in themselves. That’s a message he worked on with a colleague, and saw her performance go from struggling to No. 5 on the company’s board.
“That’s when I know I’m on the right path,” Tomlinson said. “When people love what they do and feel like they got something important from the coaching.”
More From the Field
Interested in more advice from the field training experts? There’s another recent LTEN Field Trainer Committee webinar that might help as you work to succeed in your role.
The Oct. 21, 2021, webinar, Field-Based Training: Advice from the Experts, featured a panel of field leaders, four of whom won LTEN Field Trainer Scholarships for innovative programs at their companies. The panel included:
- Amity Cutaia, Astellas Pharma U.S.
- Ann Malotke, AstraZeneca
- Shawn Nordquist, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals
- Kendra Short, Sanofi
- Michael Tomlinson, Eisai
At the webinar, the panel shared details on the award-winning projects, discussed the functions of field training, shared their biggest lessons learned in the field and offered advice for their field trainer peers.
Feel free to check out the webinar recording on-demand in the LTEN self-directed learning library. You can click here to connect to the webinar.
Where’s the Right Mentor?
The panel – mostly made up of members of the LTEN Field Trainer Committee, which put together the webinar – also tackled the issue of finding the right coach or mentor. Tomlinson shared six suggestions about the value of a mentor:
- They help with your mission and vision.
- If you enjoy talking with them, you can have more open discussions. • They help you navigate your career and avoid pitfalls.
- They’re someone you can trust.
- The best relationships become two-way streets of sharing.
- They’ll keep you humble and grounded in reality.
“It’s really about finding somebody who has a similar role or a like mind as you do, and say that’s who I want to become,” Tomlinson said. “And then you can establish that relationship. Really have somebody where you can have those discussions with open and honest feedback, where trust resides.”
On her team, Sambraus said, they believe that feedback is a gift. Find someone you respect, perhaps a leader, or perhaps even someone in a different industry.
That person doesn’t even have to be in a senior position, Quinn added. Sometimes someone at your own current level can best understand your ambitions.
And, Tomlinson added, be a mentor yourself. You’ll find every conversation is a learning opportunity for you too.
“I guarantee you every single time I walk away as the greater beneficiary versus what I’m giving to somebody else,” he said.
Where’s the Next Step?
The next step, basically, can be where you want it to be. Field trainers play a vital, diverse role in organizations, Lowe said, and that gives them the ability to lead, coach and mentor others. The skills and competencies of the role lead seamlessly into positions in marketing, procurement, legal, purchasing, finance, sales management and being part of a launch team.
“You’ve got so many quivers full of so many arrows that you can pull and leverage,” she said. “And then you’ve got the experience and resources to really double down.”
Should field training be a steppingstone into management? It can be, the panel agreed, if that’s the desired step.
“It’s OK if you decide you are in training and you love it and you want to do it forever,” Sambraus said. “We’ve worked hard to change the mentality so that it is a steppingstone.”
For Quinn, it all comes down to passion. She enjoys having a team that’s a passionate mix of those trying out training and those in it for the long haul.
“I think the mix is really good and really healthy,” Quinn said. “I think it’s what you find your passion in. If you stop feeling a passion for training, it’s time to move on.”
Where’s the Exit?
To that point, training might not be for everyone. But the skills learned, Sambraus said, are easily transferable.
“There’s so many skills and so many people you will meet within this field training role who will help you determine what pieces of this role do you love and what pieces of this role you do not love,” she said. “And where you do really want to follow your passion into that next step?”
If training isn’t for you, try on other roles in the organization, the panelists advised. Maybe they won’t fit, but you’ll have the security to test the waters. And remember, what’s not your cup of tea now can change down the road.
“If you find as you pursue this field training role and opportunity that it’s not your jam, then it’s not your jam. And that’s OK,” Lowe said. “It’s not a dirty word or thought. It’s ‘I’ve learned something about myself, what I want, what I need and what inspires me.’ If it is field training, fantastic. If it isn’t, then you’ve got all these competencies and experiences to leverage across the organization.”
Tim Sosbe is editorial director for LTEN. Email Tim at tsosbe@L-TEN.org.