How to Get into Pharmaceutical Sales
The Complete Guide To Becoming A Pharma Sales Representative
Have you ever considered breaking into pharmaceutical sales? It may be a great idea, as this industry is growing quickly, and is expected to exceed $1.12 trillion globally by 2022. Pharmaceutical industry sales in the U.S. topped $333 billion in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, who also said Americans spend $3.12 trillion—or 17.4 percent of the GDP—on healthcare every year.
Plus, unlike some sales positions, pharmaceutical sales are more focused on science and helping sick people get well, which can be more rewarding than selling other products. This sales career path is sometimes described as “recession proof” and offers a lot of room for growth, not to mention great benefits. It’s a constantly evolving, fast-paced position that often requires travel—a plus for some, but demanding for others.
As a sales rep, your job is to educate doctors on the latest, cutting-edge technology, products, medical devices and drugs in the industry, so they can make the most informed decision for their patients.
Clearly, getting into this industry could provide ample opportunity. But how do you start? This article will guide you through the process of beginning your pharmaceutical sales career.
How Much Do Pharmaceutical Sales Reps Make?
That’s the big question—how much will you make in this career? According to Glassdoor.com, a website that reviews companies and posts annual wages, pharmaceutical sales reps can expect to make an average of $70,000 per year. On the low end, entry level reps make about $56K and on the high end, they make around $97k. Payscale.com gives similar results, from $40K to $82K per year.
Many pharma reps work on commission, but they are allowed to generally set their own schedules and work somewhat independently. This means you could be working evenings and weekends—but the added flexibility might be ideal for some lifestyles.
What Do Pharma Reps Do?
Pharma sales reps are sales representatives that work to persuade doctors and medical professionals to prescribe their company’s products. They work with wholesale distributors, such as Pfizer or Merck, doing what are known as business-to-business sales. That means it’s less focused on consumer level sales.
There is a lot of direct-to-consumer advertising in the pharmaceutical world—just turn on your TV and flip to any channel for proof. But pharma sales reps are more behind the scenes, yet still just as important. You could find yourself selling medications from all sorts of fields, including oncology (cancer research), vaccines, antibiotics, hormone replacement therapy, and much, much more.
If you’re not interested in science or medicine, this is likely not the career path for you, as you will need to immerse yourself in every aspect of the drugs and medical devices you will represent. Not all pharmaceutical sales reps work with human drugs—that’s right, there are even veterinary pharmaceutical sales reps, who market medications for animals. There really is something for everyone in this field.
Skills and Requirements
You need to be comfortable as well as professional when speaking with clients, so strong communication skills are key. You’ll need to be as good a listener as you are a negotiator—and because these sales involve medications which can impact a patient’s quality of life, there’s a great need for integrity and ethics. You’ll also likely need a drivers license, and be able to pass a urine screen test.
Do I Need A Degree?
You will most likely need a bachelor’s degree or greater from a university if you want to join a pharmaceutical sales force. You could major in business and take a few science classes. Or, you could major in something like biochemistry and take a few business classes. It’s really up to you.
Business degrees are fine, but a focus in life science or medicine will be more beneficial. Health School Finder also recommends nursing or pre-med. Knowing what you’re talking about with medical professionals and scientists is almost essential. You may find yourself in many different environments—from hospitals to pharmacies to retirement homes—and you will need to be able to readily adapt from one situation to another.
What About A Master’s Degree?
A master’s in something like chemistry or biology will definitely show pharmaceutical companies that you are serious about becoming a sales rep. If you can explain to pharmacists why the chemical composition of your pill is better than your competitor’s, you are more likely to make more sales, for example. And this kind of expertise is very attractive to many hiring managers looking to expand their sales force. However, a master’s is not required, but keep it in mind when applying to a company with a lot of competition.
You Went To School — Now It’s Time To Get Certified
No matter what direction you take, degree or not, you will want to get certified as a pharmaceutical sales rep. The National Association of Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives is one organization that offers an exam that will prove your skills to really thrive. If you enroll at a school that offers a Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative training program, you can sometimes get your certificate in six months or less.
This certification will verse you in the many regulations of prescription drugs and medical devices in the pharmaceutical sales industry, and will teach you marketing and sales techniques. “The curriculum covers human anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, pharmacology, managed care regulations and selling techniques,” writes Dr. Mary Dowd.
Becoming A Pharma Rep Without A Degree
It is much more difficult, but not impossible to get a job as a drug rep without a four year college degree. That’s because most pharmaceutical firms want you to know a lot about pharmacology (the science of how medicines work) and the technology that works behind medical devices, not just sales. That said, here’s how you can get a job as a drug rep without a degree:
- Sell All You Can Sell
Most places are looking for at least one year of marketing, sales or teaching experience. It may be wise to get at least a year or more of sales experience in a related or different industry to build your marketing skills. The stronger your sales portfolio, the better impression you’ll make, even without a degree. Make sure to develop strategic sales skills, detailed account management and maintain great customer relationships. Which leads to the next point…
- Network Your Heart Out
A big part of the job description for sales people is networking—that is, building and maintaining good relationships with many people. Tell everyone who will listen your career goals—you never know who might have a good lead for you. Most pharmaceutical companies hire internally before stepping out into the job pool, so in this case, it’s all about who you know.
Attend pharmaceutical job fairs and track down recruiters who specialize in this field. You can even ask your own doctors for tips and the names of their medical sales representatives.
What Should You Put On Your Resume?
It should go without saying that you should not falsify any info on your resume. Most, if not all, pharmaceutical companies will perform background checks during the hiring process and they may quiz you on certain aspects of the job during the interview process. Here’s a good example of a sample pharma rep resume.
In addition to a strong resume, you may want to make a “Brag Book,” or a portfolio of your best sales. It should include scans or copies of your accomplishments. It should include awards, certificates, letters of recommendation, performance reviews and whatever else you can think of that really shows you know your stuff.
Don’t send the Brag Book along with your resume—wait until you have the attention of the hiring or sales manager before sending it off or bring a hard copy to your interview. If you need help, recruit a professional resume builder for assistance.
Your Education Doesn’t Stop Here
Once you have a job as a pharmaceutical rep, you will likely enter training for that specific medical company. The company will most likely expect you to continually be learning about sales and medicine throughout your career. There is a plethora of conferences, and maybe even speaking at corporate events.
You’ll also need to know your territory inside and out. As a pharma rep, you may be traveling the country or even the globe, but you should know a lot about where you are selling. Medtechy encourages building goodwill with customers by sitting in on doctor-patient sessions if you can, without asking questions or pitching your product, and just learning what you can from doctors.
Furthermore, many companies have their sales reps collect data to see how patients are reacting to pharmaceuticals, so you may be expected to conduct some light research.
Joining the world of pharmaceutical sales can offer a lot of benefits beyond stock options and a company car. It can help make the world a better, healthier place. Whether you have a degree or not, jumping into this field will require full dedication. Put your heart into it!