The competition for lucrative pharmaceutical rep jobs is fierce, but with the right experience, education and know-how, you can still land your first position in the field.
Succeeding in the job hunt is all about knowing what companies are looking for and positioning yourself to compete with a strong resume and cover letter. If you like sales and you're wondering what to do with a biology degree, a career selling pharmaceuticals could be a perfect fit.
Here are seven critical steps to securing your first job as a pharmaceutical sales representative.
Market your attributes, not just your credentials
For entry-level sales job seekers, you have to be able to show that you can succeed in professional environments and that you're ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Pharmaceutical sales requirements include soft skills, like relationship-building, communication, and multi-tasking, along with the more technical skills you've gained in school.
Pat Licata of Pat Licata & Associates has been a recruiter in medical sales for more than 30 years, and she recently launched a job board that focuses on smaller companies looking for sales forces.
"You have to be a strong salesperson to be able to manage clinical white papers, handle a conversation with a professional in the medical space, and be able to persuade the medical decision maker to buy your product," Licata says.
For sales reps, what matters most in a cover letter and resume is the ability to demonstrate past successes and inspire confidence. Licata has found that someone who bootstrapped their way through school is probably well-suited to pharma sales. "They bring that work ethic with them," she says.
- Work ethic
- Leadership roles
"Show a sense of, 'How do I get up and go and build something,'" says Licata. "Demonstrate how you did that by getting into college, or be able to show demonstrated leadership."
Don't waste money on pharmaceutical sales training certification programs
If you don't have experience in the field, it can be tempting to look around for quick credentials that demonstrate pharmaceutical selling skills. But Licata says those certification programs are not considered very valuable by those in the pharmaceutical industry.
"A lot of candidates are asking us about it," she says. "I asked my clients what they thought, and 99.9% felt they had no value. They think these programs are even a detriment."
Licata points out that most companies are looking for top talent that they can train to sell their products specifically. It's more important for candidates to have demonstrated success in sales. "Clinical certifications were put together by non-experts in the industry," she says.
Get experience in sales
If you need sales experience to boost your resume, Licata suggests taking a straight-commission job and start selling something. It doesn't matter if you're selling car or knife sets; your experience will give you a solid feel for what making sales is all about and help you figure out if you're motivated enough to manage your time and exceed expectations placed on you. If making daily, weekly or monthly goals doesn't motivate you, succeeding in a field like pharmaceutical sales might prove challenging.
Look for smaller startup medical companies
Licata built out the sales teams of pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer, as well as smaller startups. She says bigger drug companies often look to hire people who have an established network and who exceeded their past sales goals. Smaller medical companies will generally hire sales reps with zero to four years of experience. That means recent graduates should broaden their search beyond the big names and look to startups and local companies.
You can find information about new drugs and smaller startups by reading trade publications geared towards pharmaceutical companies and pharmacists, such as:
Consider a sales contract agency
Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly turning to contract-sales agencies for specialized sales forces, especially when launching new products. These agencies save money, as the companies don't need to build a large in-house team for an unproven product. Licata says contract sales agencies have been growing as changes in the marketplace have become more rapid.
"These contract sales organizations are a great way to start if you can't find a direct opportunity with a manufacturer," she says. However, Licata warns that contract sales jobs usually have a start and finish date, and contract sales forces will often be the first thing cut.
"There's not so much training, but they are strong in clinical sales and you'll be working with a manager and other reps in the field," she says. "Plus, once you're in the sandbox, you're in pharma and you'll have an opportunity to network with other reps and build your network locally."
Here are some contract sales companies to consider:
Research, network and reach out
Licata is always impressed with when young potential recruits contact her, but she's turned off when they tell her they want her to find them a job. Instead, she looks for the go-getters who ask smart questions like, "What do I need to do to make this happen and get a job in pharmaceutical sales?"
When you see a job opportunity, Licata suggests the following:
- Find the company on LinkedIn
- See who is currently employed in a similar role
- Look at those employees' profiles to see how they got to their position
- Reach out and see if they'd be willing to offer you some advice
If you're lucky and you strike up a connection, a recommendation could go a long way in your job search. "Managers really take it seriously when a rep recommends someone," says Licata.
Take a job at a company with great pharmaceutical sales training
If you're having trouble landing a job immediately in pharma sales, try looking for big companies with well-respected sales-training programs.
"Many business-to-business (B2B) companies have phenomenal sales training programs and help with learning complex selling techniques," says Licata. In a B2B sales training program, you will develop valuable time management skills that enable you to manage and exceed the expectations set for you.
Here are some companies Licata recommends:
Ultimately, Licata says, you need to be able to demonstrate success and a willingness to work hard. Your job application is your opportunity to put that confident foot forward.
Whether you have experience in retail sales or you're exploring entry-level jobs for recent grads with biology and related degrees, there are ways to translate that knowledge into actionable skills in your application materials. Use our Cover Letter Builder and Resume Builder tools to customize your cover letter and resume, and get your foot in the door with a pharmaceutical sales career.