7 Steps to Breaking into the Pharmaceutical Industry

Pharmaceuticals are always a hot consumer sector, and with the aging baby boomers coming online, it’s a sector sure to continue growing. But gaining employment into the industry isn’t easy. Competition is fierce and companies can choose from the cream of the crop. So, how do you become part of that creamy crop?

1. College Graduates Wanted

There was a time when pharma reps completed their degrees in chemistry or biology and landed a well-paying job before the ink was dry on their diplomas. Not so, any more. Larger drug makers rarely, if ever, hire individuals who only have two-year degrees. Why? Because there are so many viable applicants with Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degrees, they don’t have to.

Pharmaceutical companies want the highest calibre representatives. These men and women are the face of the company — and a Bachelor’s degree represents company quality better than an Associate’s in liberal arts. So, step one to breaking into this lucrative profession – get an education. Get lots of education, so you become more desirable within this highly specialized industry.

2. Consider an Internship

If you’ve got the credentials but lack the experience, consider signing on as an intern for one of the larger pharmaceuticals. Big pharmaceutical companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline, Amgen, and Lilly Pharmaceutical, also offer intern programs. It’s a great way to learn the industry, an even better way to make valuable contacts.

3. Consider an Associated Sales Position

If your goal is to represent a pharmaceutical company, you may want to gain related experience with another company – for example a medical supply company or possibly work a part-time job at a doctor’s office. Being on that side of the “fence” can expose you to medical terminology, jargon, and put you in the position to witness what pharmaceutical reps could/do face on a daily basis.

It’s highly unlikely that a drug manufacturer will hire a rep without some sales or sales-related experience (customer service, marketing, customer relationship building). Yes, they’re looking for credentialed reps, too, but they also want you to have some sales aptitude behind you too. So, if you can land a job with a company that provides goods and services peripheral to the field, you’ll be gaining valuable and sought-after business-to-business experience.

4. Prepare a Killer Resume — Even if You Don’t Have Sales Experience

Your resume must be right on target, even if you don’t have any sales background to speak of. That’s why most serious sales professionals, whether account managers, new business development, regional/national/international sales, hire a professional resume writer to design a resume that stands out from the rest. Professional writers can open doors not opened otherwise. What jobseekers fail to understand is that a great resume is an investment into a great future. Without a top-notch resume, you’re dooming your career to flounder.

Not to discourage you, but Internet job postings for pharmaceutical reps are rumored to generate 1,000s of responses, each with a resume attached. Would your resume stand out? If you can’t answer, yes, you’re not going anywhere.

5. Network

It’s always easier to land a position with an in-house referral, so meet with professionals who are already doing the work. But what if you don’t know any reps? Utilize online networks, such as MedZilla to align with people who are already within the pharmaceutical industry. Here is a quick snapshot of pharmaceutical sales reps on MedZilla. Delicately and professionally send unobtrusive emails to pharmaceutical reps working in your area to converse electronically and potentially set up a face-to-face appointment to chat.

You can also ask your doctor or pharmacist for professional recommendations. These medical insiders work with reps and will usually have a drawer full of business cards they’ll share with an up-and-comer. Important note: Many reps are inundated with requests for information from people just like you – strangers. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear back. That’s why you’ll have better success if you send out personalized and targeted letters to a well-researched list of those in the industry.

6. Apply Strategically

Start with an Internet search. You’ll discover that there are sites that list job openings across the country, like MedZilla.com. Most drug makers also post openings on their individual company sites, so add these sites to your favorites list and check back often. Get subscriptions to a professional publications on drug discovery and development, pharmacology, and other industry news. Taking this extra step, you can remain current on trends and happenings within the industry. To break through, you absolutely must keep abreast of industry trends, issues, and activities.

7. Be Persistent

Persistence is a positive characteristic in any sales position. Pharmaceutical sales is no exception. So, don’t worry about being a bother. If you don’t land job #1, move on to job #2 and #3 and #4. It may take time, but if you stick to the playbook, you’ll find yourself in a position of responsibility and prestige.

There are no shortcuts. The competition is simply too overwhelming. There are too many applicants chasing after too few jobs. So, earn your credentials, attend the seminars, and conferences. Hook up with someone in the industry and find a mentor, either through contacts at your present position, online, or through a personal referral. Also, deliver a great resume, do your homework for the interview, and dress for success. You may have the degree, but the industry doesn’t want the academic look – they want sharp, smart, professional reps. And that’s you, isn’t it?

Teena Rose is the author of Cracking the Code to Pharmaceutical Sales.”

Getting a Healthcare Sales Job? “Sell” these Interview Skills

Are you looking for the opportunity to become a sales representative in a healthcare job? Much has been said about the need for well-developed personal selling skills, but it takes more than personal selling and a medical background to contribute as a major player in the challenges pharmaceutical companies face. A sales professional, no matter what his or her area of expertise, can find a place in pharmaceutical leadership based on many different sales and marketing skills.

If you are considering healthcare jobs, here are some areas where you can distinguish yourself as an effective sales representative:

Branding and Rebranding: It’s true that not every market allows for direct advertisement of medical products to potential consumer, but those that do play host to an increasingly contentious segment of sales, marketing, and advertising. Even if a team member is seen as a sales representative first and foremost, he or she should be able to pitch in with new ideas for outmaneuvering competitors and addressing public relations issues.

Social Media Marketing: Likewise, areas where direct advertising to consumers may be possible suffer from a serious problem — traditional sales and marketing channels are saturated with similar messages. Social media strategy is quickly becoming a way that pharmaceutical companies can cut through the clutter and motivate patients to work with their healthcare providers and physicians for a wider range of branded treatment options.

Provider Relationship Management: Those who are used to working directly with senior executives from major accounts are at an advantage when turning to healthcare jobs. Provider relationship management is key to maintaining a competitive foothold when regulatory or competitive changes force a sudden, medium-term shift in a firm’s priorities. This happens frequently when a formerly patented medicine becomes available for competitors to develop and re-define as generic at a lower price point.

Of course, it is also true that a background in the health sciences can be invaluable for a healthcare job sales representative. However, training in this area is rapidly becoming more modular and targeted — there are vast training resources available from reputable sources online that were inaccessible before. You have one other advantage: It can be much more difficult for someone with a strong healthcare background to become an effective sales representative than the converse. Strong selling requires direct experience, but that experience can come from a variety of contexts outside the bounds of the healthcare industry.

Transition from Business Manager to a Pharma Manager Job

Demographic changes in the United States mean pharma manager jobs will continue to grow in pay and prestige. More members of the “Baby Boomer” generation are retiring and finding themselves challenged by medical costs and expenses. The pharmaceutical industry must adapt to a growing market that is filled with increased competition from generic brands and smaller biotech firms. Professionals with a strong sales background will be well-positioned to transition into healthcare jobs, but must show they can adapt to the unique demands of the industry. Preparing for healthcare or biotechnology jobs from another field also means strengthening one’s healthcare credentials.

Although pharma manager jobs require a working knowledge of healthcare products — from one’s own firm, their competitors, and from cutting edge research labs — they often rely on core business management skills for the ability to get things done. Most senior pharmaceutical managers do not deal with direct, front line sales. While they may be the “responsibility owners” for certain major accounts, they spend much of their time working on top level market analysis and strategy. To leverage a sales or business administration background into a healthcare jobs transition, build and emphasize these skills:

Project Management: Project leadership is a huge part of pharmaceutical management roles and is an area traditionally associated with business. If you demonstrate the ability to lead and coordinate multiple teams, you can easily contribute to the kind of multi-faceted projects that are common in the pharmaceutical industry — such as new product launches, rebranding, and multinational strategic shifts in response to competitors.

International Leadership: Although we think of healthcare jobs as a domestic industry, pharma manager jobs are distinctly international. The legal status of any medical product is constantly in flux across dozens of emerging and developing markets. Likewise, consumers in different jurisdictions react differently to marketing and sales initiatives. Prior expertise juggling multinational expectations is enormously valuable.

Government and “B2B” Experience: Although face-to-face sales experience isn’t always necessary, business-to-business sales skills translate easily into the strategic planning and lobbying you’ll have to do when dealing with a variety of regulatory bodies and influential stakeholders. Fundraising experience can also help — since it involves a similar sort of relationship management.

Versatile business leaders can penetrate pharmaceutical management in a variety of ways. Neither direct sales experience nor a thorough medical background is indispensable. Core business skills are the backbone of a career switch.