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.”