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.”

What Are the Different Kinds of Healthcare Sales Representatives?

In most industries, a sales representative is a sales representative is a sales representative. If you understand the basic principles of what a successful sales professional does in auto sales, for example, you understand what others will be doing in that industry the majority of the time. It may come as a surprise, then, that sales representatives in the medical and biotech fields have the capacity to become a completely different kind of strategic partner for the clients they work with. Set aside any mental image you might have of stereotypical door-to-door salesmen or Heather Locklear’s character on Scrubs!

The first thing to realize is there’s a great diversity of positions for sales representatives throughout the healthcare and biotech industries. The different areas of sales are distinct enough that they require their own strategies and a mature understanding of the market segment the sales professional works in.

Some representatives specialize in one area and can develop a rich and satisfying career that way. However, with increasing competition in the medical space comes a growing expectation that professionals will have knowledge in multiple areas.

Here are a few of the areas in the medical industry that require sales expertise:

Capital Sales:

Capital sales represent large investments that align with the long-term strategy of a given hospital or other medical facility. For example, a new MRI machine would fall under this heading.

Sales representatives focused on these “big ticket” items have a unique challenge. On one hand, organizations wish to demonstrate to patients and employees that they provide the latest technology. On the other, replacing existing capital equipment before the end of its useful life is a challenging proposition.

As a result, a sales professional will have to be aware not only of the product catalog that he or she services, but also of the existing equipment stock, long-term needs, and overall advertising strategy of every major client.

Disposables

Disposable items are things like surgical gloves and scrubs that must be used on a daily basis and thrown out when their work is done. Although they fall into the least expensive class of purchase that an institution makes, they are a necessity that cannot be allowed to run low.

As a result, hospitals will tend to have an ongoing agreement with a supplier for these vital items. Sales representatives who focus on disposable items will often find themselves in competition with a more established supplier. Since the features of most disposable items are nearly identical, sellers will have to aggressively negotiate agreements that best satisfy the client’s desired price point.

Medical Devices

Medical devices make up one of the broadest categories in medical sales. Everything from the stint that may be used in a patient’s heart to a completely artificial heart itself is considered a medical device.

Sales representatives in medical devices are often said to have the most challenging jobs. They must interact with the client on the deep level required in capital sales, but still do their best to negotiate on both features and price. Likewise, the competition among medical device manufacturers who have similar offerings is fierce, due to the extreme bottom line value and enduring nature of medical device contracts. In medical device sales, one must be aware of the complete regulatory landscape and use it to achieve advantage.

The differences in these three areas should provide some clues as to the related sales skill sets that one could cultivate to transition into a healthcare sales role. All healthcare sales representatives should expect to have certain traits in common: The most important may be the ability to keep track of medical developments and changing market conditions. This is complemented by an ability to do the necessary research, in cooperation with a client, in order to truly understand their needs.

Once these basic skills have been acquired and honed, the path diverges a bit depending on one’s area of expertise.

Sales representatives can transition easily into capital sales from any background where they were responsible for large contracts — especially contracts of a technical nature that required working with experts in a field. Winning respect from medical professionals by demonstrating knowledge of the problems they face is key, and provides the negotiating power needed to make major sales.

Sales professionals with a logistics background — those who are knowledgeable about the importance of “continuous improvement” in areas like material cost — are well suited to focus attention on disposables. Such professionals should also be prepared to evangelize their service record or other features in comparison to the competition.

Finally, sales representatives who have transitioned from a medical background are in the best position to explore medical device sales. These sales often hinge on the salesperson’s ability to perceive a client institution’s needs and discuss them in precise medical detail.