Understanding how to become a pharmaceutical sales rep can be really complicated. You’ve heard about the great success people find in the field but have no clue how to get there yourself.
The truth is, no one piece of advice will immediately get you hired. There’s no secret club or exact combination of experience you can gain to shorten the journey. However, there are basic skills, experiences, and traits you need to prove you’re capable of succeeding in sales once immersed in the competitive world of pharma.
Each of these skills, experiences, and traits, fortunately, can be altered to your own specific journey. It’s a matter of looking at it from the perspective of a pharmaceutical sales rep. To help you better understand how to do that, we turned to Debbie Winkelbauer, CEO of Surf Search, Inc.
Before dedicating her life to growing pharmaceutical careers with a recruitment company, Debbie was a pharmaceutical sales rep. She didn’t use smoke and mirrors to earn her role. Instead, she found a way to leverage her experiences — educational, extracurricular, and work — to show she could succeed in moving products.
Here’s her story and advice on how to become a pharmaceutical sales rep:
Recognize your “why”
There’s more to pharmaceutical sales than large commission checks and fun benefits. If you’re searching for “how to become a pharmaceutical sales rep” because of these two factors, be sure to also dig deeper to find your meaningful “why.”
For example, 30 percent of the medical sales reps in our 2019 Best Places to Work report said the best part of their job is making a difference. It’s a deeper, more meaningful purpose that will keep you invested and engaged in a pharmaceutical sales role.
Debbie’s “why” was all about combining her passion for science and research with something more social than working in a research lab. Understanding her reasons for wanting to dive into the field empowered Debbie to effectively position herself in front of recruiters.
Put your conversational skills to use
In pharmaceutical sales, you need top-notch communication skills. There’s no better time to start using them than now — with doctors.
Before moving into pharmaceutical sales, Debbie recalls, “I had lots of conversations with physicians while working in medical research about my research and career ideas.”
These conversations didn’t just help her make a career decision. They also conditioned her to feel comfortable talking with physicians about science, a necessary skill she now looks for in pharmaceutical sales candidates.
However, if you don’t already have a background in science, Debbie insists this isn’t the end of the road for you.
“One of the nice things about working for a large pharmaceutical company is they offer great sales training before putting you out in the field,” she explains.
Yet, you’ll still need an outgoing and confident personality to understand communications with clinicians who have more schooling and training than you. So, start chatting with medical professionals.
Reach out to your own personal doctor and ask if they’d be willing to discuss your career ideas. This small but intentional move will give you a quick glimpse of pharmaceutical sales life and could lead to important connections.
Use your history to drive you forward
The most common requirements for pharmaceutical sales jobs are a science degree and previous sales experience. But that’s not the one-and-only path that leads to getting hired and sales success.
Debbie suggests, “If you don’t have a science degree, try to get some experience in the medical field or get sales experience with a scientific or technical product. Target a company selling over the counter (OTC) products. It is a great place to gain experience and the job requirements are not as strict.”
To find sales managers for OTC products or pharmaceutical companies, reach out on LinkedIn. Debbie says you simply need to connect with them. Start a conversation and build a relationship. As you succeed in building relationships with recruiters, they’ll see your potential in building key relationships as a sales rep.
Also, don’t forget about your non-work-related history. Debbie, for example, used her background in sports as an added edge when applying to pharmaceutical sales roles. She showed how swimming drew out her competitive drive, something she would need to succeed in sales.
Consider your own extracurricular or volunteering activities. What skills do you need to excel in those areas? How do you connect with others in those situations? Use these skills and traits to your advantage when presenting yourself to recruiters.
What roadblocks are keeping you from becoming a pharmaceutical sales rep? Let us know!