Pharmaceutical sales representative

Jobs as wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives have a median salary of $56,620 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (July 18, 2013)

With a national and local economy on shaky ground, you may be searching for a recession-proof career field – one that stands the test of time, despite unstable economic conditions.

Although there may not be recession-proof careers anymore, there are still opportunities that are based on responding to needs, not wants, and those careers tend to have more staying power.

Pharmaceutical sales falls in this category. An aging population of baby boomers, the shift away from clinical treatment of illnesses in hospitals, and the fact that life expectancies continue to rise are among the factors spurring the durability of the pharmaceutical sales sector.

The field is popular for job seekers because it offers excellent salary potential, great benefits, flexibility, opportunity for growth and frequently the use of a company car.

But be warned – it’s not all glamorous. Pharmaceutical sales is extremely competitive and often frustrating. Many job seekers find trouble getting their foot in the door, and when they do, often encounter roadblocks to excel once they’ve landed their first sales gig.

In fact, the process of applying for pharmaceutical sales jobs, juggling interviews and overcoming rejections offers a sample of what the actual work will be like, as companies are looking for people who are self-confident, positive and rebound quickly from setbacks.

Sell yourself

Preparation for a pharmaceutical sales job interview is one of the most important aspects of landing a position, as candidates must show deep knowledge and understanding of the hiring company's line of products in addition to demonstrating well-developed sales skills, says Frank A. Melfa, author of "Pharmaceutical Landing: How to Land the Pharmaceutical Sales Job You Want – And Succeed in it!" (Power Writings, $19.95).

"Most candidates do not prepare for the interview and rely entirely on the Internet for their research," Melfa says. "Although the Internet is a good starting point, the focus of the research should be on interviewing doctors, pharmacists and pharmaceutical sales representatives. Candidates need to do thing that the job entails, so that, when a hiring manager asks them what they did to prepare for the interview, they will have plenty to say."

Pharmaceutical sales reps spend much of their time on the road, meeting with pharmacists, hospital personnel, physicians and patient advocacy groups to increase visibility of their company’s products and generate sales. 

Working with a smaller company could bring some travel, while reps with larger firms typically cover part of a metropolitan area like Chicago and the suburbs.

A bachelor’s degree is standard for the job, but many employers prefer master’s-level candidates who have some education in biology, chemistry, biochemistry or organic chemistry. Coursework in English, public speaking, finance and negotiation techniques can also be helpful.

Pharmaceutical sales reps must be well versed in data, statistics and issues in the health community, and continuing education is necessary to stay on top of the latest advances in medicine and new products. As the baby boomer population continues to grow, more drugs will continue to be developed to cater their needs, says Tom Ruff, author of "How to Break into Pharmaceutical Sales" (Waverly Press, $29.95).

"As this population continues to mature, the demand for constantly improving remedies will continue to grow," Ruff says. "The size of this aging demographic continues to drive growth in the industry."