Thinking about being a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative

People researching pharmaceutical sales as a career option often come across some of my blog posts and ask my opinion about becoming a rep.  It seems everybody has their own impressions about what pharmaceutical sales is all about and why this might be a good job or career choice.

Seasoned veterans looking for a new position have their own criteria for making a change, often just trying to determine if a company can deliver what they are looking for that they aren’t getting from their current position.  For some, including those who might have been laid off,  it’s more about whether or not they want to continue being a pharmaceutical sales rep, finding “the right company”, making more money, or maybe even making a big change and pursuing another sales field (e.g., medical devices) altogether.

Some of the requests I get come from those who have never done pharmaceutical sales but have heard about the attractive starting salaries, enticing bonus opportunities, car, full benefits, an expense account, and flexible schedule.  For others, however, pharmaceutical sales  is just another job option rather than a career aspiration.   This situation is probably more prevalent today, especially in this economy where it is difficult to get any job.

Finding a job and pursuing an career opportunity can be an emotional roller coaster, which can cloud thinking and compromise decision making.  This is especially true when an unemployed person is desperate to pay bills.  Therefore, rather than draft a job description and debate the pros and cons for becoming a pharmaceutical sales representative, here are some questions to help think through some of the issues.

    • Are you comfortable with what you have been able to find out about the company?
    • Does the company have a product or products that you can believe in?
    • Is the territory in a place you want to live?
    • How extensive (how long) is training?
    • How important is understanding the science and medicine behind the products?
    • How does the company determine you are ready to sell their products?
    • What resources does the company provide to help you sell their products?
    • Are physician presentations “scripted” marketing messages or conversational?
    • What training do you get for working in a “managed market?”
    • What is the sales performance history for the territory?
    • What is the reputation of the previous representative in the territory?
    • How much managed care is in the territory? Is managed care helping or hurting sales?
    • Are your products on formularies with favorable reimbursement status? Any major issues?
    • Can you see the influential and high volume prescribers in your territory (access rate)?
    • Have you met your manager and is it somebody you feel you could trust and work with?
    • How successful has your manager been from a sales perspective?
    • Does your manager have a District of sales superstars or average performers?
    • How many people has your manager had promoted?
    • What are the job expectations?
    • How will your performance be measured?  (e.g., sales, customer feedback, activities)
    • How are territory sales measured and how accurate are the reports?


Seasoned pharmaceutical sales reps could contribute more and perhaps even more germane questions than I have provided here.   I hope, however,  these questions at the very least,  stimulate thinking and will help formulate a more fact based process for people considering a job or career in pharmaceutical sales.  If this is a career decision for you, a more thorough assessment is warranted, especially for the impact of the ever-changing healthcare market on your products, your company, and your job function.  I would suggest writing out answers to your questions as this can help take the emotion out of the process, will generate additional follow-on questions, and will help keep your decision more factually grounded.  If you are  exploring pharmaceutical sales as just one of many job options,  you might take a different, perhaps less analytical, approach to your decision.   In the end, if you finally decide you would like to become a pharmaceutical sales representative, before taking the job I would recommend you talk with a current sales representative, preferably from the hiring company.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *