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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.  mike@pharmareform.com

New Work Rules for Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives

Several courts have now determined that pharmaceutical sales representatives should be considered “non-exempt” hourly employees and therefore are entitled to overtime pay.  In coming to this conclusion the courts agreed with the pharmaceutical sales representatives who filed the suits claiming they were not sales people or professionals exercising discretion or independent judgment as defined by provisions of the Fail Labor Act for “exempt” employees.  If the courts continue to hold these findings to be true, here are some new work rules “non-exempt” pharmaceutical representatives can expect to see:

  •  Your work day is expected to be 8 hours per day Monday through Friday between 7am and 6pm.  You must not work more than 8 hours per day or more than 40 hours per week without prior written approval from your District Manager.
  • Working weekends (Saturday or Sunday) or holidays is prohibited unless you have prior written approval from your District Manager for a particular weekend or holiday requiring your presence for work related activities.
  • You are expected to “clock in” using your iPad when you leave your home for work and “clock out” when you have completed your 8 hour work day.  You must plan to complete your 8 hour work day with arrival back at your home.  You can chose to complete your 8 hour work day in your territory but that will be your choice and you will be on personal time after the point you “clock out.”   Use of the company car from that point to the return to your home must be recorded as personal miles .
  • If you receive emergency customer calls (you are not to make customer calls except in response to their call) outside your work day hours, you are to record those (caller name, time of call, purpose of call) in your weekly activity report and include the time in your time log.  You will have to adjust your subsequent work time so as not to exceed the 40 hours per week maximum.
  • Failure to “clock in and out” may result in loss of pay for that period of time.  Repeatedly “forgetting to clock in or out” may result in disciplinary action including the possibility of termination.
  • You may take personal time during the work day as long as you put in your 8 hours between the hours of 7am and 6pm.  You must clock out and back in for all personal time taken during the work day.  Other than clocking out and back in, you do not have to provide any information regarding personal time activities.
  • If you plan to take more than 2 hours of personal time during work day hours (7am to 6pm) on any one day you must get prior approval for a vacation day.
  • You will be gps tracked to verify time and location for all work related time during your work day.  This will also be used to verify mileage for business versus personal use of the company car.
  • You are required to clock out and back in for your mandatory 15 minute breaks, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  You can not skip breaks or combine break times. You are not to do work related activities during your breaks.
  • You must clock out and back in for your mandatory 1 hour lunch break during which you are not to do work related activities.  You can not skip your lunch break and your lunch break must be taken daily between 10am and 1pm.   If you do a work related food activity with physicians or office staff during lunch time, this can not be your lunch break.
  • Nobody, not even your District or Region Manager or the VP of Sales, can require you or request that you do work related activities when you are clocked out, including for breaks and lunches.
  • Because all work related travel time counts against your 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week, all territories will be reevaluated and realigned where necessary to minimize travel requirements.
  • Where possible, all company required meetings will now be by teleconference or video conference to avoid travel.
  • You will not be expected or allowed to travel outside your territory to attend any medical or scientific meetings or conferences, if it means you will exceed your 8 hours per day of work.
  • District meetings will be kept to a minimum and centrally located to minimize travel for all attendees.  District meetings will be structured to an 8 hour work day with the mandatory “non-business-related” breaks and lunch for which you must “clock out and back in”.  You will be required to take your lunch break and can not do any work related activities during your District meeting lunch break.   So as to not encourage work related activity during District meeting lunch breaks, you will be expected to determine where you would like to have your lunch and pay for your own lunch.  There will be no District meetings requiring overnight stays.
  • Any travel outside your territory, except for District Meetings, will require prior written approval from your District Manager.  If travel time requires you to take more than 8 hours per day to attend and return home from a District meeting, you must have prior written approval from your District manager with the anticipated “Overtime” required to make the meeting.
  • Only company provided training programs will be considered “work related” required training for which work day time will be allotted.   Any additional training, reading, or research you choose to do with regards to your job or career development will be your choice and done on your personal time.  These “extra” activities will not be required and are therefore “on your own personal time.”
  • You will be allotted 2 hours of “work time” every week to take care of any company required administrative tasks (e.g., expense reports, weekly activity reports, or planning) or training. You must be clocked in during this time.
  • Your biweekly pay will be automatically calculated from your time sheets captured from your “clock in and clock out” data.
  • Any exceptions to these work rules must be identified upfront with the anticipated number of “work hours” involved, any anticipated overtime hours identified, and must have prior written approval from your District Manager.
  • Failure to comply with any of these new work rules will result in disciplinary action including the potential for termination.

I am not espousing these rules and I have probably missed a few.  I’m not an attorney but I tried to look at what pharmaceutical companies might have to do to avoid further Fair Labor Act liabilities by establishing work day expectations and accurately tracking and recording work hours for pharmaceutical representatives who are considered “non-exempt” hourly employees.

Of course, the company will have the choice to just pay the overtime when they want to make the exceptions for business reasons.  But, to manage overtime pay and not have it be abused or extended beyond financial feasibility and to avoid litigation, these types of work rules will almost certainly be required.  One could also argue that these work rules are necessary to protect the “non-exempt” pharmaceutical representative from being taken advantage of by management.

While I’m sure some reps may be applauding the overtime pay rulings, I see this as an unfortunate situation, fostering a distrustful work environment with a demoralizing outcome for “professional pharmaceutical representatives.”  How disappointing that it has come to this.    mike@pharmareform.com

PharmaReform is no substitute for Reading Pharmaplasia™

As a reader of PharmaReform.com are you wondering why you should read Pharmaplasia™?

If you have found PharmaReform  helpful and informative you may want to consider reading Pharmaplasia™.    It  is a perfect compliment to the discussions we have at PharmReform.

Unlike most books about the pharmaceutical industry that take a sensationalized, exposé approach,  in Pharmaplasia™ I try to arm you with the background and information necessary to help you facilitate a change for a better future.  You will not find this insider’s perspective, analysis,  or assimilation of  recommendations anywhere else on the web or in any other books written about the industry.   Pharmaplasia™ provides  specific practical solutions to  many of the the major issues the industry is now facing,  from the implications of healthcare reform to marketing and sales challenges, diminished R & D productivity, and the loss of public trust.

The philosophical perspectives behind Pharmaplasia™ and PharmaReform.com are consistent but the book provides much more depth and important details about the root causes of the industry’s dysfunction (like me,  you may think you know what these are, but I didn’t), explains why it happened, and answers tough questions many people (especially executives) in the industry are afraid to address openly.  Without the background and context provided by the book,  even the recommendations for changes discussed at PharmaReform can seem random and perhaps even idealistic.

For those who still have questions, I invite you to check out the revised Pharmaplasia™ page or shoot me an e-mail. I’d love to hear from you.

Enjoy the read.