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5 Tips to Break Into Pharmaceutical Sales


Written by Dan DeHaan at United Career Fairs.  

Most job searches begin with online applications and after the resume is delivered there is little control over what happens next.  Some applications are met with silence, leaving the applicant wondering on what to do next.  Silence is disheartening and often leaves ambitious candidates with uncertainty about the future.

Pharmaceutical sales can be a really tricky industry to break into, especially if you lack experience and a network of established contacts.

I’ve spent over 10 years coordinating job fairs with companies in the pharmaceutical industry and I also actively recruit for a handful of companies in the industry.   Every pharmaceutical company is different and every sales manager within those companies are different.

This blog post offers 5 broad tips to break into pharmaceutical sales when online applications yield lackluster results.  These tips are universal and can be helpful for any competitive industry.

Try Applying to Smaller Companies 

Pharmaceutical manufacturers that come to mind first are usually already flooded with ample amounts of high quality candidates. I could offer a few ideas on how to try and work around their battle tried system to block candidates from getting through, but this post is not focused on that purpose.  I suggest submitting a resume to every pharmaceutical company that interests you with little emotional investment and then move on to redirect your energy on finding smaller companies.  You might get lucky and receive an invitation for an interview.  

Why try to find smaller companies?  For starters, smaller companies usually have less candidates seeking them out which increases your chances of being noticed.  Sometimes smaller companies can have strong career opportunities, less corporate hiring hoops and flexible hiring standards.  Take time to dig deep on the internet to discover new companies and introduce yourself.  Finding a job is a full time job and you want to work smarter than other candidates.  

Attend a job fair (but not for the reasons you may think)

You hear about an upcoming job fair, and prepare yourself to get to the front of the line and convince the recruiter to hire you.  This is exhilarating when it happens, but the cold truth is that meeting a pharmaceutical manufacturer at a job fair is rare (at least for sales positions).  

United Career Fairs is one of the largest producer of sales focused job fairs across the country and we correspond with pharmaceutical companies regularly and often.  Generally most known pharmaceutical manufacturers usually don’t have a large enough hiring need to join recruiting events for sales positions.  Broadly speaking, they have few problems generating massive amounts of qualified applicants, so their need for utilizing external recruiting services is sparse.  

It is best to focus on your job search strategy instead of trying to join a job fair when a pharmaceutical company happens to be there.  I recommend attending many events with the goal of making conversations happen and finding out where the market is for sales positions.  Stick to working your strategy and if the timing is perfect to meet a pharmaceutical recruiter at a job fair that you happen to be at, then make the best of the opportunity. 

Why is it important to attend a job fair even if no pharmaceutical company is there?  The networking opportunities are ample and face to face interactions create deeper relationships with companies and candidates. 

At an event like those sponsored by United Career Fairs, job seekers are encouraged to connect talk with job seekers and some of them have been pharmaceutical industry managers.  I’ve personally met director level candidates from the pharmaceutical industry at our events and every one of them have been extremely helpful and easy to talk to.  It’s exciting to shake their hands and get an inside scoop. Conversations with them have helped me get beyond a superficial understand of the industry. 

Consider the indirect value of having a couple sales contacts that know the industry.  One possibility is that person that you met may get called by an old industry contact and hired as a VP or director of sales for their new company.  Upon landing that new offer, they may have a couple sales openings where they choose who they hire.  Another possibility is they can point to you other hiring companies in the industry.  No matter what happens, the more you build your network and gain knowledge about the industry, the better chance you have to break into the industry.   Think of networking as a long term strategy that rewards those who are patient and continually building.  

Be open for relocation.

Big cites tend to have large pools of applicants.  If you live in a large metropolitan area and you are relentlessly pursuing a position in this field.  You should let employers know that you are open for relocation on your resume.  There are parts of the country where even pharmaceutical companies struggle to find top talent and accept candidates with less experience and connections. 

I’ve been on the phone with pharmaceutical recruiters who tell me that they are fully staffed in one city but are aggressively hiring in another.  Believe it or not, Pharmaceutical companies need to hire really good sales representatives in states like Wyoming and Mississippi. 

You can apply to a company and make it clear that you are open for relocation.  This helps your chances of getting contacted back from your submission.  Be savvy!

Consider a 1099 role.

A 1099 representative is an “independent contractor” who sells independently of any organization and is most common with medical devices.  There is no salary and no benefits, but the income potential is great and the job security is high.   I have met medical sales professionals who make triple that of a direct employee of a Pharmaceutical company. Some  manufacturers do not want the headache of managing an internal sales team, they choose to focus on making innovative products.  But those products need to be sold to end users, so they will offer contracts to independent reps.  

Independent contractors develop lasting relationships with the buyers.  They carry products from several companies and are a one stop shop for the buyers.  Buyer relationships are what manufacturers desire, so they offer exclusive contracts to these 1099 reps.  If you exclusively carry an industry leading product, you can also sell other products that the same department needs.  

A 1099 rep can only loose contracts, they can never be fired.   It is challenging to begin a position like this, but it is well worth it for the driven individual. This avenue is only for the entrepreneurial person who is money motivated and well disciplined.   

Consider other industries

I work with some satisfied well-established sales representatives in the pharmaceutical industry who have built lasting fulling careers.  They love their jobs and can’t imagine doing anything else.  I also help those people who want to transition out from the industry because they experience dark downsides that they didn’t know before entering. 

For example some reps from the pharmaceutical industry get whacked with a drastic downsizing or “reorganization” in a moment.  The industry is notorious for drugs going generic and massive consolidation through mergers and acquisitions.  One surprise headline of a failed trial or a whisper of a takeover sends industry vets to  refresh the resume and reaching out to recruiters like me.  Nobody is entirely safe.  Many pharmaceutical sales representatives grow tired of having to find new companies every couple years.  

After the initial shimmer of the pharmaceutical industry wears off there can be an enlightenment for some candidates.  What if I could put my skills to use in another industry, would there be greater benefit for me?  I believe so.  The more you open your horizons to other opportunities, the more you may find that there are hundreds of sales opportunities that exist with amazing companies and industries that you’ve never had much exposure to.  Those with an open mind are often rewarded with great opportunities.  

My passion is to work with life changing organizations to help them recruit sales people.  I’ve done this for a little over 12 years right now and I’m always discover new companies with amazing leadership and great opportunities for sales professionals.  My parting thought is for you to consider what is most important to your job search.  Often surface level factors matter less over long periods of time, and so often surface factors dominate a person’s job search.

Best of luck to you in landing your dream position!

-Daniel DeHaan

The view expressed in this post are mine alone and do not reflect the company.

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