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How To Become a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep

Updated on July 11, 2012

What does it take to become a pharmaceutical sales representative?

The pharmaceutical sales industry offers a high salary potential, increased growth opportunities, and excellent benefits and perks. It also has stiff competition for qualified candidates.

Whether you're a recent college graduate or thinking of switching to a more lucrative career, landing a job as a pharmaceutical sales representative is possible with some knowledge and strategy.

There are a few key principles and techniques of getting your foot in the door with a pharmaceutical company. You need to equip yourself with knowledge about the industry, the companies you want to work for, and understand what they're looking for. It is also to your advantage to understand the role of a drug representative.

In this article you will learn exactly what the drug companies are looking for in a pharmaceutical sales candidate.

Pharmaceutical sales rep needs to have these qualifications:

Minimum Requirements:

  • 4-year college degree
  • At least 2 years of sales experience
  • Clean driving record

Additional desired qualifications:

  • Professional image
  • Critical thinking skills
  • People skills

Qualifications of a pharmaceutical sales rep

You might have spotted her (or him) at the doctor’s office while sitting in the waiting room. She’s dressed in a black suit with a leather planner in her hand. She exudes confidence as she shakes the doctor's hand, flashes her brightest smile, exchange a few witty sentences and hands him a box of samples. That sharp looking young lady is a pharmaceutical sales rep, one of many that walk through the same doctor’s office in a week.

A pharmaceutical sales representative travels to different health care professionals within a specific territory in an effort to market, sell, and increase awareness of their company’s drug. Their main prospective clients are doctors, pharmacists, dentists and clinical workers, and laboratory personnel.

There is a specific profile that pharmaceutical companies stick to when looking for a potential candidate. However, the minimum requirements include a 4-year bachelors degree and a minimum of 2 years of sales are the basic requirements for a pharmaceutical sales representative position.

A Day In the Life of a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep

Why become a Pharmaceutical Sale Rep?

The job is typically seen as prestigious due to its excellent benefits, career growth, income potential, and extra perks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is a lucrative career to get into, with an outlook of an expected increase of 12% from now up into 2016.

--> How Much Do Pharmaceutical Sales Reps Make?

Additional skill sets of a pharmaceutical representative

In addition to that, they are looking for desirable characteristics of a strong sales professional which includes, but limited to:

  • Strong work ethic
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Sales skills (persuasive skills)
  • Professional appearance
  • Strong ability to connect with people
  • Ability to think outside of the box
  • Does not mind travel
  • Confident and enthusiastic
  • Results oriented
  • Persistent

The pharmaceutical industry is among the largest and fastest growing business in the world, which means the competition is fierce. In order to get an entry level pharmaceutical sales job, you have to beat some tough competition. No longer are the days where having the minimum requirements under your belt is enough to land a job as a drug rep.

You need to not only stand out from the thousands of job applicants, but also show that you have the potential to contribute to the company goals. Thus it is critical that you understand the role of a pharmaceutical sales representative.

How to find a college internship

If you are a college student and seeking an internship with a pharmaceutical company, check out this website. InternshipFinder


  • Enter your location: city, state, and the mile radius.
  • Enter in keyword: Pharmaceutical Sale Rep
  • Make sure you click on "Internship" tab on the bottom left.

COLLEGE STUDENTS: How to prepare for entry level pharmaceutical sales!

If you're a college student, start planning your portfolio/resume by taking some science courses such as biology, chemistry, or genetics.

Although it doesn't matter what type of degree you choose to major in college, it is more favorable if you pick a science-related degree. Since you will be required to interact with intelligent health care professionals every day and will need to go through a rigorous training program, it is to your advantage to have some background or knowledge of medical and science-terminology.

There are internships out there that you can apply to. The goal is to get an offer as an entry level pharmaceutical sales rep position after you graduate from your degree program.

Through the process of researching internship position, you will also learn important career-related skills such as resume-writing and interviewing process. An internship is also beneficial to the pharmaceutical company since you are providing free labor, fresh ideas, and energy to the business.

In exchange you could possibly be given an offer to an entry level position at the end of the internship. If that is not the case, you still gain beneficial knowledge about the industry and can highlight your experience on your resume.

A hiring manager may give more consideration to someone who had a few months of experience, even if it’s just an internship. It shows strong interest and motivation which ultimately can make you stand out from the applicants who are just simply filling out an application.

Top Pharmaceutical Companies 2012

According to a market research company (IMS Health Inc), this is a list of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies ranked by sales of prescription drugs, in billions.

1) Pfizer $41.7

2) Novartis $36.7

3) Sanofi-Aventis $35.1

4) GlaxoSmithKline $34.3

5) AstraZeneca $33.2

6) Roche $31.3

7) Johnson & Johnson $26.9

8) Merck & Co $25.0

9) Eli Lilly $19.6

10) Abbott $19.4

11) Teva $15.7

12) Bayer $15.4

13) Wyeth $14.8

14) Amgen $14.8

15) Boehringer $14.6

16) Takeda $14.4

17) Bristol-Myers $14.2

18) Schering-Plough $13.1

19) Daiichi Sankyo $8.5

20) Novo Nordisk $8.2

(Source: IMS Health)

Do you already have a career in sales?

With the extreme competitiveness of this position, you must show the company manager that you have that you do have a track record of success in sales. A sales position at a Starbucks coffee shop or retail sales at Macy's will not distinguish you from other candidates.

You can obtain sales experience in other industries. Having success in sales experience and having a track record to prove it, will show the hiring managers that you understand the sales cycle, and have the ability to make a presentation or connect with clients.

Hiring managers want to sell that you have the ability to sell a product and to think outside of the box.

The best type of sales are B2B sales or consultative sales that show your ability to advise, consult, persuade, and most importantly, be able to connect and maintain a professional relationship with your clients.

Examples of related sales positions:

  • B2B sales
  • Account manager
  • Inside sales
  • Insurance sales
  • Consultative sales

Pharmaceutical sales representatives are commonly confident, social, and highly motivated sales people. You need to portray those qualities in the interview!
Pharmaceutical sales representatives are commonly confident, social, and highly motivated sales people. You need to portray those qualities in the interview! | Source

The Interview- Sell Yourself!

At the end of the day a pharmaceutical sales rep has to sell, sell, and sell. A manager will look to see if you have the ability to sell, and the confidence to present a product with accuracy. When you have finally been invited to an interview, it is time to convince the hiring manager that you are an intelligent, highly professional, and motivated. In this case, the product is YOU!

Picture this scenario. There are 1000 resumes and applications, and within 75% of them are candidates with the same qualifications: 4-year degree and 2+ years of sales experience. How are you going to stand out from that crowd? Why should they hire you over the other well qualified individuals in spotless black suits? If you notice, the same questions are faced by health care professionals. Why should they prescribe the drug that your company sells?

There are many resources out there to assist you in preparing and acing the interview. However some of the main points you need to keep in mind are:

  • Research pharmaceutical companies! In order to impress your interviewer, you need to show strong interest in their company. You can also present your sophisticated research skills by showing that you have solid knowledge of their company. You must know what drugs their company is currently selling and marketing!
  • Know your role! As mentioned in the beginning of the article, you need to do some research on the role and responsibilities of a rep. Be able to tell the hiring manager why you want to be a rep and why you would be successful. This position requires a highly self-motivated individual!
  • Know yourself! This is an excellent opportunity to sell yourself and convince them that you are the right candidate. Be ready to tell them how you can contribute to the company and why they should hire you.
  • Brag about your skills and experience! It would be a good idea to have a portfolio that shows your experiences, awards, and track record of success.

Networking in the pharmaceutical industry


The best way to get a “golden ticket” to an interview is to actively network. Tell everyone you know that you are interested and trying to get into the field. Talk to as many doctors, pharmacists, and current reps.

You might want to establish a relationship with recruiters who are experts at placing reps in the pharmaceutical field. Attend local job fairs! Seek out the job fairs that usually have their recruiters or representatives at the site. Treat this as a trial interview, and present yourself well. Make a good first impression because it may be your last.

Closing the interview-tips from a senior recruiter!

Proceed with caution!

Be careful with the ads on the web that sells certification programs or “secret” information that can help you get into the field. You’re better off networking with actual pharmaceutical sales reps that have been in the field. They will give you better advice since they’ve been in your shoes and understand the field. They may have a lot of connections as well.

Where to find pharmaceutical jobs

Once you have all the qualifications under your belt, let's go find those opening positions!

  1. Online Job Boards. Look on and These websites are national, so you can find a job opening from anywhere in the US. You can also look on Medrep, Pharmboard, Gorillamedicalsales, Indeed, Medreps,
  2. Online Networks. Join a site such as Linked In to connect with pharmaceutical sales reps and hiring managers.
  3. Company Websites
  4. College Fairs
  5. Career Fairs
  6. Recruiters

Wrapping it up

Persistence is actually a required characteristic that every pharmaceutical sales representative should have. After all, a successful rep will be rejected more often by their clients before finally establishing a relationship with them.

The bottom line is, be persistent in your search for your dream job as a pharmaceutical sales representative. Don’t give up if the door is shut on you the first time. Follow the guidelines given in this article and you are well on your way to having a lucrative and exciting career in the pharmaceutical sales industry.


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    • Lilleyth profile image

      Suzanne Sheffield 

      5 years ago from Mid-Atlantic

      Great article. My ex was Vice President of Human Resources at SGK before he retired.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      in india its an worst job k don't enter into this in india any body mainly in andhra Pradesh. im a experience rep its my good suggestion. guys it's a corrupted industry. pls pls

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      You have given a potential pharma rep a lot of information to find a good job. I think it would be an interesting job and particularly fun for the outgoing person.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      That was a ton of information, great research! Very useful for the persons looking for a career in sales. Particularly Pharmaceutical sales.

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      7 years ago from Planet Earth

      Outstanding information, and very well researched! I like the comprehensive picture you painted of the industry, what the job entails, and the statistics on the manufacturers. Excellent hub! Voted up, useful, interesting and awesome.

    • roxanne459 profile image

      Roxanne Lewis 

      7 years ago from Washington

      Very thorough and organized! This will be extremely helpful for everyone who is looking for a career in the Pharmaceutical industry and other career goals as well. A lot of your advice transcends industries and everyone should read this! Voted up and shared!

    • Turtlewoman profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Lam 

      7 years ago from California

      Thanks poowool5, I appreciate your comments and vote!

    • poowool5 profile image


      7 years ago from here in my house

      Great hub, turtlwwoman, lots of good info, really comprehensive. Love that you back up your advice with specific refs to websites for further info, stats about pharm companies and projected salary increases. Good solid stuff!

      Voted up and useful!


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