Pharmaceutical Sales Representative

Pharmaceutical Sales Representative


This Mentor is an award winning sales representative for one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the US. She chose to specialize in drugs that are prescribed by psychiatrists, medical doctors whose practice involves the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. Specializing in this one class of drugs rather than multiple categories allowed her to develop detailed product knowledge about each drug’s chemistry, side effects and potential interaction with other drugs. This has in turn allowed her to become a valuable partner to her doctors as a resource to help them determine the effectiveness of the drugs she represents in their patients.

In her article, she also talks about what pharmaceutical companies look for when hiring representatives and ways you can improve your chances when you go to be interviewed for these kinds of position. She also describes the work habits you will need to develop to be successful after you are hired and how you are CEO of your own territory. In addition, the Mentor discusses the changes that are taking place in the health insurance industry and what she thinks will be the long-term effect these changes will have on the way pharmaceuticals will be marketed in the future.



After I graduated from high school, I didn’t start out wanting to work in the pharmaceutical industry. I had gone up in a plane with some ROTC pilots during high school and loved looking at the spectacular sunsets and the views you get while your are flying. When I graduated from high school, I decided I wanted to become a commercial airline pilot and went for pilot training at the University of Oklahoma. To become a commercial airline pilot you need a number of hours flying twin-engine aircraft and flying with instruments. After I graduated and got my basic licenses, I tried to build up my hours by taking jobs instructing students and working as a private pilot for a restaurant owner. But 9/11 happened while I was in college and things began to change for the airline industry. The number of passenger airline flights was reduced and many of the pilots for those planes moved from flying passengers to flying cargo while the cargo pilots moved into lower paying positions. This reduced opportunities for entry-level pilot jobs, which made it more difficult to get started as a commercial pilot and also reduced the pay at every level. I recognized that shrinking opportunity for pilot jobs might be a possibility while I was in college and got a minor in business management as a backup. Besides being harder to get into the industry, I also found that working as a private pilot to build hours meant that you had to be on a two hour call, which restricted what you could do with your personal life. So between the limited job opportunities and inability to manage my personal life, I began to look for another career.

I knew that I didn’t want a desk job and that I liked getting outside and meeting people. I decided to take a job at a plumbing supply company and then later represented the Delta faucet company’s plant, which gave me outside sales experience. I did well and built a record of sales achievement before I decided to move to pharmaceutical sales. I knew that these positions paid well. I also liked the idea that in this kind of a sales position you were the CEO of your own territory where you made your own decisions about how you would budget your time. But like other sales jobs, you should understand that while you can set your own schedule, you still work a lot of hours especially while you are establishing yourself and building your customer base. I decide to make the change, applied for a job with a major pharmaceutical company and was accepted.

After I was assigned a territory, I decided that I wanted to become an expert in one market and call on physicians specializing in psychiatry. This way I would only have to learn three products produced by our company and could learn them well so that I could build a relationship with each doctor based on trust and service and not be viewed as a pill pusher. Because pharmaceutical reps have a lot of information on the effectiveness of their drugs from clinical trials as well as ongoing experience with other doctors and their patients, I am able to work with doctors and help them:

  • Dose the drugs correctly.
  • Set up appropriate patient expectations.
  • Determine a time frame to see if the drug is working.
  • Determine the cause of possible side effects including interaction with other drugs.

Clinical trials are the best way to determine the possible side effects for a drug. In those situations, the control groups are closely monitored to insure they are not taking other medications that would interfere with the drug being tested. In the real world, people are usually taking many other drugs and drug interactions are common. If a doctor’s patient is having side effects, we have the data from these trials and experience with a large number of other patients taking the same drug to determine if the side effects could be related to our product.

Doctors also want to be able to give their patients samples to try first before they have to pay a prescription. So as part of my job, I also make sure my doctors have a supply of samples available for their patients.

By taking this approach of specializing in one area and building relationships rather than just marketing a variety of drugs, I have built long-standing relationships with my doctors to the point where we have each other’s cell phone numbers. I have also exceeded the sales expectations of my company and received several sales awards.

Besides working directly with doctors, I also work with a large team at the company to develop material to help physicians understand the drugs and to also develop branding for the product. We even provide a package of educational materials for each patient that gives them everything they need to know to have success with their medications.

Commercial growth for pharmaceutical sales is occurring in the cities, which are growing much faster than rural areas. Also rural areas have a higher concentration of patients on Medicaid. Both Medicaid and Medicare require that the doctor first prescribe the cheapest medication and then if that does not work the next cheapest and so on rather than allowing doctors to prescribe the drug they feels would be the most effective. Each time the doctor wants to change to the next more expensive drug, he or she has to submit a form about the lack of results over a specific time frame. This process means that in many cases doctors have to spend a lot of time trying to get pharmaceuticals approved not just by Medicare and Medicaid but also many commercial insurance companies. Because this process is time consuming for the doctors and often upsetting to patients, many people are going to cash pay where they can get the drugs the doctors want to prescribe for them without having to go through the middleman.

While we all understand that the cost of drugs has been increasing, it is important to also understand that the cost of a clinical trial and all the testing required by the FDA is expensive. It can cost as much as a billion dollars to get a drug introduced. For this reason, the drug companies want to be sure that the new drugs they introduce will be used. As a result they are now looking more towards developing drugs that are not in a crowded space so that they will be one of the few treatment options available.

The insurance companies are also paying less for patient visits with their doctors. As a result, many doctors must see more patients to maintain their income. This gives the doctor less time to meet with pharmaceutical reps and makes it more difficult to get appointments.

I like my job because I have a lot of control over what I do and consider myself CEO of my territory. Each month I update a three-month calendar where I meet with several physicians for lunch, which is often the only time many are available. I visit with others during the day or early in the morning. While setting up appointments with doctors is easier once you are established, initially getting these appointments can sometimes be difficult and requires you to be persistent and creative. Here are a couple of examples. I had one doctor who did not want me to ask him any questions, which made it difficult to provide him with good service. So I asked him if we could meet for coffee at 7 AM and I could ask him just one question. He agreed and we eventually developed a good professional relationship where we regularly ask each other questions about the drugs I sell and how they are working for his patients. A second example is one where I could not get into a doctor’s office to even talk to him. I sent him a cake made in the shape of a foot with a note that said “Now that I have my foot in the door, can we meet”.   He thought it was funny and agreed to let me call on him. So you have to be persistent and creative in the way you develop relationships with physicians because they are busy and have gate keepers who often make the decision about who gets to see them.


How to Prepare to be a Pharmacy Representative

  • You must have experience in direct sales where you have done cold calling and can show that you have persuaded people to buy your product.
  • You also must be able to show that you can build relationships and retain customers.
  • Your major in college is not that important based on the people I have seen hired as reps by pharmaceutical companies as compared to your GPA. You must have at least a 3.0 GPA or higher from a good school.
  • You will also have to be able to pass a personality assessment the company will administer. After years of experience, these companies have a good idea of the personality traits of a successful pharmaceutical rep.
  • You should be well prepared for your interview. I maintain what I call my “brag book” that I take to interviews. It has a table of contents and includes my resume, letters of recommendation from customers and my managers and my sales awards.



I like my career as a pharmaceutical rep because I work for a respected company and by specializing in one area I have been able to build relationships with doctors and can see how our pharmaceuticals help their patients. I also am able to make decisions about the best way to manage my time and feel like I am the CEO of my own territory. Although the changes in the health insurance industry are affecting the way that doctors can prescribe drugs, the constant introduction of new drugs and the service that a rep can provide a physician are things that I feel will remain important. If you are a self-starter and have proven yourself to be successful in sales, being a pharmaceutical representative can be a rewarding career choice for you like it has been for me.


Bureau of Labor Statistics Salary Survey

The average wage for 33,490 drug and druggists’ sundries representatives nationwide was $45.44 per hour, or $94,510 annually as of 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This category includes representatives for medical, pharmaceutical and biological products, including medications and ointments. The bureau calculates annual income at 2,080 hours and normally includes base pay plus other income such as bonuses. As a comparison, the 375,500 technical sales representatives in all industries averaged somewhat less at $85,750 per year.

Older pharmaceutical representatives usually have higher base salaries than younger ones, according to As of 2012, total income for those with less than two years experience averaged $81,000 per year, while those with 11 to 20 years experience averaged $132,000 annually. The biggest earners have more than 20 years experience, earning $116,000 base pay and $33,000 in bonuses and commissions on average, for a total of $149,000 per year.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 16 percent increase for all technical sales representative positions between 2010 and 2020. This is about the same as the average for all jobs. However, competition is especially keen for pharmaceutical sales positions, according to “FINS Sales & Marketing.” Applicants with sales experience, science degrees and technical knowledge of pharmacology will have the best chance of finding jobs.


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