Career Advancement Tips for Pharmaceutical Sales


For years, you have worked hard to be successful in the challenging and richly rewarding biopharma industry. After carefully considering your career options, you decided on pursuing a career as a pharmaceutical sales representative. Now, the time has arrived to begin your career journey, which includes knowing what it takes to become a successful pharma sales rep, as well as learning about career advancement tips for pharmaceutical sales professionals.

Overview of a Pharmaceutical Sales Job Description

As an entry-level pharmaceutical sales representative, you can expect to work for a drug manufacturer. Your primary job responsibility entails presenting drug information and marketing materials to healthcare professionals that are licensed to prescribe medications.

You will interact with specialists, general physicians and pharmacists to explain new products, as well as ascertain the demand for the drugs in the current pharmaceutical industry pipeline. Pharma sales reps also submit expense reports and manage customer information by using advanced databases. If you're looking to break into this competitive industry, try searching job boards specifically tailored to biopharma. 

Work Environment

This is not an office job, as you will spend most of your time out of the office commuting to hospitals, medical clinics and physician practices. Appointments are typically made during normal business hours. However, the completion of government-mandated paperwork will require you to work a few nights during the week. You might also have to travel at night to reach different markets.

Required Credentials

The minimum education requirement for a pharmaceutical sales representative is a bachelor’s degree, preferably in sales or marketing. A bachelor’s degree in a scientific or healthcare specialty is also an option for aspiring pharma sales reps. Numerous universities offer specialized programs that include a bachelor’s of science in pharmaceutical marketing.

Professional skills required to thrive as a pharmaceutical sales representative include strong sales and communication skills. You will have to possess the level of interpersonal skills that allow you to build personal and professional rapport with the healthcare professionals that are responsible for prescribing Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved medications.

How to Advance Your Pharma Sales Career

What professional opportunities await you outside of an entry-level pharma sales rep position? The rapidly growing biopharma industry needs leaders to manage sales forces at the local, district and regional levels. If you want to pursue a management position in sales, you will have to develop the leadership skills required for mentoring and developing less experienced sales reps. You can also advance in the pharmaceutical sales industry by moving into larger markets, as well as marketing a larger number of different medications.

Let’s review a few career advancement tips for pharma sales professionals.

Establish Goals

It might not appear to be the right time to set career goals, but when you start as an entry-level sales representative, you should at least have a general idea about how you want your career to progress. You do not have to put time limits on when you want to advance as a pharmaceutical sales professional; you just need to craft a rough draft on where you want to go and how you plan to get there.

Create Your Own Career Path

Although it is important to learn from other professionals in this field, the bottom line is you will not get to where you want to go unless you create your own unique career path. For example, starting as a pharma sales rep can lead to advancing into other positions other than management. You might want to work as a pharmaceutical sales professionals to acquire a fundamental understanding of different medications. After a few years, you decide to go back to school to earn a degree that helps you become a licensed pharmacist.

You will never be limited to what you can accomplish as a pharma sales rep.

Resiliency is a Must

Just because you will market products that consumers need does not mean every sales pitch will be accepted by a healthcare professional licensed to prescribe Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs. You can expect to go through the ups and downs of a sales position. Learning how to rebound after a day of no sales is a key component to advancing in the pharmaceutical industry. You will also have to be resilient to handle the long hours on the road that takes you to different sales markets.

Put in the Miles

The pharmaceutical sales representatives who advance quickly are willing to sacrifice personal time to improve their professional credentials. This means traveling often to reach as many customer prospects as possible. The more you travel, the more contacts you will establish with prospective buyers. Because of the need to travel as a pharma sales rep, you will have to master the art of time management.

Develop a Relationship with a Mentor

If there is one thing that is common for virtually every career, it is the development of a mentor-protégé relationship. As an entry-level pharmaceutical sales representative, developing a personal and professional relationship with a mentor will enable you to improve your skills, as well as learn about how to establish lasting relationships with healthcare professionals. Your mentor will also provide you with tips on how to close sales, as well as knowing when to move on to the next prospective customer.

Network Your Tail Off

Networking with your professional peers will go a long way in determining how you advance in the pharmaceutical industry. From trade shows to medical facility open houses, meeting new contacts within the industry can help you establish the type of professional connections that eventually lead to plenty of career advancement options. Organizations such as the National Association of Pharmaceutical Representatives and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) are two excellent networking options for sales reps that want to advance in the pharmaceutical industry.

Continuing Education

Having a fundamental knowledge about the drugs you market is a good start for entry-level pharma sales reps. However, to advance into larger and more lucrative markets, you should enhance your education profile by pursuing a master’s degree or a PhD in a specialized scientific field. For advancing into different management positions, an MBA will help you develop the type of management and leadership skills required to oversee a large sales force.

Finally, a list of career advancement tips for pharma sales professionals is not complete, without a mention of longevity. Success as a sales rep means you need to stay with a drug manufacturer long enough to enhance your professional credentials, as well as establish the type of networking relationships that will keep your career on track.

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