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New Grads Can Break into Pharma Sales by Demonstrating Their Value


For Recent College Grads: information, ideas and insight.



Each month, we interview an employer about a key career issue college students - career services professionals - need to better understand...from the employer's perspective.

EMPLOYER INSIGHTS interviewed Lisa Alexander, author of the book PharmRepSelect: Your Complete Guide to Getting a Job in Pharmaceutical Sales and creator of the Interview Insight audio CD series.Her experience includes training district managers in proper interviewing skills and techniques designed to fit the right candidate with the right job.

The Issue: Talk is cheap for new grads who want to land jobs in pharmaceutical sales. Many college students and recent grads are interested in pharmaceutical sales careers, but convinced employers won’t hire them unless they have several years of experience. What’s the real story? Many pharmaceutical recruiters devote a good deal of their time to college recruiting. But you’ll need to learn what a pharmaceutical sales rep does before you meet with a campus recruiter. By merely stating that you want to be a sales rep and thinking you’ll make a good rep, you’re asking the recruiter to take a risk by hiring you. But if you know what a successful rep does, you’ll be able to compare your similar successes and explain why you too will be successful in the future. Now you’re minimizing the recruiter’s risk— and increasing your chances of landing a job offer.

What are some things college students and recent grads can do to give themselves the best possible chance of landing a pharmaceutical sales job?

Research what a pharmaceutical sales rep job is, what sales reps do, and why they’re successful. Read books on sales jobs and research information about drug companies. Look up local pharmaceutical sales rep organizations and make some phone calls to their members. If you hit it off with a person, meet for coffee. Show up professionally dressed and on time. Treat the meeting like a formal interview. If you have a resume, bring it with you; if you make a good impression, the person will share it with his/her district manager. Now you have a mentor. If the person is open to it, ask if you may accompany him/her on some sales calls. This is a great learning experience called a preceptorship.

Emphasize science and communication on your resume. Pharmaceutical company recruiters look for course work in the sciences, but if you’ve graduated with a BA degree and have the ability to learn science-related material, you can be hired for this job. Emphasize science courses you did take, such as anatomy, physiology, and biology. Courses such as public speaking, marketing, and acting are also very desirable.

Pursue outside interests. Track your accomplishments and collect reference letters from these affiliations. Fundraising, in particular, is very similar to the job of outside selling. So participate in fundraising drives for your sorority/fraternity or a charitable organization.

Create a brag book—a portfolio of your accomplishments. Your brag book is a must for a successful sales interview. It’s as important as your resume; it substantiates the resume’s claims. Practice using your brag book too. Refer to the book as you role-play answering interview questions. What can Campus Career Counselor readers do to best help their students/grads who want to go into pharmaceutical sales after graduation? Before a recruiter visits campus, invite a panel of guests representing different positions within the pharma company structure. These panels are an exchange of information between people with varying points of view. Sales reps share information about the job and training. Sales managers explain the industry as a whole and discuss company expectations. Physicians illustrate the value of a sales rep. These panels also provide great networking opportunities. So encourage students to introduce themselves to the reps and managers and to contact them for interviews.

Job candidates, career counselors can learn more by reading and listening to PharmRepSelect - Interview Insight