How to Become a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep

Get started in an increasingly popular and competitive field.

How to Become a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep

The pharmaceutical industry is massive.

The pharmaceutical industry is massive—both on the national and global scales—and it's projected to further expand in the near future. According to a comprehensive report by the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, the pharmaceutical market may exceed $1.3 trillion worldwide by 2023, and the U.S. market is booming with a 4–7% growth rate. So, if you have boundless energy for selling, infectious networking skills, and a knack for science, you may want to learn how to become a pharmaceutical sales rep.

Keep in mind that this is an increasingly popular (and thus competitive) field. Not only does this career provide elevated salary prospects and generous benefit packages from pharmaceutical companies with deep pockets, but the quality-of-life perks are very attractive to job-seekers too, including flexibility, travel opportunities, and even a company car. Plus, you'll enjoy access to various advancement opportunities.

Are you motivated yet? Then let's dive into the high-caliber world of pharmaceutical sales jobs.

What Does a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep Do?

A pharmaceutical sales representative is a salesperson hired by pharmaceutical companies to entice physicians to prescribe their medications to patients. But there's more at play here. The best reps also use their communication skills and irresistible charm to set up appointments with doctors' offices, while conveying complex information about the drugs they represent in a clear-cut (yet persuasive) manner. Remember—doctors are highly educated and intelligent, but don’t often have time to listen to a lengthy sales pitch.

Like most sales jobs, pharmaceutical sales reps need to work well under pressure, and each workday may be different. Physicians and clinicians are always busy (and some can be difficult, potentially refusing to provide appointments for sales pitches altogether). But top reps build a great rapport and reputation with doctors and medical offices throughout their geographical territory, giving presentations that not only educate and sell, but also entertain. Besides pitching and closing deals, pharmaceutical sales reps:

  • Provide lively presentations about their products, offer free samples, and answer questions during routine visits with physicians.
  • Scour for new leads and network at conferences.
  • Monitor prescriptions and any adverse reactions from patients with current clients.
  • Meet with medical professionals to extend continuing education sessions.

As you find out more about how to become a pharmaceutical sales rep, you'll see that this career has undulating patterns—it's not always straightforward, and there will be ups-and-downs. Monster features several resources to get you familiarized, including a pharmaceutical sales job description.

How to Become a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep

First, it's important that you have your high school diploma or GED. But your options unfurl widely from there, as many pharmaceutical companies are open to a variety of candidate backgrounds. Just make sure you have your driver's license (because, yes, you'll be driving a lot) and the ability to pass a background check and drug test.

You should also be hopped-up about science and medicine. You don't have to be a science geek, but reading about, say, the latest headways in medications for heartburn should get you stoked. You want to make sure this career path will be fun for you before you get into any pharmaceutical sales training, as that'll help ensure you nail those crucial five-minute pitches with a positively contagious voice.

And, ultimately, you'll need to develop an ability to readily understand pharmacology—the way medications are used to treat the body and disease. You'll then be able to vividly explain the benefits of a medication, but also the possible side effects, interactions with any other drugs, and the associated research.

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Although there isn't an actual pharmaceutical sales degree, you should consider a major that incorporates life-science courses (such as chemistry, biology, and anatomy) with some public speaking or communication electives. Any business classes—along with mathematics and statistics—will be helpful too. Many pharmaceutical sales companies don't require a specific major, but you'll need a four-year bachelor's degree from an accredited college if you want to become a pharmaceutical sales rep.

Consider a Graduate Degree

Additionally, you'll have an upper hand (and a higher pharmaceutical sales salary) if you choose to earn a graduate degree. You can opt for two different routes here:

Do a Pharmaceutical Sales Internship

Before applying to entry-level pharmaceutical sales jobs, you can look for pharmaceutical sales internships, many of which are paid. You'll gain insight into how to become a pharmaceutical sales rep by shadowing full-time pharmaceutical sales reps—helping them to prepare their presentations, organize schedules, perform research tasks, and accompany them on visits to doctors' offices, pharmacies, hospitals, and medical clinics. This will groom you for the real deal.

Get Your Pharmaceutical Sales Certification

If you really want a strong grasp on the best practices of selling pharmaceutical products, you should go for vocational training, which will solidify your knowledge of federal rules and regulations as well as your aptness for fast-paced sales. You can get certified through the National Association of Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives.

By becoming a Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative (CNPR), you're telling hiring managers for entry-level pharmaceutical sales jobs that you’re ready to hit the ground running, as you’ll be equipped with a well-rounded comprehension of product and regulatory industry requirements.

Network With Your Peers

Read the latest news on pioneering pharmaceuticals and the newest papers in medical journals (what doctors and scientists like to call “the literature”). Most importantly, get out there and network. Maybe you’ll run into a major-brand district manager looking for fresh new hires at a pharmaceutical industry meeting or event, or you may even hook an internal referral (which pharmaceutical sales recruiters often prefer).

How Much Do Pharmaceutical Sales Reps Make?

Currently, the median pharmaceutical sales salary is $84,450, and it can range from $62,787 to $101,357. You can look up the average salary for pharmaceutical sales reps in your location by using our convenient Monster Salary Guide.

How to Find Pharmaceutical Sales Jobs

Now that you know how to become a pharmaceutical sales rep, the next step is to create a dynamic pharmaceutical sales resume that shows off your unique combination of scientific brainpower and canny sales capabilities, peppered with keywords applicable to the pharmaceutical industry. Stand out from the crowd of preening sales reps with a brag book that you can bring to interviews too.

After your resume and cover letter are finalized, seek out the pharmaceutical sales jobs available on Monster.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the top five states for reps selling technical and scientific products (including pharmaceuticals) are:

According to the BLS, high-demand locations for pharmaceutical sales representative jobs include these metro areas:

Prescribe Yourself a Profitable Career

Ready for a career with lots of upward mobility? Since you've now learned how to become a pharmaceuticals sales rep, create a free account on Monster to ensure you get noticed by the right companies. Being a Monster member will also provide you with pharmaceutical sales job alerts, as this industry continues to grow and new medications go to market.