Is a Career in Pharmaceutical Sales Right for You?

Holding a medicine bottle.
Why do so many people want to work in pharmaceutical sales? The biopharmaceutical industry seems to radiate success in a world where so many other enterprises are floundering. Another strong attraction is the job itself, which offers freedom, variety and challenges. Finally, the job's earnings potential and perks also draw interest. Strong, Stable Industry The modern pharmaceutical industry should thrive as long as people need medical treatment. In the US, pharmaceutical companies employ more than a quarter of a million people and sell more than $200 billion in drugs annually. The aging population, which requires increased medical attention, is one primary driver. Furthermore, healthcare is shifting away from acute hospital treatment in favor of medicines. Today, pills are the preferred treatment for a number of serious conditions, including AIDS, cancer, cholesterol and diabetes, marking a trend that augurs well for the industry. Challenging Job That Offers Freedom Dependent on sales revenue, the pharmaceutical industry invests heavily in sales teams. On-the-job training and support give sales representatives clear guidelines on how to get the job done. Notwithstanding this support, sales reps enjoy the freedom of choosing their own work hours. Another valued job feature is the constant challenge. Reps can learn something new every day. Training sessions, industry meetings and opportunities to entertain clients stave off monotony.One challenge pharma sales reps never face is cold calling. Instead, reps are expected to visit physicians within a given geographic area and specialty. Also high on the list of what distinguishes this career is the personnel involved. Pharmaceutical companies attract creative, bright people, and their clients comprise a high-powered group; reps often build long-term relationships with clients. Well-Paying Prospect With a salary, commission and bonus, the successful rep may take home a substantial income. The exact figure depends on location, specialty and company, but an experienced pharma sales rep can expect to earn somewhere in the low six figures. Reps also enjoy the rich menu of benefits most pharmaceutical companies offer. Downsides Although the industry is generally healthy and sound, individual companies may face significant challenges. Among the most worrisome are the long lead times for discovering and commercializing new drugs and the tremendous loss of revenue when drug patents expire. The trend in the industry has been toward consolidation through mergers and alliances -- events that may threaten job stability. While reps determine their own schedules, long hours are typical. Traveling to meet clients and the paperwork that follows can eat up hours. Furthermore, to keep up with the fast pace of the industry, reps often invest time in learning about their products, researching clients and reading industry journals. Competition in this field is ruthless. Even seasoned reps report courting pharmaceutical companies for years before finding one that would take a chance on them. Once in the field, reps face competition from other products and HMO reimbursement decisions that may favor another product. They also compete with other sales reps for face time with physicians. Moreover, with busy schedules and a surplus of sales reps knocking, not all physicians are willing or able to spend time listening to pitches; some physicians can be quite brusque. Reps must learn to deal with rejection and strategize solutions -- or find another career. Is the Job Right For You? Successful pharmaceutical sales representatives are almost religious in their enthusiasm for their work. If challenges, competition and hard work give you a rush, it could be worth your while to explore this field in greater depth. Find jobs in pharmaceutical sales and much more in the Career Center.
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