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How to Become a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative

What Does a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative Do?

pharma sales rep meeting with doctor

Pharmaceutical sales representatives educate physicians and other medication-prescribing professionals on new developments in the rapidly advancing pharmaceutical industry. They connect providers with the knowledge, drugs and treatments necessary to provide cutting-edge care to their patients. They also work to educate physicians, pharmacists, health care facilities and consumers about new pharmaceutical products.

Pharmaceutical sales reps, also known as pharma reps or PSRs, have an excellent understanding of pharmacology – the science of medications and their effects on the human body. When selling a new product, they must be able to describe its chemistry, method of action, side effects and potential interactions with other drugs. By specializing in a certain group or class of pharmaceuticals such as cardiac or psychiatric drugs, PSRs can deepen their knowledge base, making them more valuable to healthcare providers and more effective at promoting their products.

Most PSRs are salespeople who work on commission within a certain geographic territory. In this role, they schedule and attend sales meetings with health care providers, follow leads and cultivate new customers for the company. They may also attend industry conferences, speak at provider events and conduct continuing education sessions for medical professionals. In addition to their sales duties, many PSRs conduct field research on behalf of their employers. They may be responsible for monitoring physicians’ prescription patterns or gauging reactions to a new treatment.

Experienced PSRs enjoy the intellectual challenge the job provides. Because the pharmaceutical industry advances rapidly, there are always new products to research. Reps find great satisfaction in educating stakeholders about exciting advances at the forefront of medicine and bringing new and sometimes life-saving treatments to the public.

Workplace Details

Though they may work in a home- or company-based office, pharmaceutical sales representatives spend much of their time on the road visiting physicians’ offices, hospitals and nursing homes. Pharma reps work independently and have considerable freedom to set their own schedules. However, because their pay is commission-based, they need to put in a significant number of hours. Reps often spend their evenings and weekends at conferences and networking events where they can develop contacts for future sales.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$95090
Texas
$99760
Florida
$86040
Ohio
$83380
Massachusetts
$100650

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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ALABAMA

Median Salary: 
$76,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $145,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$35,370$78,570$149,830
Huntsville$31,100$89,170$147,330

ALASKA

Median Salary: 
$73,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $108,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$24,680$66,960$132,240
Fairbanks$45,430$88,440$100,320

ARIZONA

Median Salary: 
$69,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $151,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$38,890$70,140$152,050
Tuscon$33,720$61,210$147,230

ARKANSAS

Median Salary: 
$60,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $134,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$43,100$59,420$109,510
Fort Smith$35,260$68,940Over $187,200

CALIFORNIA

Median Salary: 
$80,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $161,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,660

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$36,780$73,100$153,800
San Francisco Bay$48,340$94,340$179,930
San Diego$37,450$65,970$129,250
Sacramento$42,210$72,610$153,940

COLORADO

Median Salary: 
$97,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $174,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$52,330$104,420Over $187,200
Colorado Springs$35,200$79,070$138,520

CONNECTICUT

Median Salary: 
$86,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $165,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$48,390$93,560$144,560
Bridgeport$38,530$82,940Over $187,200
New Haven$43,820$79,510Over $187,200

DELAWARE

Median Salary: 
$94,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $54,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $183,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: -3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$52,810$94,780$183,520
Dover$63,710$90,400$161,610

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Median Salary: 
$72,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $166,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$49,760$101,870$186,490

FLORIDA

Median Salary: 
$69,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $144,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 810

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$32,580$75,480$156,170
Orlando$34,950$64,480$136,300
Tampa$32,620$63,580$148,250
Jacksonville$39,820$65,010$127,720

GEORGIA

Median Salary: 
$64,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $143,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 280

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$39,500$66,960$143,780
Augusta$30,440$47,500$121,890

HAWAII

Median Salary: 
$61,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $96,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$34,690$61,730$97,950

IDAHO

Median Salary: 
$58,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $140,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 500

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$33,120$55,980$129,300
Idaho Falls$40,350$61,100$75,810

ILLINOIS

Median Salary: 
$65,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $138,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 560

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$31,880$63,440$137,590
Rockford$39,740$69,700$145,280

INDIANA

Median Salary: 
$77,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $153,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 200

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$41,830$81,330$164,250
South Bend$50,870$89,540$135,920
Fort Wayne$36,100$79,630Over $187,200

IOWA

Median Salary: 
$61,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $115,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$27,810$60,390$119,660
Cedar Rapids$27,720$69,100$133,250

KANSAS

Median Salary: 
$73,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $162,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$40,980$68,770$125,310
Kansas City$42,690$73,020$164,400

KENTUCKY

Median Salary: 
$78,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $149,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$47,580$90,790$153,310
Lexington$35,760$64,280$111,430

LOUISIANA

Median Salary: 
$76,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $125,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$50,840$86,740$147,650
Baton Rouge$34,730$69,720$125,280
Lafayette$41,190$57,900$99,980

MAINE

Median Salary: 
$80,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $128,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: -1%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$34,410$66,870$127,150
Lewiston$60,230$91,060Over $187,200

MARYLAND

Median Salary: 
$79,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $169,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$37,950$81,390Over $187,200
Frederick$42,740$82,230$159,000

MASSACHUSETTS

Median Salary: 
$89,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $161,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 2%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 340

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$50,770$95,210$160,080
Worcester$44,860$77,750$147,430
Springfield$37,870$62,190$130,710

MICHIGAN

Median Salary: 
$76,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $147,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$46,130$80,630$146,380
Grand Rapids$35,130$72,290$141,070

MINNESOTA

Median Salary: 
$104,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$49,000$112,390Over $187,200
Rochester$52,430$74,370$109,600

MISSISSIPPI

Median Salary: 
$59,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $121,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$27,500$45,630$113,330
Gulfport$32,960$64,330$124,560

MISSOURI

Median Salary: 
$66,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $117,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 140

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$35,430$66,760$120,990
Kansas City$42,690$73,020$164,400

MONTANA

Median Salary: 
$62,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

Job Growth Data Not Available

NEBRASKA

Median Salary: 
$59,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $126,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$34,800$60,010$126,700
Lincoln$33,020$63,470$136,890

NEVADA

Median Salary: 
$72,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $124,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$30,640$69,120$125,030
Reno$38,430$77,700$120,870

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Median Salary: 
$83,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $168,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Manchester$47,710$81,570$164,650
Nashua$38,820$80,930Over $187,200

NEW JERSEY

Median Salary: 
$99,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $185,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 2%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$53,370$86,710$175,950
Trenton$70,510$97,330$159,270

NEW MEXICO

Median Salary: 
$57,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $93,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$40,570$58,090$91,110

NEW YORK

Median Salary: 
$84,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $157,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 430

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$55,870$96,360$167,210
Buffalo$42,020$66,250$123,560
Rochester$41,940$74,910$129,690
Albany$29,670$75,360Over $187,200

NORTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$85,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $153,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 310

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$41,410$82,780$139,680
Raleigh$51,320$95,690$156,970
Greensboro$43,390$70,600$125,530
Winston - Salem$41,480$72,820$182,020

NORTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$76,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $45,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $132,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 0%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$44,720$73,340$125,860
Bismarck$41,700$58,090Over $187,200

OHIO

Median Salary: 
$68,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $136,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 610

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$42,550$70,730$135,390
Columbus$40,510$71,310$142,590
Cincinnati$34,220$74,090$152,650
Dayton$33,000$65,620$102,630

OKLAHOMA

Median Salary: 
$55,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $127,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 180

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$28,970$53,220$137,340
Tulsa$32,380$58,980$122,580

OREGON

Median Salary: 
$71,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $144,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 170

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$32,640$70,850$147,790
Salem$52,280$85,330$128,770

PENNSYLVANIA

Median Salary: 
$80,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $175,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 250

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$44,520$88,120Over $187,200
Pittsburgh$39,620$76,700$160,930
Harrisburg$34,130$62,270$112,970
Allentown$52,110$93,020$154,040

RHODE ISLAND

Median Salary: 
$67,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $144,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$30,360$64,300$140,190

SOUTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$66,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $133,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$30,970$54,880$116,840
Columbia$34,900$88,740$162,680
Charleston$37,750$70,430$138,860

SOUTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$73,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $139,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$51,880$84,550$169,180
Rapid City$52,510$67,530$123,690

TENNESSEE

Median Salary: 
$68,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $129,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 310

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$32,490$65,680$127,240
Memphis$39,210$69,250$125,880
Knoxville$39,190$71,370$121,290
Chattanooga$34,040$72,590$140,810

TEXAS

Median Salary: 
$73,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $146,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$36,060$72,930$125,890
Houston$42,020$85,370$169,730
San Antonio$39,160$66,500$153,950
Austin$38,070$63,820$128,070

UTAH

Median Salary: 
$80,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $157,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$32,380$89,940$175,660
Ogden$37,890$80,740$127,630

VERMONT

Median Salary: 
$81,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Burlington$39,380$78,800$149,560

VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$98,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $182,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 250

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$60,590$104,720$159,710
Richmond$50,970$78,840$177,610

WASHINGTON

Median Salary: 
$81,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $156,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 220

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$32,960$84,650$155,070
Spokane$27,070$45,500$133,800

WEST VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$74,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $168,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: -1%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$41,300$102,500$178,290
Charleston$18,420$47,670$98,020

WISCONSIN

Median Salary: 
$71,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $139,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$40,250$74,830$144,420
Madison$34,900$63,780$126,090

WYOMING

Median Salary: 
$102,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: -3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Casper$53,700$103,180Over $187,200

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual salary of pharmaceutical sales representatives is $89,170, and half earn between $53,360 and $111,500. Those who work for established companies enjoy competitive benefits packages that often include a company car, business trips, expense accounts, stock options, bonuses, medical and life insurance, tuition reimbursement and retirement plans.

Because they work on commission, pharmaceutical sales representatives have some control over their earnings and can improve their pay by increasing their sales.

The BLS expects a job growth of 7% for all sales representatives of technical and scientific products (which includes PSRs) between 2014 and 2024, which is roughly average job growth. Demand is highest for knowledgeable sales people who are able to stay up to date in a rapidly changing industry and communicate effectively with health care professionals. Those with a strong educational background in the life sciences, business and statistics are also attractive to employers.

Compare Salaries by City

Boston MA Median Pay

$95210 Per Year

$45.77 Per Hour

Austin TX Median Pay

$63820 Per Year

$30.68 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Pharmaceutical Sales Representative

1

Earn a bachelor's degree.

While there are no specific educational requirements to become a pharmaceutical sales representative, most of these professionals hold a four-year bachelor’s degree. Many have science backgrounds, which help them to understand new products and to communicate effectively with health care professionals. Aspiring reps should therefore take some coursework in biology, chemistry and statistics. Business training is also desirable to sharpen sales and negotiation skills.

Show Me Schools »

2

Consider earning a graduate degree.

Representatives who hold graduate degrees in business or the life sciences are especially attractive to employers. To apply to graduate school, candidates must earn a four-year undergraduate degree from an accredited institution and achieve a high score on the Graduate Records Examination (for science programs) or the Graduate Management Admissions Test (for business programs).

3

Gain on-the-job training and continuing education credits.

Most pharmaceutical companies provide on-the-job training to new sales reps as well as tuition reimbursement for ongoing coursework in pharmacology and the life sciences. PSRs are expected to engage in rigorous continuing education throughout their careers.

4

Consider becoming certified.

Voluntary certification as a Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative (CNPR) is available through the National Association of Pharmaceutical Representatives. Candidates must complete an accredited training program (offered online and at over 300 colleges nationwide) and pass a knowledge exam.

5

Look into advancement opportunities.

With time and experience, pharmaceutical sales representatives can advance to administrative positions in which they supervise the work of junior salespeople, plan and manage campaigns and oversee product launches. Reps enhance their skills and earnings through continuing education or by pursuing advanced degrees.

Explore Degree Paths

While it’s a bit of a long shot, some pharmaceutical companies will hire sales representatives without bachelor’s degrees. To increase your odds, gain a few years experience in business-to-business sales. You’ll need an exceptional track record to break in this way.

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

Most jobs in pharmaceutical sales require a bachelor’s degree at minimum. Many companies suggest majoring in:

Pharmaceutical business and management

A few schools, including Ohio Northern University and St. Joseph University, offer undergraduate majors in pharmaceutical business. Programs blend science and healthcare business classes.

Biological sciences

This includes majors like biology, biochemistry, physiology, nutrition, and animal science. Having a science background can make it easier to educate yourself about the products you’re selling. It also gives you credibility with your future clients, who may include physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and veterinarians.

Business and marketing

Having some background in sales, marketing, communications, manufacturing, and the regulatory environment is helpful in this line of work. If you major in a science, definitely take some business courses or consider a minor in this area.

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The following courses can help you develop skills and knowledge you’ll use in pharmaceutical sales:

Biophysics

Study how biological molecules are structured and interact at an atomic level, plus the role electricity plays in body function.

Organic chemistry

Survey the structure and reactions of molecules containing carbon.

Public speaking

Covers topics like structuring and organizing a presentation, delivery techniques, and tips for overcoming anxiety.

Negotiation

Learn the communication strategies you need to influence others, overcome resistance, and reach agreements.

Finally, use your college years to network and gain as much experience in the industry as possible. Consider interning with a pharmaceutical company and attending industry events and conferences.

When looking for your first pharmaceutical sales rep job after graduation, your best chances will be with larger companies like Pfizer, Merck, and Novartis. Another common pathway after graduation is to gain a few years of business-to-business sales experience in another industry at a company with a strong sales training program.

MASTER OF BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION

2 years beyond the bachelor's level

Earning an MBA prepares you to hold a senior leadership position within a company. In pharmaceutical sales, this might mean becoming a sales manager or marketing executive. Also, a few pharmaceutical companies only hire sales representatives with a master’s.

A word of caution: an MBA will probably not help you get your foot in the door when it comes to landing an entry-level pharmaceutical sales position. That’s more about your sales record, drive, network, and personal characteristics. The best time to consider an MBA is when you’ve been working as a representative for a few years and have clear advancement goals in mind.

Consider a number of factors when choosing an MBA program. Some actually offer concentrations in healthcare or pharmaceuticals. Many have a distance option for working students. Prestige may be important if your goal is to hold an executive position at a pharmaceutical giant like Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson.

MBA coursework covers leadership, accounting, finance, economics, and marketing. Some courses you might encounter in a program with a pharmacy concentration:

Business ethics

Looks at moral issues that arise when companies manufacture pharmaceuticals for profit.

Supply chain management

Study ways to design, build, manage, and assess the strategic partnerships needed to create a pharmaceutical product.

Health care policy

Examine how laws, regulations, and court decisions impact healthcare cost, quality, and access.

Sales management

Learn to get the most from your sales representatives and gain a deeper understanding of the psychology and strategy of selling.

Keys to Success as a Pharma Sales Rep

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Curious

Pharmaceutical sales reps must have the curiosity and intellectual capacity to understand the science behind the products they sell.

Strong and persuasive communicator

Excellent verbal skills help them to communicate this information to health care professionals clearly and objectively.

Knowledgeable about sales

As salespeople, they must be skilled at building relationships and earning the trust of clients. Because they sell to busy providers who are alert for conflicts of interest, they must be patient and persistent without coming across as aggressive or pushy. Prior sales experience is desirable (though not required by all pharmaceutical companies).

Additional Credentials

Several organizations offer certification in pharmaceutical sales. These include professional societies, private companies, and even some colleges and universities.

Many of these programs are marketed aggressively online. The target audience: people who are struggling to break into pharmaceutical sales.

Despite what these companies claim, there’s really no certification required to become a pharmaceutical sales rep. Recruiters are far more interested in sales skills, track record, personal drive, and fit for the position.

So don’t take online claims about pharmaceutical sales certification at face value. Before paying for a certification course, discuss the decision with your network, mentor, academic advisor, or a real-life recruiter at a pharmaceutical company.

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