Twenty years ago few people perceived pharmaceutical sales as a career choice - it was something they fell into usually through the recommendation of a family member or a friend. It was reckoned to be a safe and secure job. However, things are very different today. The competition is fiercer, the NHS has become a less friendly customer and new organisations such as NICE have proved to be damaging for certain products. But a career in pharmaceutical sales is still a highly attractive prospect and the numbers trying to get into the industry continue to grow. Entry-level salaries of £18-£22,000 are considerably higher than average in the sales environment and generous bonus schemes coupled with excellent training are further reasons why the number of prospective repre-sentatives remain consistently high. Consequently, the entry criteria has become more stringent and normal testing and inter-view methods alone are not sufficient to secure a position. So who is ideal pharmaceu-tical representative material and what experi-ence and skills should they have?
- Degree educated
- Qualified nurse or equivalent health professional
- Two A levels – one preferably in a science subject
- A valid driving licence with no more than six penalty points
- Previous selling experience
- Worked in an autonomous business role
- Experience of working in a customer service environment
- Good written and verbal communication
- Ability to build and maintain relationships
- The ability to work on your own with minimum supervision or as part of a team
- Sound analytical skills
Questions to ask yourself
- Am I comfortable spending a lot of time on the road?
- Would I be happy working ostensibly on my own?
- Can I deal with the rejection from receptionists and customers?
- In terms of family commitments would early morning starts pose problems?
- Can I spend 4-6 weeks on the initial training course?
- I am prepared to attend overseas conferences?
Doing your research At a first interview you will be expected to have:
- a good rudimentary knowledge of the role of the pharmaceutical representative
- a basic understanding of the function and the structure of the NHS
- ideally to have shadowed at least one representative and to have researched the company to whom you are applying for a position
So where do you find the relevant informa-tion before applying for an interview? To find out what a pharmaceutical representative does, you can do one of the following:
- Make contact and shadow a representa-tive for the day.
- You may be prepared to pay for an Intro-duction to Pharmaceutical Sales course which is run by many recruitment agencies. The fee for a one-day course can range from nothing to £200, but by doing it this way you can save yourself a lot of time and energy.
Where do I find pharmaceutical sales vacancies? You can apply online for most positions now so it is imperative that your curriculum vitae is of a high standard as it will provide you with your first window of opportunity. Remember to identify which companies are prepared to accept rookie representatives: a good starting place is often the contract sales forces who are happy to interview graduates or applicants with no previous pharmaceutical sales experience. (The recruit-ment agencies will be able to guide you in the right direction).
Putting your CV together Think of this process backwards: what does the potential employer want to see rather than what do you want to tell them? If you are a graduate then obviously your academic qualifications are paramount. The pharma companies are ideally looking for sci-ence graduates, but non-science graduates can still apply - what you have to do is con-vince your prospective employer that you can take in quite complex scientific disease and product information. Extra information on any work experience you may have, or hobbies and clubs of which you are a mem-ber, helps to demonstrate your communica-tion skills and ability to work with other people. If you are not a graduate then you need to demonstrate that you have relevant sales experience, again coupled with an ability to retain large amounts of scientific information. The last thing a company wants is to take someone on who can’t graduate from the Initial Training Course, as that would mean an enormous waste of money. Make sure that the personal statement at the beginning of your CV includes the infor-mation that is vital for you to relay to the prospective employer. The rest of your CV has to indicate that you have the right education, work experience and personal skill set that will ensure your success in the field. Ensure that you include two good work and personal references, but do ask their permis-sion first before stating them.
Telephone Screening You have seen the advertisement, now what? You may be asked to ring in to a call centre to apply for an interview. The call centre will be given a list of relevant ques-tions to gauge your suitability for the position advertised. DO NOT assume that you are ringing for a casual chat. It may be an official telephone interview so refrain from making the call until you are in the right environment and in the correct frame of mind to answer serious questions about yourself. (Note - remember to identify which companies are prepared to accept rookie representatives. A good starting place is often the contract sales forces who are happy to interview graduates or appli-cants with no previous pharmaceutical sales experience. The recruitment agencies will be able to guide you in the right direction).
The Interview As in all things PREPARATION is the key to a successful interview. First do the background research on the company inter-viewing you. A potential employer cannot fail to be impressed by someone who has done their homework. It proves determina-tion and professionalism
- Make sure you know where the venue is and if possible visit it the day before, allowing time for traffic problems. There is nothing that creates a bad first impression more than being late
- Always arrive early, you will not be seen early but the interviewer will have been informed that you have arrived
- Always look smart, dark suits in general look more professional and create a good first impression
- Take your qualifications, driving licence, passport and brag file (portfolio of positive feedback on your work) along with you
So you have been successful at your initial interview but what next? A second interview with the pharmaceuti-cal company itself, a second interview with the second line manager or, more commonly these days, an assessment centre. Assessment Centres can vary widely in their content but generally contain the same key elements.
- An interview
- A presentation
- Aptitude/psychometric tests
The interview will not be a completely new concept for you, but you may never have had to do a presentation before.
- The presentation title will either be given to you beforehand or on the day you attend the assessment centre.
- You will usually be given some acetates and acetate pens and time to prepare.
A few tips for you
- Title on the first page
- Outline what you will cover in the presentation on page 2
- Use stab points and then talk round them rather than writing everything on the acetate
- Cover the topics – ensuring a maximum of five key points per acetate
- Summarise what you have said
- Keep to the time limit – try and time yourself beforehand
- Always be enthusiastic, positive and maintain good eye contact
Aptitude/psychometric tests These are tests to gauge your written and numerical skills as well as personality type. If you fancy a practice beforehand then click on to the Saville and Holdsworth website www.shlgroup.com. This website has online tests, allowing you to complete a timed test which is then immediately marked, giving an indication of how you would fare on the day. So you have got through the telephone interview, the face-to-face interview and now the assessment centre. You should be informed during the next few days whether you have been successful or not. If you have been unsuccessful do ask for some feedback so that you can work on any areas of weak-ness.
The job offer Before accepting the position you must read your contract carefully. Areas to be checked:
- Is there a probationary period and if so how long?
- For a part-time position, how many full days am I expected to work each year?
- Pension provisions.
- Daily allowance.
- Private Health Insurance.
- Daily Allowance.
- Bonus Schemes/Share Options.
All present and correct, then GOOD LUCK IN YOUR NEW CAREER