Will Her Education Compensate for Lack of Pharma Sales Experience?


This posting is a guest entry from the Career Doctor, Randall S. Hansen, PhD: Deb writes: I am a registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree, currently working on my master’s degree. I am interested in a career in pharmaceutical sales. However, all the ads state previous sales experience required. My question is whether my RN degree would carry enough weight to offset the previous sales requirement? Secondly, would it be best to apply to the companies directly or to go through a recruitment agency? Thank you for your time in replying.
The Career Doctor responds: Logically, you would assume that a medical background is a plus in pharmaceutical sales…but the bottom line is that it is a sales job, not a medical job — and many companies want previous sales experience. Can you sell your nursing education and experience as a critical benefit you can bring to the position as a pharmaceutical sales rep? Of course you can — and in fact, some companies require some kind of medical background or education — but you will also need to examine the traits of successful salespeople and determine if you have those skills from previous experiences. First, in what field are you pursuing your master’s degree? If it is nursing — and you know you don’t ever want to work as a nurse again — I would seriously consider withdrawing from graduate school. But before you make such a major decision, I would suggest conducting several informational interviews with sales managers in pharmaceutical companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, Eli Lily, and GlaxoSmithKline, among others, to better understand what these managers want in the field representatives they hire. Second, you need to identify the skills that make salespeople successful. Obviously, they need superior communications skills — especially persuasive communications skills; they need to be “people” person — able to build and maintain relationships; they need to be highly-motivated self-starters; they need to be well-organized. You’ll be able to glean all this information from looking at job postings and from your informational interviews. Third, you’ll need to develop a resume that portrays your mix of medical and sales skills and experiences in such a way as to identify you as an ideal candidate for a pharmaceutical sales position. You may want to try a chrono-functional resume. Read our article, Should You Consider a Functional Resume? Be aware, though, that many employers dislike any kind of functional resume, so have a chronological version ready if the chrono-functional isn’t working for you. Best of luck in achieving your goals.