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How to Become a Pharmaceutical Sales Rep

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Pharmaceutical sales representatives contribute to the delivery of timely and quality patient care services in health care facilities. They spend their time on the road providing drug samples and information to physicians, pharmacists and other practitioners, on the phone contacting prospective clients, or in trade fairs marketing a manufacturer’s products. This career is suitable for persuasive individuals with a background in business or science.

Gaining the Knowledge

Since pharmaceutical sales representatives deal in scientific products, they require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to find employment. Although some employers hire individuals with a degree in business administration or marketing and train them on the job, many prefer degrees in biochemistry, pharmacy or any other relevant science field. Representatives with a graduate degree in pharmacology have the highest prospects of securing jobs in large pharmaceutical companies.

Mastering the Skills

To thrive in the job, pharmaceutical sales representatives must possess superior communication, interpersonal, customer-service, record-keeping and analytical skills. When contacting health care practitioners to sell them medical drugs, for instance, they use speaking skills to clearly provide product information. During face-to-face meetings, sales representatives with great interpersonal skills can easily build rapport with clients. This job also entails a lot of traveling. As such, pharmaceutical sales reps must have the stamina to walk between client locations while carrying product samples.

Getting Certified

Aspiring pharmaceutical sales representatives don’t need to hold an occupation-specific license to land a job. However, as the job involves extensive traveling, employers may prefer representatives with a valid driver’s license. The National Association of Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives offers the Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative certification, which prospective reps can earn to prove competence and enhance their chances of getting employed. Other professional bodies that offer relevant certifications include the American Association of Pharmaceutical Sales Professionals, and the Council for Continuing Pharmaceutical Education.

Getting Employed and Moving On

Pharmaceutical sales representatives are mainly employed by pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors. They typically begin in junior roles where they work under experienced reps. After gaining more hands-on experience, they are put in charge of selling a specific drug, usually within a small region. Those with an advanced degree in business management, a professional certification and vast experience can be allocated large regions or territories and later progress to becoming pharmaceutical sales managers. With baby boomers aging and the use of biotech products increasing, NAPS estimates an annual 6 percent job growth for sales reps from 2014 through 2016 -- so employment opportunities shouldn’t be hard to come by.


Based in New York City, Alison Green has been writing professionally on career topics for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in “U.S. News Weekly” magazine, “The Career” magazine and “Human Resources Journal.” Green holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.

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