Pharmaceutical Sales: Overview, Pay, and How to Get Started

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Pharmaceutical sales representatives educate physicians on new drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies and advocate for their prescription to patients. Learn more about this high-paying sales career.

[Featured Image]:  Pharmaceutical Sales Representative making a presentation of a new product to medical team.

Pharmaceutical sales representatives work for drug companies, advocating for the use of their pharmaceutical products to physicians and other health care professionals. If you’re an aspiring sales professional with a knack for science, then you might consider joining this high-paying profession. 

In this article, you’ll learn more about what pharmaceutical sales are, what sales representatives in the industry actually do, and what you can expect to earn from the job. At the end, you’ll also find steps you can take to join the field and explore cost-effective, online courses that can help you get started today. 

What are pharmaceutical sales? 

Pharmaceutical sales representatives are salespeople employed by pharmaceutical companies to advocate for the use of prescription medications to physicians and health care facilities. Pharmaceutical sales is the practice of salespeople who educate health care professionals on specific medications developed by drug companies in order to persuade them to prescribe them to patients rather than a competitor product or treatment method. 

What does a pharmaceutical sales rep do? 

While the day-to-day work of a pharmaceutical sales representative may vary based on their specific role, some of their most common duties include:

  • Establishing and maintaining customer relations, such as by scheduling meetings with physicians to discuss new pharmaceutical products.  

  • Educating physicians on the uses and side effects of different prescription drugs within a company’s product line. 

  • Staying up-to-date on new drug developments and pertinent health care issues by attending continuing education workshops. 

  • Attending sales meetings to learn about company goals and new pharmaceutical products. 

  • Conducting competitor research and maintaining customer sales records. 

Pharmaceutical sales jobs: salary and job outlook

Pharmaceutical sales representatives enjoy a higher-than-average salary alongside relatively consistent job growth. Here’s what you can expect from the position in terms of pay and job outlook: 

Pharmaceutical sales salary 

Sales representatives for the pharmaceutical industry earn a higher-than-average pay, which is typically comprised of a base salary, earned commission, and occasionally a bonus. 

According to a report by MedReps, pharmaceutical sales representatives earned an average salary of $158,013 in 2021, which consisted of an average base salary of $115,244 and an average commission of $44,798 [1].

What you can expect to earn, though, is significantly impacted by your years of experience. According to the report, the average salary based on work experience was as follows [1]:

  • <2 years - $96,846

  • 2-5 years - $142, 353

  • 6-10 years - $147,948

  • 11-20 years - $164,598

Whether you enter the field with a lot of experience or very little, you can still expect to earn a much higher-than-average salary as a sales rep working within the pharmaceutical industry. 

Pharmaceutical sales job outlook 

While there are no official statistics on the overall job growth for pharmaceutical sales representatives, US government research forecasts average job growth for sales representatives across all industries over the next decade. Specifically, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the number of jobs for wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives will grow by four percent between 2021 and 2031, adding approximately 170,000 new job openings per year over the decade. Overall, this job growth is about as fast as the average for all jobs within the country, which the BLS notes is five percent for the same time period [2].

Read more: Is Health Care a Good Career Path? Outlook, Jobs, and More

How to get into pharmaceutical sales 

Pharmaceutical sales representatives are highly sought-after jobs within the world of sales, particularly due to the high pay that they command. If you’re considering a career in this competitive sales field, then here are some steps you should consider taking to enter it: 

1. Meet the job requirements. 

While some other sales jobs might only require applicants to possess a high school diploma, many pharmaceutical sales jobs require that applicants possess bachelor’s degrees in a related field, such as marketing or health sciences. In some cases, employers may prefer applicants with a related master’s degree. 

Overall, while you won’t be expected to have a degree in chemistry or be a licensed pharmacist, you should expect that employers will prefer candidates with a strong grasp of relevant scientific concepts and the aptitude to learn new concepts related to drug development when required. 

Read more: 9 Health Science Jobs For Health Science Degree Holders

2. Hone the right skills. 

Pharmaceutical sales representatives must pair well-honed sales skills and knowledge with a deep understanding of the drugs they’ll be selling and the health care industry in which they work. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in the field, then make sure to work on building the following key skills:

  • Negotiation: the art of coming to an agreement that is beneficial to two or more parties. In sales, you’ll have to negotiate with clients regularly, especially when closing a deal. 

  • Salesmanship: the skill of presenting a product or service in an enticing manner to potential customers. As a good salesperson, you’ll have to anticipate customer needs and articulate why your product meets them.

  • Scientific aptitude and health care knowledge: You won’t be expected to have a doctoral-level understanding of pharmaceuticals, but you will be expected to learn relevant scientific concepts regularly on the job and understand the health system as a whole.

Learn about the health care industry today

Get a crash course in the health care industry with the University of Minnesota’s Health Care Market Specialization, which covers everything you need to know about the health care marketplace, health care delivery providers, pharmaceutical and medical device innovations, and medical technology. 


3. Network. 

Gain an upper hand in the industry by attending networking events to meet professionals already working in the field. As you’re looking for jobs, these contacts can help you get your foot in the door with hiring managers and inform you of potential job opportunities as they arise. 

Read more: 9 Networking Tips to Expand and Strengthen Your Network

4. Apply, apply, and apply some more. 

Due to their high pay, pharmaceutical sales positions can be highly competitive. Much like the job of selling pharmaceuticals themselves, then, applying for sales positions within the pharmaceutical industry requires persistence and resilience to produce successful results. Don’t let rejection discourage you from continuing to apply for the job. Instead, use it as an opportunity to embody the same sales tenacity you’ll need to do the job itself. 

Get started with Coursera

To excel as a pharmaceutical sales representative, you’ll need to master the art of sales. Prepare for a career in the field by taking a cost-effective, online course through Coursera today.

In Northwestern’s The Art of Sales: Mastering the Selling Process Specialization, you’ll gain an understanding of how to stand out in the crowd, attract customers, and build support for your initiatives within your company.

Article sources


MedReps. “2021 Pharmaceutical Sales Salary Report, .” Accessed November 10, 2022.

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