A Guide to Pharmaceutical Sales Jobs: Salaries, Resume, and Skills

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn about pharmaceutical sales jobs skills, educational requirements, and salaries that can prepare you for a career in this fast-growing industry.

[Featured Image]:  Pharmaceutical sales rep working on sales leads promoting a new product.

You can find pharmaceutical sales jobs such as sales representatives, territory managers, and sales managers working for pharmaceutical manufacturing companies around the world. In these positions, sales professionals market and sell pharmaceutical medication and devices and, in some roles, educate and train other sales reps or medical providers on certain pharmaceuticals. 

Pharmaceutical sales salaries vary by job title, years of experience, certification, and sometimes level of education. Some employers provide on-the-job training, while others require certifications or other formal training. Through experience and training, you can build key resume skills to support a successful career in pharmaceutical sales.    

What is a pharmaceutical sales rep?

A pharmaceutical sales rep is someone who markets pharmaceutical medications and devices to medical providers. They educate providers on medications and sell medications to providers that would be beneficial to patients. It is a job that combines sales skills with medical knowledge. Pharmaceutical sales reps work for pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and sell certain medications. As a sales rep, you may specialize in a particular area of pharmaceuticals like cardiovascular medications or dermatology treatments. As a sales position in the field of pharmacology, the role often involves traveling to different health care providers within a certain region. 

What does a pharmaceutical sales representative do?

Pharmaceutical sales representatives spend the majority of their workday in the field, visiting with medical providers. They typically have a regional office and a home office, unless they are a fully remote employee. Most sales reps in this field travel a good deal within a specific region or community, selling medications or treatments to relevant medical providers. 

Although it is a sales role, not every day is spent traveling in the car traveling from provider to provider. Pharmaceutical sales professionals also spend a good deal of learning about medications and treatments and researching the market and similar medications. 

Most sales reps in the pharmaceutical industry work independently and set their own hours based on the schedule of the customers. It’s common for pharmaceutical sales reps to be paid a base salary in addition to commission from the medications sold to providers within a particular region and specialty. 

A pharmaceutical sales representative may: 

  • Generate new sales leads

  • Follow up on potential leads 

  • Conduct market and field research that may include tracking prescription patterns or conducting surveys 

  • Attend or schedule sales meetings 

  • Attend conferences 

  • Present or speak at conferences 

  • Complete continuing education courses or other CE opportunities 

  • Conduct training sessions for other sales reps or medical providers on the use of medications 

  • Educate medical providers on the side effects, potential drug interactions, benefits, and uses of certain medications or medical devices and treatments 

  • Outline the differences in their product over other similar ones on the market 

  • Answer questions a medical provider may have about a product 

  • Research similar products on the market and understand the competitors 

  • Communicate the benefits and uses for certain medications as it pertains to a provider and their patient’s needs 

  • Stay up to date on current medical advances and technologies as it pertains to their specialization 

  • Build relationships with medical providers 

Pharmaceutical sales job requirements will vary according to factors like job title, company, and location. 

What do they sell and to whom?

The types of pharmaceuticals a sales rep sells fall into the categories of general pharmaceutical products and specialty pharmaceutical products. Typically, specialty pharmaceuticals are sold by specialty pharmaceutical sales reps, which may require additional training. Examples of specialty products include specialized treatments for specific conditions like cancer or innovative medications that are relatively new and may need more education and training. General pharmaceutical medications include vaccines or opioids. The types of medications you sell depend on the pharmaceutical manufacturing company for which you work. 

Sales reps for pharmaceutical companies typically sell to medical providers like doctors, so they will likely spend most of their time in doctors’ offices. In fact, the 2020 Pharmaceutical Sales MedReps Salary Survey found that of the sales reps surveyed, two-thirds reported physicians’ offices as their primary market. Only 9 percent reported selling to hospitals [1]. 

Pharmaceutical sales reps can essentially sell to any provider who can write prescriptions to patients, which can range from psychiatrists to dentists and even veterinarians. 

Educational requirements for pharmaceutical sales jobs

The educational requirements for pharmaceutical sales jobs will vary greatly among pharmaceutical companies, with some commonalities. Most employers require at least a high school diploma or GED. Many employers will prefer you to have a bachelor’s degree and even a master's degree, in some cases. Expect some employers to provide their own on-the-job training. 

Earn your degree

It’s a good idea to go ahead and earn your bachelor’s degree if you plan on a career in pharmaceutical sales. While there is no pharmaceutical sales major, many pharmaceutical sales reps earn degrees in science, business, communications, marketing, or related fields. Science degrees can help you better understand the composition and use of pharmaceuticals and may be beneficial when explaining medications to providers. 

Degrees in sales or business can be beneficial to you in closing sales and managing clients. Another consideration is the type of pharmaceutical sales rep you’d like to be, to ensure you gain relevant experience and knowledge in the field.

When choosing a major, it’s also important to consider what employers are looking for in a sales representative. Research major pharmaceutical manufacturers and look at local job postings to determine the preferred degrees. Consider networking or joining professional organizations. 

The pharmaceutical sales industry can be highly competitive. If you want to improve your chances of employment, you might consider earning a master's degree. Common master's degrees for pharmaceutical sales reps include a master of sciences (MSc) degree in a relevant specialization or a master of business administration (MBA) degree.

Gain sales experience 

Many pharmaceutical sales jobs require previous experience in the field, either in general business sales or medical sales. One of the best ways to prepare yourself for a career in pharmaceutical sales is to gain real-world sales experience. Getting a job in sales while earning your bachelor’s degree can be great for your resume. 

In some cases, employers will provide on-the-job training in lieu of previous experience or in addition to if you already have that experience. Formal on-the-job training programs give you what you’ll need to sell the products for that specific manufacturer, so even if you hold a degree and experience, you may also be required to complete this company-specific training. 

Licenses, certifications, and registrations

You do not need a license to work as a pharmaceutical sales representative. Certifications are common and highly recommended but not required. You can usually register for certifications online. 

A majority of professionals in this occupation hold either the Certified Professional Manufacturers' Representative (CPMR) or the Certified Sales Professional (CSP) certifications, both offered by the Manufacturers' Representatives Educational Research Foundation (MRERF).

The CNPR certification, offered by the National Association of Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives (NAPSRx), is a training program that equips participants with the in-depth knowledge of both sales and pharmaceutical medications that they will need to succeed. National organizations offer many other sales-based certification programs you can earn, but these are among the most common for pharmaceutical sales reps.  

If you want to become a certified sales representative, you can enroll in a program to prepare and study for the certification exam you choose. Schools offer this as a certificate in pharmaceutical sales, and they are self-paced, online programs. 

Important qualities for pharmaceutical sales jobs

Pharmaceutical sales job requirements include possessing certain qualities to be able to connect with medical providers while also closing sales and forming and maintaining relationships. As a sales position, this job comes with a need for excellent interpersonal skills, but you need technical skills as well since you’re selling medications that require a great deal of understanding and explaining from a granular level. You must be able to communicate aspects of medications like potential drug interactions and what makes a medication effective. 

Consider these important qualities to have if you want to work in pharmaceutical sales: 

A persuasive personality

You may be selling products that other competitors are selling. What sets your product apart? Why is the medication/treatment you sell better for a provider’s patients? Persuasion is key in encouraging medical providers to choose your product while answering any questions providers have.

Build the case for your product by doing your research and using data like a drug’s efficacy to convince providers that your product is the best choice for their patients. This is where your deep understanding of medications is useful. It’s critical to provide hard facts and statistics along with a personal approach that touches on the provider’s desire to help patients.  

Customer-service skills

Customer service is one of the building blocks of acquiring customers, retaining customers, and even upselling to customers. At every point of interaction, customer service matters. If you are attentive to the needs of your customers, intuitive, and communicate and listen well, your customer is more likely to want to work with you. Personal touches and a proactive approach to selling and maintaining your working relationship with providers are highly important. 

Time management and organization skills

It’s common for pharmaceutical sales representatives to set their own hours while in the field, traveling from provider to provider. You’ll likely be spending a great deal of your time in your vehicle and working out of a home office. It’s up to you to stay organized and manage your calendar. Providers will likely have certain days and hours when you can visit them, so it’s key to have a time management method in place to visit providers and provide your customers with the attention they need. 

Confidence

Providers also choose you when they choose to buy your products. This means your personality and how you interact with them matter too. Having confidence in yourself and the product you’re selling helps providers feel confident in their choice to work with you and their likelihood of recommending your products to their patients. Show your confidence through an outgoing and energetic personality, but be genuine. 

Stamina

Pharmaceutical sales reps can work long hours, visiting multiple providers in a single day. You may also work weekends, take work trips, and attend conferences or other events. Maintaining your stamina to be able to present yourself and your product in an effective way each time takes endurance. It’s important to set your schedule to maximize your time and energy in a way that works best for you so you don’t burn out. 

Job outlook

The job outlook for pharmaceutical sales reps is on the rise with the advent of new medications, treatments, and advances in health care. The increased demand for health care workers has also positively affected job growth in the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical sales is a massive business with a lot of opportunities for sales reps.  

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 6.4 percent increase in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing sales roles between 2020 and 2030 [2]. 

These projections are also in line with the growing salary and average compensation for sales reps in the pharmaceutical industry. The 2020 Pharmaceutical Sales Reps Survey from MedReps reports a 6 percent rise in average total compensation from 2021 to 2022 and an average total compensation increase of over $17,5000 over the past three years for pharmaceutical sales reps working in the US [1]. All of these projections make for an optimistic outlook for careers in pharmaceutical sales. 

Example pharmaceutical sales job titles 

You can find pharmaceutical sales positions under differing job titles depending on the company, the specialization, and the nuances of the job description. One of the best places to find examples of top pharmaceutical sales jobs is local job postings online or via the pharmaceutical manufacturer’s website. You can find a lot of information about the types of sales jobs in your area or those in-demand skills and qualifications just by doing some research, especially if you’re specializing in one area of medicine or health care. It can be beneficial to you in plotting out your career. 

Examples of pharmaceutical sales job titles you might find, with average base salaries are: 

  • Medical sales representative: $71,843 a year [3]

  • Dermatology sales specialist: $87,613 [4]

  • Medical software sales representative: $92,245 [5]

  • Virtual sales specialist: $55,868 [6]

Due to the nature of the work, you will find many online, remote-only positions available. 

Career prospects for pharmaceutical sales professionals

For pharmaceutical sales professionals, there are many opportunities for advancement within the field. If you start as an entry-level pharmaceutical sales representative, you may have the opportunity for promotion to account executive or sales specialist with gained experience and possible certifications, depending on your employer. From there, pharmaceutical sales professionals may become territory managers, district managers, marketing managers, directors of sales, and more. 

Your career prospects may look a little different depending on whether you work in specialty pharmaceutical sales or general pharmaceutical sales that typically sell to primary care providers. However, both sales categories are seeing an increase in overall base salary as the profession grows, so choose the field that’s best for you and consider your prospects as you move up in your career. 

If you want to eventually move out of pharmaceutical sales and into a different area of sales, your experience is beneficial to you and your resume moving forward. 

Ready to give your sales career a boost?

If you’re ready to take your sales career to the next level, consider enrolling in an online certificate course today. Fully online, these courses look great on resumes and can help you have a competitive edge when applying for pharmaceutical sales rep positions. 

Sales courses can help you learn critical and effective skills that you can use right away. Beginner courses like Sales Operations/Management Specialization expose you to introductory sales tactics to build upon while Effective Sales - An Overview, is a  more intermediate course designed for working professionals who want to improve their sales strategy. Both courses are offered on Coursera, along with additional courses designed to give you the tools to take your career in the direction you want. 

Article sources

1

MedReps.com. “2020 Pharmaceutical Sales Salary Report: 2020 MedReps Salary Survey, https://www.medreps.com/medical-sales-careers/2020-pharmaceutical-sales-salary-report.” Accessed July 19, 2022. 

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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