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

Written by Coursera Staff • 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.

Pharmaceutical sales jobs can be exciting for someone who enjoys talking to people, traveling to different locations, and keeping a flexible schedule. This role is a type of sales job that markets and sells pharmaceutical drugs and devices to individuals and companies.

Sales jobs are often based on commission, and pharmaceutical sales is no different. Usually, there is a base salary plus commission and bonuses, though the salary can vary depending on your years of experience, certification level, and location. Pharmaceutical sales jobs can be lucrative with enough training and experience—and a strong dose of tenacity on your part. If this sounds like a potential career path, you can build the key skills needed to become a pharmaceutical sales representative.

This guide will provide information on salary, resume tips, and skills to support your career in pharmaceutical sales.

What is a pharmaceutical sales representative?

A pharmaceutical sales representative is someone who markets and sells pharmaceutical medications and devices to medical providers. They educate providers on medications and sell medications to doctors and nurses. The job combines sales skills with specialized medical knowledge.

As a sales rep, you'll work for pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and sell certain medications. You might choose to specialize in an area of pharmaceuticals, like cardiovascular medications or dermatology treatments. The role often involves traveling to different health care providers within a certain region. Most sales reps in the pharmaceutical industry work independently and set their own hours based on the schedule of the customers.

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

Pharmaceutical sales job responsibilities

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

But not every day is spent driving 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. 

Tasks and responsibilities include: 

  • Generate new sales leads and follow up on potential leads

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

  • Attend sales meetings and conferences

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

  • Educate medical providers (and junior sales reps) 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, based on personal research of 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?

The types of pharmaceuticals a sales rep sells fall into the categories of general pharmaceutical products and specialty pharmaceutical products, like vaccines or opioids. Typically, specialty pharmaceuticals (such as cancer treatments) are sold by specialty pharmaceutical sales reps, which may require additional training. What you sell will depend on the company you work for.

Who do they sell to?

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, one survey found that two-thirds reported physicians’ offices as their primary market. Only 9 percent reported selling to hospitals—but they tended to make as much as $13k more in base salary [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. 

Salary and job outlook

Salaries for pharmaceutical sales jobs can vary depending on your experience level, education and training, and location. Because sales reps get a base salary and typically work off of commission and bonuses, the total salary can also vary depending on your own performance as a sales representative.

According to Glassdoor, a pharmaceutical sales representative makes an average base salary of $80,407, averages $36,464 in additional pay, and $116,871 in total pay [2]. MedReps reports an even higher range of $109,250 average base salary, $41,967 bonus and commissions, and $151,217 for total compensation [1].

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 9.1 percent increase in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing sales roles between 2021 and 2031 [3]. 

These projections are also in line with the growing salary and average compensation for sales reps in the pharmaceutical industry. MedReps reports a 6 percent rise in average total compensation from 2021 to 2022 and an average total compensation increase of over $17,500 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. 

Pharmaceutical sales job titles and salaries

Pharmaceutical sales jobs might be listed under different job titles if you're searching job postings. Scouring these job descriptions can be helpful for understanding the specific skill set needed, especially if you're planning to specialize in one area of medicine.

Here are examples of some other pharmaceutical sales job titles you might find and average base salaries:

  • Medical sales representative: $75,348[4]

  • Dermatology sales specialist: $87,290 [5]

  • Medical software sales representative: $86,228 [6]

  • Pharmaceutical sales manager: $91,224 [7]

Education requirements

The educational requirements for pharmaceutical sales jobs will vary among employers. Most employers require at least a high school diploma or GED. Many employers will prefer a bachelor’s degree, though it doesn't tend to be a requirement. On-the-job training tends to be part of the onboarding process to become trained as a sales rep.

Bachelor's degree

It’s a good idea to get your bachelor’s degree if you plan on a career in pharmaceutical sales. 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 for 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. 

The pharmaceutical sales industry can be highly competitive. 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.

Skills needed in pharmaceutical sales

Your personality and determination are important to your success as a sales representative. Sales careers require tenacity and the ability to negotiate, persuade, and build relationships with the right people. You'll also need technical knowledge to explain what you're selling at a granular level, including communicating honestly the benefits, efficacy, and potential side effects of a drug.

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

A persuasive personality: You may be selling products that competitors are selling. What sets your product apart? Why is the medication or treatment you're selling better for a provider’s patients? Persuasion is key in encouraging medical providers to choose your product while answering any questions providers have. It’s critical to provide hard facts and statistics while also touching upon the provider’s desire to help patients.  

Customer service: Customer service is one of the building blocks of acquiring customers, retaining customers, and even upselling to customers. If you are attentive to their needs and use your intuition, your customer is more likely to work with you. Adding a personal touch and a proactive approach to selling can help you maintain strong working relationships.

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 or 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 properly build those relationships.

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 like they can trust your recommendation. An outgoing and energetic, but genuine, personality is often a bonus in this career.

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 effectively 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. 

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 experience and certifications, depending on your employer. From there, pharmaceutical sales professionals may become territory managers, district managers, marketing managers, sales directors, 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 job 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. 

Licenses and certifications

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 certification exams online. 

Many professionals in this occupation choose 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. 

Boost your sales career today

If you’re ready to take your sales career to the next level, consider enrolling in an online course today. A sales course such as Northwestern’s The Art of Sales: Mastering the Selling Process Specialization can help you understand how to stand out in the crowd, attract customers, and develop a competitive edge as a pharmaceutical sales rep.

Article sources


MedReps.com. “2020 Pharmaceutical Sales Salary Report: 2020 MedReps Salary Survey, https://www.medreps.com/medical-sales-careers/2020-pharmaceutical-sales-salary-report.” Accessed January 10, 2023.

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