Learn How To Get Into Pharmaceutical Sales

Updated March 3, 2023

Working in pharmaceutical sales can be a rewarding and well-paid career. The pharmaceutical industry is growing rapidly as new drug discoveries are made and technology moves forward. If you're considering a health care career that combines medical knowledge with sales skills, the role of a pharmaceutical sales rep (PSR) could be suitable for you, but you must consider the steps to take.

In this article, we explore what the role of a pharmaceutical sales rep involves and the process you should follow to get a job in this field.

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What is a pharmaceutical sales rep?

Pharmaceutical sales representatives secure sales for their company's pharmaceutical products. Their job is to persuade medical professionals that the drugs, treatments and devices they offer are ideal for their patients' needs and superior to those offered by their competitors. Pharmaceutical companies regularly send their reps to meet with physicians to offer free product samples, deliver information about product use and answer any questions the doctor may have.

Pharmaceutical sales reps have a strong understanding of pharmacology, which is how medications can affect the human body and the disease or condition they are designed to treat. A rep must be able to answer any questions about the drug, including how it works, side effects and any interactions with other drugs. Because a rep needs to have such in-depth knowledge about the medications, they may specialize in a particular class of pharmaceuticals, such as cancer or cardiovascular drugs. A large pharmaceutical company can have a team of PSRs that covers all of their products.

PSRs could also have the following duties:

  • Scheduling and attending meetings within a geographical territory

  • Following up on leads and finding new clients

  • Networking during conferences and events

  • Providing continuing education sessions for health care professionals

  • Monitoring product use and prescription patterns

  • Investigating adverse events

  • Conducting surveys for reactions to novel pharmaceuticals

The job can be rewarding for those who enjoy constantly updating their knowledge and working in a field that can help people to improve their health. There are great opportunities for travel and the freedom of independent work.

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How to become a pharmaceutical sales representative

Here are the steps you can follow to begin a successful career as a pharmaceutical sales rep:

1. Earn your high school diploma or GED

You first need to earn your high school diploma or GED to become a pharmaceutical sales rep. This is a prerequisite for getting a college degree, which most pharmaceutical companies require. Try to focus on courses in chemistry, anatomy, biology and public speaking to prepare for this career.

Related: How To Calculate Your High School GPA the Way Colleges Do

2. Get a bachelor's degree

It's possible to get a job as a PSR without a college degree, but most employers seek candidates with at least a bachelor's degree. The degree you hold demonstrates to a pharmaceutical company you can understand new information, and you're committed enough to complete the program. You must be able to prove that you can understand the products you'll be representing and that you can communicate with physicians using the industry language.

Employers favor those individuals who have a solid background in science. Good choices for a bachelor's degree include pharmacology, chemistry, biology, medicine, mathematics and statistics. If possible, coursework in business training is a good idea for sales and negotiation skills.

3. Consider earning a graduate degree

Although not mandatory, employers may prefer applicants who hold a graduate degree. This is the ideal opportunity to earn a business qualification to pair with your scientific knowledge, making you a well-rounded employee. A good choice would be a Master of Business Administration or MBA.

Related: What Can You Do With an MBA? (Plus Tips and Steps)

4. Get certified

The National Association of Pharmaceutical Representatives offers voluntary certification as a Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative (CNPR). This certification is tailored to provide students with the specific skills and knowledge they need for a career as a pharmaceutical sales representative. You'll learn about the rules and regulations of selling pharmaceutical products and guidelines for providing drugs and medications. You will also gain an understanding of managed care so you can explain to doctors the payment process for prescriptions and sales techniques.

When you have graduated from the program and passed the examination, you will have access to an industry tool called the NAPRx® Career Center, which is a government website that pharmaceutical companies use to find new employees.

Read more: Pharmaceutical Sales Certifications: What You Need To Know

5. Network

Networking is a vital step in finding a job in pharmaceutical sales. Many companies look to fill vacancies without advertisements, meaning references are vital. You should attend meetings, conferences and events and talk to everyone you can. Always have a business card or resume available to hand to relevant people.

Many large cities have a Pharmaceutical Representative Association chapter that holds regular meetings. These meetings are an excellent opportunity to find out about the industry as a whole and specifically in your area. You can find out about news and current topics that you can use to build relationships with other professionals.

Pharmaceutical companies often provide their staff with a finder's fee if they refer a candidate who they hire. If you attend as many industry events as you can, you're likely to meet someone, such as a fellow sales rep or a district manager, who will refer you to their company. Companies often regard internal referrals with a higher priority than an application from a website.

If you're unable to find networking events, then talk to local doctors, pharmacies and hospitals for the contact details of the pharmaceutical reps that visit them. You may need to be persistent, but this is a skill that any good sales rep will need to succeed.

Related: 10 Conversation Starters for Networking and Relationship Building

6. Work on your skill set

Here are some important skills you should learn to be an effective PSR:


You need to use the tone of voice, volume and pace of speech to build a rapport with your client. Non-verbal communication skills are also important and you should aim to convey an open and trustworthy personality. Because networking is so important in this role, strong communication skills are highly valued.

Time management

With your own territory to cover, you must be able to effectively manage your time between meeting with existing clients and prospecting for new ones. You must be punctual and leave a good impression with busy medical professionals.


You need to be able to present your products to clients to persuade them to suggest them to patients. You could also be presenting to large numbers of people at conferences and events. You must be able to present information with clarity and professionalism.

Related: Soft Skills: Definition and Examples

7. Prepare your resume and cover letter

The pharmaceutical industry shows consistent growth and PSRs are in demand all over the country. This demand will probably increase as the population ages and new drugs and technologies enter the market. It is a competitive career to pursue, so you must spend time creating a resume and cover letter that outlines your skills and abilities to an employer and stands out from the others they receive.

Your resume should be accomplishment-driven and strategically aligned with the needs for the specific role you're applying for. Be sure to include industry-relevant keywords to enhance the effectiveness of your resume.

Image description

Shown are two examples of a resume.

On the left is a classic example:

  • Resume

  • Job Applicant

  • About Me

  • Experience

  • Skills

  • Languages

On the right is a modern take on a resume:

  • Begins with a headshot image in the top left

  • In left column:

    • About Me

    • Skills

    • Languages

  • Right column contains rows for "Experience"

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