How to get pharma sales experience in and get ahead

Getting into pharma sales is about more than good grades: it’s about showing that it’s really where you want to be through real-life experience.

Whether you shadow a representative for a few days or take on a summer internship, when it comes to pharma sales and marketing, having some real-life experience shows you mean business.

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It also makes you more likely to secure a job interview when the time comes, says Hannah Skillen, Pharma Sales Recruitment Consultant at Carrot Pharma.

“Getting some work experience allows candidates to fully understand what ‘a day in the life of a pharma representative entails,” she says.

More than 80% of candidates with one to three years of industry experience on Carrots’ books right now have some shadowing on their CV.

“Candidates who have shadowed a representative are able to tailor their interview responses more effectively to show the relevant qualities and skill set because they have seen what the job involves first hand,” says Hannah, adding that approaching a representative directly tends to be the best way to get work experience. It means that simply securing the chance in the first place shows you have the right mettle.

Tom Herrington, Graduate Recruitment Consultant at CHASE, explains: “Speaking to a medical sales representative and shadowing them for a day demonstrates your ability to network and shows a strong commitment to the role.”

Make the right impression

Work experience is the perfect opportunity to make an impression and build contacts. A ‘shadowing diary’, which details the key takeaways from the placement, will also impress future prospective employers.

It’s not just about getting that first interview, it’s also about setting yourself up for the future, says Steven Brewerton, Marketing Manager at Pharmacosmos.

“Work experience is important, and getting global experience is even better. Those are the people who fast track themselves into GM or senior global roles quickly,” he says. “It doesn’t mean those roles are unachievable for other people, but when families come along it makes it a lot harder. That early experience is really important.”

The graduate

The right next step after university for many is one if the industry’s graduate schemes, such as those run by Pzifer and GSK.

GSK’s Future Leaders Programme has been running since 1979 and many alumni have gone on to senior level positions in the company. The most notable is former CEO Sir Andrew Witty.

The Pfizer Future Leadership Graduate Programme was first launched as a three-year pilot scheme but has now been extended for another year.

These companies are far from the only ones offering opportunities of this kind, as now more than ever, the sector understands the importance of young talent.

Karl Treacy, Head of Recruitment & Academic Liaison, Pfizer, says: “The industry we operate in is evolving at a faster pace than we have previously experienced, and to future proof our business, we recognise the need to have a strong pipeline of talent.”

GSK echoed these sentiments, saying it wanted to “inspire young people’s dedication to human health”.

“To keep getting innovative medicines to the patients who need them, we have the responsibility to inspire, educate, recruit and develop the next generation of talent who will deliver the ground-breaking ideas of the future,” adds Karl.

Beat the competition

Competition for such schemes is fierce, meaning that having that work experience, and the right attitude, could just give you the edge.

Kate O’Neill, Graduate Business Lead at CHASE, said: “One of the main attributes sought is passion – pharma is an in-demand industry, so understanding the role you are applying for and demonstrating the right attitude and work ethic is essential.”


What is the GSK Future Leaders Programme?

This two- to three-year scheme offers graduates experience across the UK business. Rotations are across sales, marketing and either communications, government affairs and supply and distribution.

What are they looking for?

  • The ability to look outside of the pharmaceutical industry, to understand and translate how advances in marketing and technology can be applied in a highly regulated industry
  • The ability to take a more scientific approach to marketing – using lean methodology to test hypotheses and critically analyse data to drive better marketing decisions.
  • The ability to inspire and take others on a journey moving away from ‘traditional’ pharma marketing to a faster paced, more agile and consumer-focused approach.

What is the Pfizer Future Leadership Graduate Programme?

The two-year programme consists of 12 months developing marketing skills within a specific business followed by 12 months in the field.

Pfizer’s advice to the pharma representatives of the future

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions, not only to broaden your own understanding but to challenge the way things are done
  • Be flexible – the job can change on a daily basis so be comfortable with the unknown
  • Use your network of other graduates, your team, mentors, programme leads. We all have different experiences and perspectives so don’t be afraid to make the most of us and each other
  • Make the most of every opportunity that comes your way
  • Enjoy it!

This article was originally published in Pharmafield.