How to Become a Medical Sales Rep (Even If You Have No Experience)

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Karyn Mullins
Karyn Mullins



Medical sales jobs will always be in high demand. Despite automation's emergence in nearly every aspect of business, medical sales remains a largely face-to-face industry. In addition, an aging population keeps the field relevant and important.

Become medical sales rep: Image shows a stethoscope

You're likely already aware of the high earning potential of medical sales. In fact, according to MedReps most recent research, average total compensation for medical sales reps is $149,544 -- with an average base of $92,698 and an average bonus of $63,318.


While it's true that medical sales is a highly competitive field and the workload is demanding, if you're up to the challenge, it's possible to begin building your career and making a name for yourself almost immediately.

It's important to understand, though, that unlike other fields, medical sales is a journey. After all, research from the 2018 MedReps salary report revealed compensation potential is directly linked to tenure in the field. This shows you must be willing to put in the time and work to have a profitable and rewarding experience.

Before embarking down this career path, get to know the industry and figure out how it fits into your own specific career needs.

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    Here's what you need to do to break into medical sales:

    1. Choose a specialization.

    Finding the right fit begins with exploring your personal and professional interests. Above all, you must be certain you have a real passion for the field. Medical sales is highly rewarding but it requires a solid commitment. If you're not truly passionate about the industry, you risk becoming overly stressed and frustrated.

    Medical sales encompasses a variety of concentrations, including:

    • Medical devices
    • Medical equipment
    • Pharmaceuticals
    • Biotechnology

    With such diverse options available, job seekers can find an aspect of medical sales that appeals to them and suits their skills.

    Most medical sales jobs are actually transactional, but some involve consultation. In most cases, you'll be meeting with health care professionals to discuss your products' benefits.

    Some medical sales positions (such as medical coding sales) also incorporate skills like billing and marketing. Meanwhile, medical sales recruiters are focused on sourcing and placing the best and brightest professionals in the field.

    Before applying to any medical sales job, use job search resources such as the MedReps blog to find news and advice specific to the industry. The website also features job postings for both entry-level and experienced medical sales reps.

    It's important, however, not to be overly swayed by potential earnings.

    For example, while the 2018 MedReps salary report revealed medical sales reps promoting health IT/software are the top earners -- making an average of $167,554 in total compensation -- if you're not passionate about emerging technology and stand-out customer service, it's unlikely you'll find much success or satisfaction from this concentration.

    Make sure to get a full-picture view of the opportunities you consider.

    2. Gain field experience.

    Once you've discovered which medical sales niche you're most interested in, it's time to earn some experience.

    You've already spent a great deal of time and money earning degrees and certifications -- and those will certainly help. Still, most recruiters place a high value on work experience. This means you should explore opportunities where you can gain experience in the field immediately. These include:

    • Internships with medical sales companies
    • Job shadowing with an established medical sales rep
    • Volunteering at a hospital or doctor's office

    You can also gain experience by taking an entry-level job in a medical-related or sales field, such as doing marketing for a medical office, customer service in a hospital, or even vending sales in a hospital setting.

    Most medical sales jobs do not require specific certifications. Since these positions rely heavily on transferable skills, most positions require job seekers have an undergraduate degree, but not in a certain concentration.

    Instead, recruiters seek ambitious, dedicated candidates. Some of the necessary skills include:

    • Passion for sales and marketing
    • Excellent interpersonal communication
    • Positive attitude and strong work ethic
    • Close attention to detail
    • Organization
    • Compassion
    • Flexibility
    • Desire to help people and have a meaningful impact in their lives

    Technical skills in demand for medical sales jobs include:

    • Familiarity with Microsoft Office
    • Technical writing
    • Familiarity with project management tools (Basecamp, Trello, Harvest)
    • Social media experience
    • Big data analysis

    How you present your skills to employers is also important. Virginia Franco, the founder of Virginia Franco Resumes, recommends using compelling phrases that explain how your experience makes you the best candidate to assist in the company's growth.

    "Add specific examples of your success to show interviewers why you should be their top choice," says Franco.

    Franco suggests, for instance, rather than leading with "I am a medical sales professional with more than 13 years of experience," you should write something along the lines of, "Drawing on my more than 13 years of experience, I successfully boosted company earnings by 30%."

    3. Enroll in online or in-person training.

    Once you've determined your strong points and have a handle on the requisite skills, begin training.

    Medical sales employers will expect you to quickly learn the company's processes and procedures. You must prove that you're willing and able to commit to training, so you're ready to sell in your first week.

    Signing up for a medical sales training program on your own can give you a head start.

    For instance, MedReps partners with Scott Moldenhauer, president of Persuasion Consultants, LLC -- a medical sales training and consulting firm focused on helping job seekers in the medical and pharma sales industry. Other training opportunities are available online through sites such as Medical Sales College and Sales Momentum.

    Regardless of the program you choose, you must be well-versed in the current trends and best practices of the industry. That includes industry-specific lingo.

    Every industry has certain acronyms and terminology. Getting caught off guard in an interview by not knowing industry terms is not only embarrassing but also potentially damaging to your chances of getting an offer.

    The medical sales industry uses many acronyms. For instance, when a professional uses the term ‘ANSI,' they are referring to the American National Standards Institute. DHR means Device History Record. There are many more of these shortcuts to learn.

    Get started by Googling industry jargon in your chosen concentration, asking existing medical sales professionals for tips, and taking detailed notes. In your application materials, try to use industry-specific keywords to show you've done your homework. (Just make sure you're using them correctly!)

    Lastly, learn and stay on top of emerging trends in technology central to medical sales, such as:

    • Wearable tech
    • Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics
    • 3D printing and desktop manufacturing

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      4. Network and build relationships.

      Professional networking is important in any field, but in medical sales, it's essential. While the industry gets larger every day, you'll likely encounter the same people as you progress in your career. That's why you need to be able to show you're able to build and maintain lasting professional relationships.

      Having industry contacts will also greatly improve your job placement chances. Recruiters want to know there are other people who trust and believe in you -- personally and professionally. Mastering the art of networking sets you apart from other job seekers and shows that you're focused on more than just earning the necessary credentials.

      Even if you don't currently have connections, you should be able to prove you're a people person. This means getting recommendations and character references from a variety of people, including:

      • University professors
      • Former employers
      • Professional contacts
      • People you've done business with
      • Landlords

      LinkedIn allows users to collect recommendations and references from anyone within their network. It's wise to join networking groups as well -- both in person and online.

      5. Grow your online presence.

      Today's medical sales recruiter seeks a "total picture" view of candidates. They're increasingly turning online to learn more about job seekers, including their interests and hobbies, personal and professional background, and more.

      In fact, MedReps' survey What Medical Sales Recruiters Look for in the Digital Age found 76% of recruiters go online before deciding whether to reach out. It's important to have a strong online presence.

      Creating and maintaining a personal website and portfolio is a great way to get recruiters' attention. In addition, posting relevant and insightful information to social media shows you're connected to current and emerging trends.

      By showcasing your talent and knowledge and building an audience around your posts, you also demonstrate that others are interested in your content enough to like, follow, and share it.

      If you're interested in becoming a pharmaceutical sales rep, here are the steps that are specific to this role.

      1. Earn a bachelor's degree.

      Required education will vary by employer, but to become a pharmaceutical sales rep, you'll likely need a bachelor's degree. According to MedReps 2018 Pharmaceutical Sales Salary Report, 98% of the reps surveyed have a four-year college degree or higher.

      Here are some of the degrees a pharma rep can earn:

      • Pharmaceutical business
      • Pharmacology
      • Business and marketing

      2. Enroll in a training program.

      Before you start with any training program, determine how you learn best. For example, if you're a hands-on learner, spending hours online or in a classroom simply reading information won't help you fully grasp the concepts. On the other hand, if you prefer to learn through study guides and checklists, "learn by doing" programs aren't the best fit.

      You'll also need to decide what kind of learning is best suited to your schedule and lifestyle. Online programs offer flexibility, however, on-site programs allow you to ask the instructor and classmates questions and receive immediate answers, rather than having to wait days for email responses.

      The in-person nature of on-site learning also presents valuable networking opportunities. You'll be able to make contacts and begin building a professional network that can help you find and secure pharmaceutical sales jobs while continuing your development.

      Once you're in a pharmaceutical sales role, as with any medical sales position, you'll want to stay on top of industry information and continue to expand your sales knowledge. Employers often provide on-the-job training, and likely have recommendations for continuing your education.

      3. Get licensed or certified.

      Certifications might not be required by all employers, but they can help with career advancement and improve your industry and sales knowledge. The National Association of Pharmaceutical Sales Reps offers training courses and a certification to become a Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative (CNPR).

      Before a pharmaceutical sales rep can begin, employers often want them to have an understanding of pharmacology, selling, and medical terminology -- and the CNPR Certification program teaches this information. And when you're ready, you'll take the CNPR Examination. It's a two-hour exam that requires a minimum score of 80% to pass.

      Completion of the program helps current pharma sales reps stay up-to-date on the industry and selling techniques. And it gives individuals who'd like to break into pharmaceutical sales an introduction to sales, pharmacology, and industry guidelines and standards.

      Medical sales is a thriving and exciting industry. And owing to continual progress in medical technology and a growing population's increased demand for healthcare products, there is great job security in the field and a promising future for anyone with the passion and drive for medical sales success.

      If you're trying to determine which sales role is right for you, check out these common sales job types next.

      22 Free Job Seeking Templates

      Download this bundle of 22 expertly-crafted templates for cover letters, resignation notices, and resumes.

      • Resignation Letter Templates
      • Cover Letter Templates
      • Resume Templates
      Learn more

        Download Free

        All fields are required.

        You're all set!

        Click this link to access this resource at any time.


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