The movie “Love and Other Drugs,” based on the true story of a Viagra salesman in the 1990s, made pharmaceutical sales jobs seem like an easy road to riches with a low bar of entry.
Those days are long gone. The field is much more competitive now, and companies look for pharmaceutical sales reps -- sometimes called managed-care liaisons -- with scientific backgrounds and experience at competing companies, according to Steven Y. Raz, managing partner of Cornerstone Search Group, a pharmaceutical and biotech recruiter based in Parsippany, New Jersey. “Companies are being pickier now because then can be, and more often they want pharma sales reps who have biology or medical backgrounds and can easily speak peer-to-peer with doctors,” Raz says.
The growing competition for pharmaceutical sales jobs makes interview preparation even more important. Experts recommend practicing typical interview questions and answers aloud with a friend, so you can stay on topic but also improvise when necessary.
QUESTION: What is your typical day like?
The unspoken questions: How do you work? Is your work style organized or improvised? Will you fit into our culture, or be a maverick? Will we have to worry about you? Are you likeable?
Response: Tell the truth, but don’t focus on minutiae. This is your chance to highlight traits that are helpful in pharma sales jobs, such as initiative, organization and the ability to follow through.
QUESTION: How competitive are you on a scale of one to 10?
The unspoken question: Do you have the drive it takes to build your margins?
Response: Everyone says they’re an eight or nine, according to Scott Brent, author of the book Tactical Aggressiveness (due out in July 2011), which features job interview tips for pharma sales reps and other professionals. “But you also need to explain why you are that kind of person,” he says. “Give some situations of how you’re competitive both on and off the job.”
QUESTION: Can you think of a time when you didn’t see eye-to-eye with a supervisor?
The unspoken question: Most obviously this question is about your ability to handle authority. But your interviewer also wants to see how tactfully you handle delicate situations and how you pick your battles, both important skills in pharmaceutical sales jobs.
Response: Describe a situation where you were correct, and the (polite) arguments you made to bring the boss to your side. Make sure the result was a win-win.
QUESTION: Are you a lucky person?
The unspoken question: Are you optimistic enough to succeed?
Response: No matter what you really believe, the answer they want is yes. And prepare to give examples. “Even if you’ve hit a stretch of bad luck, you must find the nuggets of gold in your life,” says Paul Bailo, author of The Essential Phone Interview Handbook. “Think about it. Would you hire a pessimistic, unlucky person for a pharmaceutical sales job?”
QUESTION: What have you done to increase your margins?
The unspoken question: Companies want to know in detail how you saved and made the company money. And they want to make sure the accomplishments on your resume are really yours alone and not your team’s.
Response: Be specific. You should come prepared with at least three examples of ways you personally contributed to increased pharmaceutical sales. Back up your points. Before the interview, write three specific situations in your current or previous jobs when you attained goals. Example: “I increased the sales of X with my three-part strategy of…”
QUESTION: Why should we hire you?
The unspoken question: Again, specifics are crucial. Don’t fall into the trap of being too vague or abstract in your answers.
Response: Show them, first, that you’ve researched the company and understand its needs. What are the sales figures for the company’s products? How do its drugs stack up against others in their class? Where is the company headed? Then, explain how your specialized knowledge, skills, network, commitment and enthusiasm will exactly meet those needs. Before the interview, list four to six categories of reasons that best support your candidacy along with supporting evidence for each.
Possibly the most important tip for is to close the interview effectively. “At the end of the interview, thank them, ask for the next step and reiterate why you want the job,” Bailo says. “And a follow-up thank-you note or email is necessary to remind them of your interest.”
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