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Owen Heyworth, Pharma Sales Talent Resourcer at Carrot Pharma Recruitment, defines what stand-out skills help candidates to move into the highly competitive pharmaceutical industry.

The pharmaceutical industry is an exciting, fast-paced and ever-changing world to work in. I talk to pharmaceutical sales professionals daily, from Graduate Sales Representatives promoting ‘me too’ drugs, to Senior Sales Directors working on specialist rare disease products, and have a sound understanding of how challenging, varied and truly fascinating a role in pharmaceutical sales can be.

Alongside the fantastic financial perks (big salaries, car allowances and additional incentives) professionals in the industry often promote life-changing products, something many representatives agree hugely motivates them to be the best that they can be.

“It will depend on the hiring manager as to whether they are open to someone with a great attitude and sales track record”

Perhaps because of how rewarding a career in this industry can be, it is also one of the most competitive to break into. Most hiring managers look for candidates with existing networks and therapy area experience when they hire for certain positions – a stumbling block for established sales professionals looking to transition into pharma. It will depend on the hiring manager as to whether they are open to someone with a great attitude and sales track record, who is ambitious to grow and develop into a pharma sales role, but who doesn’t have the network or therapy experience.

We have successfully placed candidates with varied sales backgrounds into pharma roles where the managers have been open-minded and value a different perspective and commercial acumen in their team.


Shadowing a pharmaceutical representative is an invaluable experience as it gives a real insight into the day-to-day tasks involved in the profession. A candidate sees first-hand the competencies they’ll need to demonstrate to make it as a pharma representative, giving them more to discuss once they make it to the interview stage.

Joining a pharma representative for the day also allows candidates to observe how to go about gaining access to different hospitals (a task which can seem quite daunting to those without this experience), as well as giving the opportunity to learn about the prescribing of medicines and how products need to be positioned before this can happen.

How do you go about shadowing a pharma representative? The simple answer – networking. To gain access to the industry it’s often about who you know. Perhaps a friend of a friend is already a pharma representative, or a family member can put you in touch with someone they know.

One candidate I spoke with recently took a novel approach to gaining their shadowing experience. They created an account on LinkedIn explaining they were looking to get into the industry and connected with several medical sales representatives in the local area, asking if it would be possible to accompany them for a day of shadowing. After several rejections they found someone willing to give them a chance – which gave them the experience they needed. Just because you don’t already have a network in place, there’s nothing stopping you growing your own.

Gaining experience in this way speaks volumes about the individual’s passion and drive to secure a role in the industry and will be an excellent way of demonstrating your commitment to a potential employer. Shadowing a representative could also help you in securing your first role – they may put in a good word for you with their company or could write you a glowing reference which would help to strengthen your application.

The ABPI exam

The other thing that really makes a candidate’s profile shine is if they’ve self-funded themselves through the ABPI exam. This is a qualification from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, which everyone who sells in the industry is required to complete within two years of working within pharma sales.

The qualification costs around £1000 and there are two Level 3 options to take; the Certificate or the Diploma. The qualification involves modules about the NHS and code of practice, human body structure and function and the development and use of medicines.

Of course, it is costly to complete and most companies will sponsor you through it when you start, but as it’s such a competitive industry to break into, assuring your new manager that you’re dedicated enough to invest in the qualification and capable enough to pass it will really set you apart from the other entry level competition.

Previous sales experience

It is highly desirable for a candidate to have experience in a sales role, so they can show that they thrive in a target driven environment, they can deal with setbacks and be creative around rejections, and can tailor their pitch to a variety of audiences.

If you’re struggling to break into the industry you could try working in sales in a different industry for a year or so to gain this valuable experience.

The interview

Once you’ve secured an interview, be sure to complete as much research on the NHS and the product you’ll be promoting as possible. Completing a shadowing diary will also be highly beneficial. If you work with a recruiter, they’ll be able to guide you through the process, advising on practice competency questions, presentations and role plays.

This article was first published on Pharmafield on 16th Sept 2019. Go to

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