Case History #2 - Newspaper Ads and Brain Picking
Although Janice Johnson* took a circuitous route from nursing to
pharmaceutical sales 15 years ago, every step of her professional
journey made her more qualified to work in the pharmaceutical
Johnson, a veteran sales representative at one of the country's top ten
pharmaceutical companies, says that her healthcare background alone
wasn't enough to give her an edge over the competition, but her clinical
experience combined with her sales and marketing knowledge won her the job.
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Johnson, who has a bachelor's of science in nursing, started her career
as an ob/gyn nurse working in hospitals and county clinics. After five
years in patient care, Johnson switched gears and went to work as the
manager of a nursing personnel agency.
Johnson's favorite aspect of the agency job was marketing, prompting
her to change her professional direction. Soon thereafter, Johnson
leveraged her clinical experience and went to work for a company that
sold ob/gyn equipment to doctors. One year later, she "decided to take
the big leap to pharmaceutical sales."
Johnson responded to newspaper ads and garnered several
pharmaceutical sales interviews. To prepare for the interviews,
she picked the brains of pharmaceutical sales representatives she
knew from her hospital and clinic days, inquiring about the industry
and what kinds of interview questions she should expect.
Johnson spent hours at the library researching the product lines,
management structures, and leadership styles of her target companies,
and she even reviewed the companies' annual reports and their stock
Johnson focused her search on the top 20 largest pharmaceutical
companies, and recommends that other nurses do the same. "The biggest companies tend to be the most stable and lucrative, and seem
to have the most room for growth," she says.
"They are also more professional and tend to treat their employees
much better." Pharmaceutical companies only hire candidates who
have at least a bachelor's degree for sales rep positions, and generally
don't make exceptions for experienced RNs with associate degrees,
Johnson's job hunt was successful because of her combination of
healthcare experience and sales savvy, she says. "I think I got the job
because of my familiarity with the region and with some of the
physicians I would be calling on," says Johnson, who has worked for
the same company her entire pharmaceutical career.
"I had also kept my credentials current, which gave me credibility,"
she says. Additionally, Johnson had independently completed the Dale
Carnegie sales course, which showed her commitment to mastering
sales techniques, she says.
Johnson surmises that pharmaceutical companies' hiring processes may
be even more rigorous now than 15 years ago. However, the basic
characteristics Johnson tried to display during her interviews - ambition, enthusiasm, assertiveness, professionalism, and the desire
to make a profit for the company - will still impress potential
employers, she says. "Nurses who are interviewing with
pharmaceutical companies have to realize that this is a business.
You're stepping away from the bedside and selling products. If the
products don't sell and you don't increase profitability, you won't
succeed. You have to show you recognize this aspect of the job,"
Nurses aren't shoo-ins for pharmaceutical sales positions, Johnson
reiterates, but they certainly have what it takes to succeed if given the
"Our knowledge of anatomy, physiology, and chemistry definitely help
in the job," she says. "And I also think doctors take us more seriously
because of our backgrounds."
*not her real name