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Sales Rep Job – How to start the Hunt?

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“In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: They must be fit for it: they must not do too much of it: and they must have a sense of success in it.”

W. H. Auden

After making the decision that Medical Sales is the career of choice, the next step is to develop a strategy to secure that first position. Relative to the total job population, there are not many medical sales positions available and they are not always easy to track down. Knowing where to find out about medical companies and various job openings is crucial to future employment in this field. The following resources can help identify job opportunities as you begin the networking process needed to get your foot in the door.

Where Do I Start?
  • Hospital Purchasing Departments

  • Salespeople and Managers

  • Corporate Recruiters

  • Newspapers

  • Medical School Libraries

  • On-Line Services

  • Headhunters

The best place to start finding out about potential sales openings is with the customer. Every hospital, for example, has either a purchasing or materials management department that interfaces daily with hundreds of companies. The department will have a manager and possibly several purchasing agents who specialize in buying specific categories of products. These individuals are usually some of the first to know about sales openings. Additionally, they can provide the names of district sales managers and general information about companies you may have an interest in. Purchasing departments also will have product catalogs from all of the companies selling products to the hospital.

These catalogs can provide great insight into the company's products, vision, and image. Make a trip to the hospital and browse through some of these catalogs.

Since purchasing personnel work with medical companies every day, they can often provide you with the most accurate appraisal of a company's strengths and weaknesses. If you really like this field, call a purchasing manager (or a physician's office manager) and ask for information on vacant sales territories and for suggestions on which companies they would go to work for if they wanted to go into sales. Even if you do not find an immediate opening, you will get great insight into which companies might be the best for you. Also, if you do get a job in the area, you have already made a good impression on a potential customer by demonstrating thoroughness in your own decision making.


After you have made the purchasing contact and decided on a few companies, go ahead and call the sales manager for the local territory. Explain who you are, why you are calling, and question if their company has any vacant territories. Medical sales reps do have a "sales fraternity" and usually know of openings in other companies even if there are no immediate openings in their own. By beginning a network process with both current reps and their customers, you will quickly find available positions.

View current sales reps and managers as your customer. They ARE! A manager who has five to ten reps may not have an immediate opening where you are located but they may soon, and they also may have positions open in nearby territories that would be available to you if you are willing to relocate. Keep in mind that companies often pay recruiting firms several thousand dollars for a candidate, and if you have taken the initiative to find the opening, you could save the company that fee. If they do not have an opening, make sure to at least forward a resume and ask what qualifications they require when they are in the recruiting mode. Also, being recommended to an employer by someone already in the business goes a long way.


Some very large companies have their own corporate recruiters, whose sole function is to recruit talented salespeople. If you have a strong desire to work for a company with name recognition, find out if they have recruiters. You can do this by calling one of the company's reps or by calling the company directly.

Corporate recruiters do not ordinarily do any direct hiring. They will complete one or two rounds of interviews for the purpose of sending only the most qualified candidates to the sales manager who is actually filling a position. A corporate recruiter is much different from an independent recruiter or headhunter. The corporate recruiter is searching for the best candidate, and a headhunter is trying to sell a company on the idea that they have already found the best person for the job. Headhunters will be covered later, but for now just remember that in this industry the average annual turnover is approximately 20 percent, and paying a recruiting fee to fill each open position is not something companies want to do.

Keep in mind also that even though a company may not have a full-time recruiter, it may still offer some incentive to its sales employees to recruit new reps. It is much less expensive for a company to give some stock or small cash payment to its own employees than to hire an outside employment agency. Companies that do reward their reps with recruitment incentives have virtually as many corporate recruiters as they do employees. Find out who they are and get to know them.

A few companies have newsletters that highlight key product introductions and list territory openings; other market segments have professional sales journals. One such journal is the Pharmaceutical Representative published by McKnight Medical Communications. These journals cannot be purchased in a retail setting or found in a library, so be sure to ask reps that you have contacted to send past issues to you or call and subscribe. The more contacts you make, the better your chances of finding a position.


Nearly every metropolitan newspaper will advertise some type of medical sales job every weekend. Most positions advertised in the paper are pharmaceutical sales openings, and because most of these positions are entry-level positions, there will be a lot of competition involved. Unbelievably, a pharmaceutical position advertised in a major U.S. city can draw as many as 2,000 resumes! From those 2,000 a company might interview only forty-five to fifty candidates. Recognizing that your chances of just getting an interview are less than 3 percent, your qualifications must be exactly what the company is looking for, and they must be presented in a unique way that would generate interest.

Newspapers offer an easy way of identifying job openings, but many people competing with you for the job have easily discovered the same position. Also, because the advertisement may only give a RO. box for the return address, finding out who the company is and the name of the person doing the hiring might be impossible through the newspaper alone. That is when the three methods of identifying job opportunities just described can help improve your chances of being one of the fifty asked to come in for the interview. Companies are always impressed with individuals who have worked very hard to find out about the company and the position. Newspapers are a great source of information, but they are only a starting point.


Every medical school in the country has an on-site medical library. Although most of the periodicals and journals are written specifically for physicians, medical students, and nurses, some of them are also written for paramedical professionals such as materials managers, purchasing agents, and supply technicians. Publications such as Hospital Purchasing News or Modern Healthcare will include information on companies and products, new GPO contracts, and management changes in medical product companies.

Even journals written specifically for the health care practitioner often include company advertisements and specific product information. You probably won't find sales openings listed, but you will improve your understanding of the market and develop a better idea of which companies you really want to pursue. There are also specific journals that discuss the business aspect of health care. Reading these can help you develop a better overall understanding of the market and give you an edge over those you are competing with for a sales position.

If you cannot find a medical school library, most hospitals have their own libraries that you may be able to access. These are much smaller versions of the medical school library, but they do contain most of the popular health care management journals. If all else fails, the local public library will be able to provide basic financial information on medical supply companies.


Services such as CompuServe and America Online provide a wealth of career placement information that can help with your resume writing and job search. George Washington University, for instance, has a site known as "The Job Search Process," which covers everything from business letter writing to professional networking. Additionally, financial information on companies you are interested in can be retrieved from areas such as Hoover's or Morningstar. Annual reports, historical stock performance, and broker analyses also can be obtained.

The Internet, too, can provide job placement services. By requesting a search of "Medical Sales" or "Sales Recruiting" from your web browser, you will be able to identify websites that will include sales placement firms specializing in the medical field as well as medical companies that actually post sales positions on-line. Companies such as Medtronic ( for example, will list available sales positions on their home page in an effort to reduce their sales recruiting expenses.

The Internet will become more important to medical companies in the future as they realize that it is an easy way for customers to access critical information they need in their decision-making process. The government is already a big user of the Internet and provides career guidance through such services as the Occupational Profiles Database. This database even provides a list of State Employment Security Agencies and State Occupational Information Coordinating Committees, which can provide you with information on state and local job markets and additional career information.


Headhunters are independent recruiters who serve employers in an effort to find the most qualified candidate for an open sales position. They are contracted to perform a search and do not work directly for the company doing the hiring. In this field, medical recruiters are always paid by the employer. If you want to get into this field and a recruiter indicates that you must pay in order for the search to begin, find another recruiter. Do not pay someone to begin a job search for you. Medical companies may pay $5,000 or more to a headhunter for a recruit, and it is not necessary for you to pay any extra.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind if you are considering working with a recruiter. First, recognize that unless they have a long-term relationship with specific companies, headhunters find out about job openings in the same way that you do (i.e., the six methods of finding job opportunities just described). Granted, they probably have established contacts for doing their research, but if you can find out about the same opportunities on your own, you have an advantage over a candidate that they might send to an interviewing company. If your qualifications are similar to the candidate that they send, you win because there is no recruiting price tag associated with your hiring. That should be a great incentive to network with others already in the field.

On the positive side, if the recruiter has an established record of success in recruiting for a specific company, the company may never advertise the opening in any other way than through the recruiter. In these instances, headhunters become the sole gatekeepers of who gets interviewed. Recruiters do perform a valuable service, and the expense is often worth it because they can reduce the amount of downtime in a territory without any representation by constantly having a supply of candidates available. The recruiter also can eliminate the high cost associated with a sales manager's travel to an area in search of a candidate. It is often much easier for a manager to interview five candidates who have been screened by a recruiter than it is to sift through hundreds of resumes and applications that have been received as a result of a newspaper ad.

Medical sales recruiters are not always easy to find because they do not typically advertise in traditional mediums. As a matter of fact, many of them do not advertise at all because their job is to locate and recruit talent, not wait for it to come to them. However, you can find recruiters by asking other reps if they were placed in their jobs by one. Also, some of them do advertise their services on the Internet and in professional journals.

Most recruiters in this field are sole proprietors or partner-managed businesses, and they normally recruit for the entire country. Even though you may live on the East Coast, it is very possible that a recruiter on the West Coast could provide you with the best opportunities in your area. Your only contact with the recruiter may be over the telephone, so always be prepared to show your energy, organization, and communication skills when he or she calls.

If you approach a professional recruiter, be prepared to go through an interview process similar to what you would go through with an employer. The recruiter's reputation is based on the quality of the candidate he or she sends to an interview, and that recruiter will want to make sure that you have the necessary qualifications and interview skills. Expect also to provide written documentation of your achievements as well as complete personality profile testing by the recruiter. In essence, treat the recruiter just like you would a potential employer since you are asking him or her to become your number one salesperson. A recruiter's livelihood is based on his or her ability to sell talent to an employer.


Landing a position in medical sales requires probing, patience, and persistence, the same attributes necessary for success once you begin the job. No single method exists for getting into this industry, but those who succeed utilize a combination of all the resources highlighted in this chapter. Individuals have worked as long as five years in order to get started, but using all of the resources from hospital purchasing departments to headhunters will decrease the amount of time it takes for you to find the job you want. Rest assured that if you can get the job, you can do the job.
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