For some, the answer to this questions is: as soon as possible. If an opportunity arises to get into medical device sales, go for it, right?
Not necessarily. While your goal may be to break into medical device sales, your overarching goal is a successful, rewarding career. To protect your career, you need to make good career choices based on your long-term goals. The biggest mistake you can make is jumping from job to job. Job hopping can seriously damage your career.
In general, I think it is a good idea to stick with any job for a minimum of three years. Four or five years may be even better. In sales, the first year is often a partial year where a new rep is undergoing training, building the pipeline in their assigned a territory, and ramping up their quota production. It is only in the second full year that the rep is fully responsible for meeting an annual quota, and has the results and rankings to show for it. Even this is a learning year, so if you are successful the first full year, my suggestion is to repeat it and improve upon it in the second full year. This way, you will have at least two full years of performance results for your resume. You could also set a performance-based goal to make President’s Club (or two) before seeking a new job.
One of the things I do as a recruiter is carefully review candidates’ resumes for job changes and performance results. If someone leaves a job before they’ve been able to demonstrate a clear track record of success, it leaves me with a lot of questions. One of the often repeated rules of interviewing is that past performance is the best predictor of future performance. If you cut short your track record by changing jobs too soon, you cannot turn back the clock and remedy this later. Not only this, you may be missing out on an opportunity to solidify your learning and make real advances in your selling skills.
Hold yourself accountable for making good career decisions at every step in your career. It is your career after all. If you have established a clear track record of success, decide what you want in a job and an employer before you start interviewing. Create a profile of your ideal job by defining what is important to you: company culture and values, your specific areas of interest, target compensation, training, etc. This is a technique suggested by Cheryl Richardson. If your priorities are grounded in reality through industry research, your ideal job profile will be much more useful to you.
A realistic, ideal job profile for someone who is taking their first step into medical sales might read something like this:
1. Selling into hospitals (rather than office-based sales), O.R. experience if possible
2. Total compensation potential in the range of $100k
3. Strong product training
4. Hands-on manager who provide support and guidance as needed
If you do this upfront, you are less likely to jump at the first thing that comes along and more likely to make a good decision that aligns with your priorities. Your career decisions need to be deliberate, well thought out and further your career goals – rather than just making more money, or getting a higher base salary.
In reality, you may encounter layoffs or restructurings that impact your career. These things are beyond your control. If you have made good career choices along the way, and have controlled what you can control, situations like these will hopefully be minor detours rather than major career derailers. If however you’ve changed jobs several times in a short period of time and then are hit with a layoff, this can lead to a downward spiral from which is difficult to recover from.
There is also the opposite end of the spectrum, which is waiting too long to break into medical sales. Maybe you are very successful, and have established a comfortable niche with your present employer. Waiting too long to pursue medical sales can create other questions in potential employers’ minds: does this person really have a strong desire to break into the industry? Is this person who is driven to constantly improve? Is this a person who seeks out challenges and growth in their career?
How long is too long? A friend of mine who has been very successful in business and life suggested to me once that the true meaning of the seven-year itch is this: that after seven-years, it is time to reinvent yourself. If change is the only constant, you need to constantly challenge yourself to learn and grow so that you are ready for change.
Once you get to about the seven year mark with an employer, or in an industry, you are getting into the zone where transitioning to a new industry and company may become more difficult. Part of it may be because of compensation; with seven or so years of experience, you are approaching an expert level in that industry. You won’t have that same level of expertise in a new job and industry, and therefore you might have to sacrifice income in the short term while you build up your knowledge in a new industry.
“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” ~ Beverly Sills
Getting the desired results in your career starts with getting results in sales. Moving into the ranks of medical device sales will be determined heavily by the results you are able to achieve and document in your sales career.
I have had the pleasure of interviewing some tremendously talented sales people in the past seven years. The best reps hold themselves accountable for their activity and their results. They know their numbers backwards and forwards, including their closing ratios. They know what they need to do each day, week and month in order close enough business to achieve their goals. If they have to choose between happy hour and making one more call they know they need to make in order to execute their plan, they will make that call.
Here are some winning ideas I’ve heard from successful reps over the years:
“I see my quota only as a minimum level of acceptable achievement.”
“My personal goals are higher than the ones the company sets for me.”
“I determine what I want to make for the year, then I work backwards to figure out how much I have to sell each quarter, month and week in order to achieve it.”
Because activity is so important to producing results, some companies have shifted their focus to measuring activity over sales dollars. If the activity is there, the results typically follow. There are some who see this as micromanaging; that may be because they are not managing themselves. If you hold yourself accountable for finding ways to be efficient and effective each day in your activities, it may actually reduce stress and pressure when month end rolls around, as it inevitably does.
Clear, written, detailed goals are critical to achieving the results you want in work and life. Goals can be incredibly powerful in shaping your behavior. Once you set a goal and commit to it, you may be amazed at how creative and determined you become in order to achieve it. 30 years of research on goals shows they are powerful motivators for several reasons:
1. Goals cause you to direct your attention in a focused way.
2. Goals enhance persistence in achieving a task.
3. Goals lead you to devise strategies that will enable you to meet your goals.
Goals are so powerful, you may find yourself becoming a workaholic if you are not careful. The best way to prevent work from entirely taking over your life is to 1) set challenging but achievable professional goals and 2) set goals in all areas of your life, such as health and other personal areas of your life. If you do this, then you’ll have to ask yourself how you can achieve your professional goals while also achieving success in other areas of your life. Your goals will counterbalance one another. In the long run, this will help you avoid burn-out.
Once you master the art of setting and achieving short-term goals, make sure you take time to appreciate your success. This is less about indulging yourself than recognizing the progress you are making toward achieving your long-term goals. One rep I interviewed recently told me she saves evidence of her past success in a file so that she can refer to it when she is feeling discouraged in order to re-energize herself. Saving the documentation of your results, such as rankings, awards and quota performance, will also come in handy when it comes time to create a brag book for interviews.
Many people want to break into medical device sales because they believe it will be more gratifying to sell products that help people. They say they will feel more motivated as a result. Selling copiers or payroll does not seem as meaningful, I’ve often been told.
Let me tell you a dirty little secret – many of the medical device sales reps I’ve spoken to tell me that they really don’t have much time to think about the altruistic impact of the products they sell on a day-to-day basis. They are out there competing and working hard much like reps in any other industry. While benefiting the patient is an integral part of their work, it’s usually only when they take a step back that they consciously appreciate the bigger impact they may be having on the quality of healthcare.
Why do I make this point? Because on a day-to-day basis, you have to enjoy the process of selling. If you switch from selling copiers to pacemakers, you are still engaged in typical selling activities such as closing, prospecting, negotiating, etc. Simply switching they kinds of products you sell will not make you love sales or make you a more ethical, altruistic person for that matter.
There is honor in working hard every day and meeting your customers’ needs, whether you are selling medical devices or business products. You owe both yourself and your employer to make the best effort possible. You should carry out your responsibilities as a sales person with integrity, no matter what you are selling. This means staying positive and focused through the highs and lows of sales so that you can perform effectively and be an asset to your customers and your employer.
Don’t wait to be a great sales person until you break into medical device sales. Take responsibility for your performance now, regardless of the economy, regardless of the imperfections of your employer and your situation. Make the most of the opportunities before you and greater opportunities will come your way.
“The price of greatness is responsibility.” ~ Winston Churchill
This may be the most important career decision you ever make. Seriously.
Getting the right kind of sales experience as a foundation for your sales career is critically important. Every year Selling Power publishes a list of the best 50 companies to sell for. I have written previously about some of the top companies I recommend for getting initial sales experience, and many of these appear on this list. The question is: what do these companies have in common and why does it matter so much for your career development?
Here are the essentials you should be looking for in your first sales job: 1) a solid, formal training program 2) high activity level to give you many opportunities for learning 3) a strong manager or mentor who will offer you feedback and coaching and 4) accountability for results. Note: compensation doesn’t make the list. It is an important consideration, but getting the right kind of training and sales experience is even more important. The main purpose of your first sales position is to turn you into a sales animal.
A great first job in sales goes beyond great training, though a structured training program is invaluable. The key to getting great sales experience is having opportunities to apply the training in real life situations. The higher the level of sales activity, the more opportunities you will have to practice, learn and improve.
If you join a company where a sales rep is expected to make 50 cold calls a day, versus one where the sales rep is making only 20, at the end of the week – the first rep has make 250 cold calls, and the second rep has made only 100. Who has more opportunities to apply what they’ve learned? Or learn from their mistakes? The answers to these questions are pretty obvious.
And yes, there is a telecomm company that expect reps to hit 50 “doors” a day. The pace of work is intense, and reps generally only last in that environment a year or two, but in a short period of time these reps gain a ton of knowledge.
If you are able to get great training and have many opportunities to apply it, having a knowledgeable mentor or manager who can help you correct your errors and become more effective will maximize your learning even more. In order for this to be true, you need to be open to feedback on your performance. Better yet, you need to invite it. One successful strategy many top performing reps seem to have in common is seeking out others who are successful in their office or company, and asking them what the secrets to their success are.
The final essential element you should look for in your first sales job is accountability for results. Some companies do an excellent job of establishing a “no-excuses” performance culture. These companies often frequently publish rankings, offer various awards and incentives, and regular reviews of quota performance and pipeline activity on a weekly or sometimes daily basis. You should welcome this and use these tools to hold yourself accountable. You want to stay away from environments where complaining and excuses are the norm - it can be contagious.
Working for well-known companies that offer great sales experience will make breaking into medical device sales much, much easier. Even if a company isn’t well-known, but offers most or all of these attributes, then it could offer an equally good career move.
There are no shortcuts to great sales experience. Choose a company that will train and challenge you to grow as a sales person. Paying your dues will lead to big payoffs in your career.
This seems so simple but is so essential! Many companies have implemented strict policies regarding driving records. This applies to companies in the medical device industry, as well as other companies outside the industry. One candidate I interviewed recently told me that the company he works for checks sales reps’ driving records every month!
The trouble often starts in college, when students encounter the police on the way home from a party and end up with a DUI on their record. This single offense could prevent you from breaking into sales for 3-5 years, depending on the policy of a given company.
If you are a leadfoot, please take a driving lesson from your grandmother. You might also work on improving your time management skills. One rep I helped hire, who has recently been promoted into management, told me that he considers being on-time… being late. He plans to arrive at least 15 minutes early wherever he goes. This is a responsible and courteous approach. If you start managing your time well now, you’ll avoid a lot of tickets and stress in your life.
The criterion companies use to evaluate driving records vary. For many, even seemingly minor offenses like seat belt tickets will count against you, not just moving offenses. Failure to fail a fine or appear in court, often linked with moving offenses, will show up on your driving record too and are often seen as troubling signs of irresponsibility.
Even companies that do not offer a company car or even cover auto expenses may still review your driving record. This perplexes some candidates, who wonder why companies care in these scenarios. The underlying legal principle is respondeat superior – Latin for “let the master answer”. What this means is that if a company hires someone who is a irresponsible driver with a long track record of offenses, and this person does something reckless resulting in damage or injury while they are driving in the course of conducting business on behalf of the company, the company could ultimately be held responsible. For this reason, employers have to take precautions against such scenarios through exercising due diligence in the hiring process.
I recommend you establish a file where you can keep copies of any tickets or other driving related matters. Sometimes it can be hard to recall exactly when a ticket occurred – was it 36 months ago, or 38 months ago? If you keep a file, you can quickly refer to it as needed. Also, if you are involved in any accidents, particularly if you are not at fault, keep a copy of the accident report in your file. When accidents show up on your record, it is often not clear whether or not you were at fault. If you can produce the accident report to clarify, it is quite helpful.
A safe driving record is essential for a successful career in medical sales. Convinced? I hope so. It disappointing for me to find a great candidate who is disqualified due to a poor driving record. Don’t let careless driving keep you from achieving your career ambitions.
“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
Many of the people I know who have broken into medical device sales successfully have had a mentor who was in the industry. Often the mentor is a family member, or a friend’s older sibling. Sometimes it is a healthcare professional, a nurse or doctor, or someone who is in device sales. The mentor may be the person who first sparked the individual’s interest in the industry through stories of life in the operating room. Sometimes the mentor is a recruiter who offers career advice to someone who has potential and a strong desire to break into the industry. (I like to think of myself as your on-line mentor.)
A mentor can help you avoid many missteps along the way to a successful career. Research shows that mentors can have a range of positive impacts on their proteges’ careers, and that informal mentoring is often more effective than formal mentoring because it springs up from mutual interests. Some of the positive impacts of mentoring for proteges include: higher salaries, faster promotion rates, higher promotion rates and higher promotion rates (Eby 2010)… all great reasons to spend some time identifying a mentor.
Instead of a long and uncertain road to medical sales, a mentor with industry insight can help an aspiring medical sales rep find the most direct path to achieving their goal and develop realistic expectations about the hard work required for being successful in the industry. Particularly when considering a new job or company, a mentor can be an important sounding board for career moves. Right company? Right experience? Time to change or stick with it? If you get off track on your way to your career in medical device sales, it is sometimes very hard to find your way back again. A savvy mentor can help you avoid such mistakes.
Sometimes people mistake on-line discussion boards for sage advice from industry veterans. If you are looking for trouble, you are sure to find it on such boards where disgruntled employees grind their axes. Every company has its shortcomings, but they are sure to be amplified and distorted in such forums. When trying to learn more about a given company, you are better off asking a mentor who can keep things in proper perspective. A mentor can also be a valuable networking resource when you have the requisite experience to land your first job in medical sales. People like me (a.k.a recruiters) often reach out to experienced device reps to ask them for recommendations.
As many books (and blogs) as you can you can read on the subject, there is nothing quite like having someone with whom you can discuss your real life scenario. Hopefully this person will do you the favor of being brutally honest when necessary. They can often provide insight that will help you overcome an impasse or stumbling block that you are unaware of.
I consider it a positive sign when someone tells me they’ve taken advice from someone they respect. It tells me this person is serious enough about their career to do some research and give their choices some careful consideration. It also tells me that this person is humble enough to accept input from others and committed enough to do what it takes to be successful.
So find a mentor; ideally, someone you respect who has been successful in the industry. Stay in touch regularly, update them on your progress and travails, ask them for their advice. Most people will be flattered if you ask. The best repayment will come as sincere thanks and seeing you succeed.
Medical device sales is in some ways a hidden industry. Over the years, some people I’ve spoken to have been stunned to find out that medical device reps are in the operating room while surgery is going on. With the decline of the pharmaceutical industry, medical device sales is becoming a more well known as a possible career path.
While it would be ideal to optimize your studies by choosing a relevant degree, gaining work experience while in college is equally important. In some ways, I would consider relevant work experience in sales during college even more important than your choice of major. It gives you a chance to try out sales and make sure it is a good fit for you, develop first-hand knowledge of the sales process, and even build a few accomplishments to include on your resume. Hopefully, you’ll make some money too.
Cell phone sales is a flexible and excellent way to get sales experience while in college. Verizon and other large companies often provide great sales training. If you meet and exceed your quota, the results you’ll have to add to your resume will be invaluable… just be sure to save the documentation of your performance.
Some well known companies offer great internship opportunities to college students. Enterprise-Rent-A-Car and Northwestern Mutual offer training and track interns performance. During the summer, you could sell knives for Cutco or books for the Southwestern Company. You have to work incredibly hard to be successful at either, but it’s a great way to cut your teeth in sales. When I see experiences like these on someone’s resume, I think to myself, “Now here is someone who really must love sales.”
Finding an internship directly in medical sales will probably require you to tap into your network to uncover such opportunities. Look for alumni who are in the medical device industry through your college or on LinkedIn. Connections like these are helpful at any stage of your career. If you are interested in orthopedics, for example, you could offer to be a runner for a distributor, which means you would drop off instrumentation and products at the hospital for use in surgical cases. One enterprising student I know did that, and he started in the industry full-time immediately after college. Five years later, he was an incredibly successful trauma rep.
Collegiate experience in sales will put you far ahead of peers when competing for sales jobs after graduation. Even if you don’t break into medical sales straightaway, you’ll be in a better position to land a position with a well-respected company that will help you gain the right kind of sales experience as foundation for your career.
“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” ~Thomas Jefferson
For nearly all medical device companies, a bachelor’s degree is an essential minimum job requirement. The customers you will sell to will be well-educated, and you need to be also. Becoming a successful medical sales representative involves studying a lot of complex technical and clinical information. Having a degree demonstrates that you are capable of learning the product information you’ll need to know in order to be successful in this field.
I’ve written before about the top 10 degrees I recommend if you want to break into medical device sales. This is still a pretty good list. You can pursue either a business-related degree or one that is science or health related, depending on your interests. Whichever route you take, you can still maximize your electives to gain knowledge that is complimentary to your degree.
Here is a short list of helpful courses you should consider taking, no matter what your major:
1. Anatomy & Physiology – 2 semesters if possible
2. Professional Selling
3. Medical Terminology
4. Courses in finance
5. Courses in communications or public speaking
If you don’t have a degree in an ideal major, you aren’t necessarily doomed. However, being able to demonstrate you have a clear cut career path in mind, starting in college, definitely works in your favor.
While getting your degree, do what ever you can to minimize the amount of student loan you take on. If you are lucky enough to find a sales associate position in medical device sales right out of school, it’s likely that it won’t pay a whole lot. There is a long learning curve in medical device sales, and sometimes it takes two or more years to start seeing substantial rewards. I have interviewed entry-level candidates in the past who have had to forgo their dream job in favor of one with more immediate payoff, because of looming student loan payments.
My son is in high school, so this subject is top of mind for me. A great book on the subject of minimizing or eliminating college debt is Debt Free U by Zac Bissonnette. He cites two studies that demonstrate how student loans influence many students to choose a higher paying jobs over ones that offer greater career satisfaction. While medical device sales offers great long-term financial prospects, you may have to first “pay your dues”. In order to do so, you need to preserve the flexibility to seize an good opportunity to break into the industry when it comes your way. Even if you might make less starting out, the long-term rewards may be much greater.
Because sales people must negotiate deals and are often responsible for significant inventory dollars, it’s never too soon to learn how to handle money responsibly. Many companies do credit checks as part of the background check on a new hire. You don’t want irresponsible spending in your college years (or at any point) to turn into a barrier either.
If you are further along in life and lacking your degree, you should do everything in your power to compete a bachelor’s degree. Some talented sales people start working in college and find the allure of the money they are making so strong that they stop taking classes. A generation or two ago it might have been possible to break into medical device sales without a degree. These days, very, very few companies will hire candidates who do not have a bachelor’s degree. Even if you can find one company that will make an exception, it will severely limit your ability to get a job with another company, if you ever want to or need to.
While we are on the subject, you may be wondering if getting a MBA is important in medical device sales? My opinion: not really. It might help if you’re making a career transition from a different career. One rep I know was formerly a teacher. He got a MBA to help him develop business acumen. In his case, it was a successful strategy.
If you want to advance into management, a MBA can certainly be helpful. It can also be difficult to obtain if you have a heavy travel schedule, and some amount of overnight travel is not uncommon in many medical sales positions. With on-line and weekend degrees however, there are more options than ever for someone who wants to pursue an advanced degree.
One other instance where an MBA seems useful is if you are dealing with high-dollar capital sales. This is not usually where people start their careers, but knowledge of finance and other advanced business topics can be helpful when dealing with the C-Suite.
When it is all said and done, the most important thing is to have your bachelor’s degree. Do yourself a favor and complete it within 4 years and with a 3.0 GPA or higher. Be active and involved while in college, whether in sports, volunteering a local hospital or other groups and activities such as Pi Sigma Epsilon, the national co-ed business fraternity for sales, marketing and management. While getting your degree is all-important, taking advantage of all the great opportunities available to you in college to learn, grow and contribute will make you stand out to prospective employers.
“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.”~ Anthony D’Angelo
Reps from certain industries and companies have a strong track record of transitioning successfully into medical device sales. If you gain experience in these prime “feeder” industries and employers, it can make it much easier to transition into device sales.
Point in case: I was once told that a nationwide reseller of copiers warned the management of a large medical device manufacturer to back off on blatantly aggressive recruitment of the company’s sales reps.
If you want to build a successful career in medical device sales, there are certain building blocks like getting the right kind of sales experience that will make it much easier to break into the industry.
Over the next several weeks, I am going to write a series of posts that outline how to lay a strong foundation for a career in medical device sales, step-by-step, from college, up through gaining initial sales experience. I’ll identify common obstacles and pitfalls along the way, and tie these posts in with others I’ve written in the past. Posts will appear each Monday.
Step 1 – College
Step 2 - College work experience & internships
Step 3 – Identifying a mentor
Step 4 – Keeping your driving record clean
Step 5 – Your first sales job
Step 6 – Maximizing your sales experience
Step 7 – Results
Step 8 – When to take the next step
Maybe you are a college student, or perhaps you are already in your first sales job and want to figure out how to take your career to the next level. Maybe you are stuck at some point along the way and can’t figure out how to make it to the next step. I hope this series will help you make wise choices that will help you achieve your goals and avoid the missteps that can sidetrack your career.
Are there any books or resources you’ve found that provide helpful insights into medical device sales?
If so, you are not alone. Medreps.com recently polled job seekers to find out what their biggest frustrations about finding a job in medical device sales are. You can see the results of the poll here. The #1 challenge, cited by 38% of survey respondents, was that they had the right experience “but no one calls me back.”
From my perspective as a recruiter, it is not usual for more than half the applicants who apply for job postings to be either inadequately qualified, or to have a glaring shortcoming that is holding them back. So where is the mismatch between my perspective as a recruiter, and the perspectives’ of candidates? Here are a few ideas that might also help job seekers understand why they aren’t getting calls back and also to better target which jobs to apply to.
1. You are either under- or over-qualified. When a job posting says 3-8 years of experience, or 10-15 years of experience, it actually means it. If you have less than half the minimum or more than twice the maximum years of experience specified, you will not be considered a good match. When listing years of experience, companies are intentionally targeting an experience level that fits the levels of training and compensation they offer.
2. Your industry experience is less than ideal. If a job description specified B2B sales experience, and your experience is primarily B2C, you will be seen as a greater risk for transitioning successfully into the new role. Yes, you may have sales experience, but is it from a company or background that the company has experience hiring from with success? Read the job description carefully for clues about what the company is really looking for in terms of industry background.
Sometimes there is greater nuance about industry preference that isn’t entirely clear from the job posting. Look for clues by searching for other people who now work for the company through LinkedIn. See if your background is similar to theirs.
3. You don’t meet the minimum requirements. Yes, minimum requirements do mean something. If the job description says “bachelor’s degree required” (as many medical sales positions do), then it is a true minimum requirement, meaning the company can’t make an exception. If the company makes an exception for one person, and not others, then they could land in hot water with regulatory bodies such as the EEOC.
4. Your resume does not represent your accomplishments well. I used to think having a professional write your resume was extravagant. After having seen many, many bad resumes, I now think that it is often a very good idea for some people. If wordsmithing is not one of your talents, consider enlisting a professional’s help.
Also, your resume should focus on accomplishments, not job duties. If your resume reads like a job description, you have missed the mark. Achievements – evidence of getting the job done – are what get you noticed and hired. For sales people, this often means numbers: percentage to quota and rankings.
5. The single biggest shortcoming I see with candidates who are otherwise qualified is: work history. In other words, job hopping. If you have moved from job to job every 18 months throughout your career, or you have multiple job gaps, this is a concern. A stable work history and a track record of accomplishments to match is what will make your resume rise to the top of the stack. Unfortunately, your work history is what it is. The best remedy for too many job changes is to dig in and be a success where you are now before trying to move on.
If you have all of these things working in your favor, you may just need to apply to more jobs for which you are well qualified. Timing can also play an important role. While applying when a job posting is new can improve your odds, if you see a job that has been posted for a while and your background is a good fit, apply to those jobs as well. They might be waiting to find someone just like you! Every company has certain preferences that comprise their ideal candidate. This may not be evident on the surface, but in time, you are likely to find the right match if you persevere.
“I do not think there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.” ~John D. Rockefeller