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