Ahhh, pharma repping, I’ll never forget the grand ole days of waking up at 11:45, grabbing some T-Bell or Arby’s, driving around for a bit in my lowered Taurus and then calling it a day. 42 large for doing that? Shit, I’d do that now, considering how it wouldn’t really impact my lifestyle and shit.
(Scoring: 10 means job is awesome, 0 means job sucks)
Attire: As previously mentioned, most pharma reps are ladies of the hot persuasion. In the late 90s the drug companies unwisely thought that bringing in some studly specimens such as myself would help woo the “gatekeepers” who control access to the doctors. (I have to explain the obvious sometimes – 30% of my readers are Canadian.) At Pharma X, we didn’t have to wear suits, just a long sleeve shirts, some sweet Dockers and a tie. Which was great, because the average daily temperature in Fresno, CA is 117 degrees.
Ladies, on the other hand, were encouraged to wear outfits of the tight and low-cut varieties. One of the few jobs (Hooters waitress, sexy car wash attendant, belly dancer) where guys have virtually no chance. In fact, pharma sales rep is about to be recognized as the pre-eminent sexy lady job on the hit television series How I Met Your Mother. (Apparently Carrie Underwood is gonna guest star as a rep who hooks up with Ted. HIMYM writers – let’s cool it a bit with the guest stars, okay? Although, true story, Underwood performed a mall parking lot concert that was only attended by my parents about seven years ago. Nice career trajectory.) Any cursory web search on the topic will reveal pageant winners who are pharma reps in the pharma-afterlife.
Score: 7 (Better than wearing a uniform, but the brutal heat left something to be desired and learning to tie a tie was a bitch. Before my interview I went to Men’s Wearhouse and got one of those laminated “how to tie a tie” cards and had to try like 3000 times before I got a passable knot in the $20 tie I bought at Bon Marche. Luckily in banking I switched to Brioni, which ties a magical knot every time. Brioni represent.)
Prevailing Smell/Aroma: 89% my apartment (mostly Pepsi One and chicken Teriyaki), 11% sick people
Score: 7 (As great as the job was for the lazy and unambitious, it was pretty depressing going to the clinics in the San Joaquin valley. A rep’s job is to get time with the doctors to explain why product X is so much better than a competitor’s chemically similar product, but there was significant behind-the-scenes action as the products had to be “on formulary” (a list of products that government or insurance programs would pay for) before the doctor could prescribe in the first place. It was pretty brutal rolling into a free clinic filled with sick folks, wasting the time of some doctor who sees 30-50 patients per day. I generally gave them my samples and got out of the way, unless they wanted to talk about sports or the market. Note to potential new employers: my work ethic has vastly improved.)
Humiliation Factor: This was surprisingly high for me; after spending five years on a submarine, 1.5 of which I spent learning up on reactor physics, chemistry/materials and a bunch of other shit I can’t recall one iota of, I was suddenly in training with kids fresh out of undergrad. (Although I was sequestered in a hotel in Seattle for six weeks, rocking Wild Ginger like every single day. Thanks, fat per diem.) Once out of training and into “the field” (this is sales jargon for, “where you work,” and apparently it’s inexplicably used in every sales job despite the fact there are no sideline boundaries or chalk anywhere) it was the height of the dot-com boom and all anyone wanted to talk about were stocks. That became my thing – I had doctors just sign for the samples instead of chatting about anything Pharma X-related and instead shot the shit about how Qualcomm was definitely headed for $2,000. I was daytrading (with ultimately disastrous effects) and wanted to take a shot at finance. B-school beckoned.
I should backtrack slightly here – what I’m describing reflects my average day, ie the 29 days/month that my boss didn’t come to “ride along” with me. That day was always right up there with a shitty Navy day (but still, it was only 3% of any given month). We had to fill out detailed “call logs” that described the conversations that we had with doctors, and exaggeration was common, since most often we didn’t do shit. “We talked about PMC Sierra for ten minutes” was not a viable description of a call, had to be more like “discussed the Prisninski study and Bitarx efficacy compared to Flumix.” When my manager “Stan” (a super good dude, Mormon guy who was all bizness during work hours and who apparently spent his off-work hours procreating) was riding with me, the doctors would invariably not play along and pretend like they knew who I was and really enjoyed debated the merits of once-a-day Scivar vs. twice a day Graparz last week. Brutality.
Score: 5 (One of the worst pharma days I can recall is waiting til the last day to work on my HBS application, staying up all night at Kinko’s trying to figure out how to Photoshop a perfect looking application (don’t ask) and essentially rolling an all-nighter into a ride-along with Stan. The only upside is that we saw Jerry Tarkanian at this Chinese restaurant when we stopped for lunch. I am not an HBS alum and it’s partially Tark’s fault.)
Co-workers/Culture: A nice mix of adventurous emo chicks, good-girl mormons, beeyotches, womanizing dirtbags (meant in a good way) and tools. That was for my training class and was reflective of the industry as a whole; my team in F-town was all older women. They ended up being cool as shit, just as lazy as me and even more envelope-pushing with the limits of the expense account. Note to firms with liberal expense accounts: all those Marie Callendar’s pies aren’t ending up with clients. This became a feather in my interviewing cap, as I would explain how I moved between all-male and all-female work milieus with the ease of a good-natured hermaphrodite.
Score: 5 (I probably should expand on the above a bit. Most pharma reps realize they have little impact on a doctors decision to use their product, that it’s mostly dictated by the formulary plans and insurance requirements. When there’s some leeway, sure, but doctors were (are?) smart enough to spread the wealth a little bit when dealing with similar products. Our region did fantastic saleswise, none of us worked very hard, and we recognized we had a great situation. A Pharma Dork, though, is a whole different matter. These guys and gals think they are really making an impact and get extremely invested in the process and the products. I guess that describes an ideal employee. I’ve probably never been an ideal employee, maybe because I find most products and services to be commodity-ish. I need to work for Funyuns, something I can really get behind.)
Authority Figures: Stan was a solid guy, he went sort of out on a limb to hire me and I ultimately screwed him by bailing after exactly one year. He was sort of passive aggressive on our ride-alongs, softly suggesting that I didn’t seem to be building strong “detailing” relationships with my doctors, which would have been much more dickish if it wasn’t so truish.
Score: 7 (The ladies who ran training were pretty bitchy to people, too. Not so much to me, as I generally kept my nose clean and didn’t really have trouble picking up “the science.” (Pharma people love to talk about “the science” – ie the company-funded studies that prove why their products are better than their competitor’s products. Doctors who are being paid by the company also love to talk about “the science.” No one else digs “the science.”))
Typical Hours Worked: 4-5 per week. (Seriously)
Score: 10++++++++ (Such the good old days – I can remember when I would just stay home on Mondays and say I’d really hump it on Tues-Friday. Then I’d stay home Tuesday too and just whip up some paperwork. So many of the doctor’s offices had like 100 physicians, you just needed one person to sign for samples and then you could claim to have talked to everyone else. Had to be careful, though, not to mention chatting with someone who’d recently died or something.)
Education Required: Science-related bachelor’s degree.
Score: 8 (They smudged the rules a bit for badasses with B.S.’s in English.)
Screaming Obscenities at Top of Lungs Acceptable? No, not in a doctor’s office.
Score: 2 (This was very disappointing, although since you spent so much time at home you could amp up your home screaming/cursing enough to offset.)
Stress Level: This is tough because it was a legitimate zero for 29/30 days and a strong 100% for the one day with Stan. I was new though, so got a bit of benefit of the doubt. Given that my friends generally knew not to call me before eleven because I’d still be asleep, I’m gonna go ahead and give pharma the nod on stress.
Score: 9 (The more things change – don’t call me before eleven, por favor. Unless you are calling about Navy / Notre Dame tickets – fired up to see the mids take three of four from the Not-Fighting-But-Will-Give-You-A-Mean-Look Irish.)
Ridiculous Travel Required? There was a shitload of driving to do, the nether regions of my territory were like a three hour drive (I guess there are some boundary markers for “the field”). But the SJ Valley is absolutely rife with T-Bells, Arby’ses, teriyaki joints and even solid burrito shops. (I had my first ever chili verde when a colleague’s wife had me over for dinner. For the record, proper chili verde is deliciousness personified.) And you could listen to the radio; on the rare days where I was out by noon, there was Jim Rome (great on the radio, horrifically bad on TV) and then later you could listen to the KNBR types or some dude named Grandpa or something. So the travel wasn’t so bad.
Score: 8 (The other travel involved was for the annual sales meetings, they were generally in some big city on the west coast. The meetings themselves were pointless and shamelessly cheerleadery – but the boozing and debauchery were legendary. Some of those pharma chicks are pretty wild – I definitely cursed myself many times for not starting out my life at a regular company. Still do.)
What Kind of Dough was Involved? 42 large, per annum. Plus bonus and car, sucka.
Score: 7 (There was some animosity towards me for leaving after one year, even though I was going to a reputable B-School. Going back to my Pharma X in Fresno vs. Pharma Y in Monterey decision – Pharma X was on an annual bonus system, and I just missed the cutoff for getting my $18k. So beyond just living in the rectal region of California, I also made a lot less than I would’ve on the Coast. Conclusion: I am a poor decision-maker.)
Summary: I think I left a lot of stuff out: the dinner programs (pay doctors to talk to other doctors about your products), the insane expenses related to the programs (I basically refused to pay the $1300 for my first set of invitations, turns out it wasn’t no thang), the extremely upbeat group voicemails that would sometimes appear out of nowhere. Ultimately, you didn’t have to do much, the money wasn’t bad (all your gas was reimbursed, too, and the shares were going straight up) and you only got stressed once per month. Most people would probably sign up for that. Although I think they eventually got over that military thing and are back to only hiring hot chicks.
Verdict? It was a sweet gig. (Good lord is this thing long. I’m not proofreading this shiz, if their our alot of grammer misteaks, just consider me a looser.)
Have a long weekend,