Not-That-Crappy Jobs I’ve Had: Pharma Sales Rep

Not-That-Crappy Jobs I’ve Had: Pharma Sales Rep



How time flies – it’s been over six months since my last crappy/not-that-crappy jobs bit.  Probably because I’m so inactive that the concept of “occupation” never really hits my stream of consciousness.  As good a time as any to get back into it.

Back in 1999, I was a confused lad who was certain about only one thing regarding my future: I was getting the fuck out of the Navy.  Being an officer on a submarine was kind of like spending a long weekend with the Marquis de Sade – painful, seemingly unending and, ultimately, scarring.  But what to do after finally pushing away from the teat of the military?  Back then, as now, I was a smidge on the lazy side, so I hadn’t taken the GMAT or thought seriously about going to business school.  I was going to have to get a job of some sort.  Step one was signing up with one of the military headhunters and going to an ex-military job fair.  That didn’t sound all that appealling, honestly, but my dream of becoming a professional blackjack player seemed too farfetched given the negative expected value of the game, my lack of starting capital, and my propensity to drink heavily.  So job fair it was.

Having spent the previous ten years in the Navy, I didn’t really have a firm grasp of the “real world.”  I was aware that many of the vocations available to me would be co-ed; there weren’t any women in the submarine force (cue the ghey jokes, bonus points for teasing with Chelsea gym jokes).  Would I be able to get along with female colleagues?  Was yelling F-bombs frowned upon?  There was a lot for me to learn.

My job requirements were minimal: I wanted to make a lot of money and have a lot freedom.  These important criteria in mind, I went down to San Diego for a few days for the career fair thingee, crashing at my old roommate’s place.  Over the course of the 3-4 days I was there, I noticed that my friend’s wife pretty much set her own schedule, didn’t seem to work more than three hours a day, and supposedly made fat bank.  It turns out she was a sales rep for some European drug company.  I was intrigued.  But what did a pharma rep actually do, anyway?

It turns out, not much.  The job of a pharma rep has evolved a bit over the last decade, but in a nutshell reps simply try to get five minutes of “alone time” with doctors, generally by buying lunch for the entire doctor’s office.  If the rep scores those five minutes with a doctor, he/she is supposed to discuss the many scientific benefits of his/her various products by using glossy brochures and embossed pens and notepads.  Reps also give doctors samples of their drugs (kind of like how the street crews in The Wire would sometimes give out free yellow caps).  You’ve all seen pharma sales reps if you’ve ever been to a doctor’s office, they are the somewhat dressed-up folks with nametags loitering in the office for hours on end and dragging around large bags of propoganda/samples.

This sounded like a solid situation to me – run your own schedule, unsupervised, while mainly shooting the shit with people and buying lunches with a fat-ass expense account.  A few obstacles in my path: the fact that 85% of pharma reps are hot chicks, no logical leap from driving submarines to hyping Cox-2 inhibitors, my inability to tie a tie.  However, the late 90s saw a massive boom in pharma rep hiring, and someone at Pfizer or somewhere decided hiring ex-military officers was a brilliant idea because of the can-do attitudes, tireless work ethics, attention to detail, blah, blah.  (White guys with short haircuts: benefiting from stereotypes for years.  Well, except for skinheads – they are generally understood to be dicks.)

I managed to score a couple interviews based on my stellar military experience (very likely the least decorated officer since Viet Nam) and scored a couple offers from two of the largest firms.  One was to work in beautiful Monterey, California for a base of I think $40k plus car, quarterly bonus, etc.  The other offer was for $42k plus the extras and then a few hundred shares of stock up front (with vesting requirements).  This job was in Fresno, California.  (For those unfamiliar with the layout of California, Fresno is generally considered the rectum of the state.)  I chose the Fresno gig – that’s two large extra, motherfucker.  Hook me up with that pimped out maroon Ford Taurus and let’s get the show on the road.

Disclaimer:  My conduct as a pharma rep will likely cause you to lose the five remaining morsels of respect you have for me.  There’s no way around it though, if I’m to properly reflect the unbelievable nature of the job back in the late 90s.  Regulations have become much, much stricter, apparently – and for good reason.  I don’t think one can as easily take a couple of d-bag orthopedic surgeons to Spyglass Hill for $450 rounds of golf these days.  (Back then one could hide behind the guise of buying gift certificates for a large group of doctors; for example you could claim you gave out 30 $30 gift certificates to a big clinic.  Like a single $30 gift certificate to Pebble Beach is helpful.  It was all in how you did the paperwork.)

Part II is coming tomorrow.

Additional Complaint:  Allow me to present today’s entire weather forecast for NYC from the New York Times website: “blizzard.”  That’s it, just “blizzard.”  That sounds shitty.  It’s like that recent postgame interview with Hedo Turkoglu where the announcer asked how he’d had such a great game and he responded only “ball.”


I’ll be back with the rest of this shizz tomorrow, stay warm,

Chilly17, wasted potential


6 thoughts on “Not-That-Crappy Jobs I’ve Had: Pharma Sales Rep

  1. My sister-in-law is a pharma rep – nothing has really changed since your days in the sun. She works roughly 5 hours per day and that includes car time getting from place to place. She is dumber than a box of hammers and has big fake boobs. I can’t criticize her though, she makes over $80K (including bonus) and apparantly does her job well. Its comforting to know that the dumbest human on the planet is educating my doctor on what medications to prerscribe me. I guess that’s why my prescription for Cymbalta costs $5 per pill and causes severe rectal bleeding.

  2. That sounds accurate – but I thought the bleeding was more closely associated with your hobby of visiting highway rest stops in the middle of the night?

  3. What’s up with not knowing how to tie a tie….they didn’t do uniform drills at your pseudo academy?

  4. Good question, Flint. Some churchgoing type tied me a perfect tie as a plebe – I wore that all four years at the academy and also when (rarely needed) as an officer. I still have it somewhere and, honestly, that’s a sweet knot to this day. A little small for the professional world, bit looked great with winter working blues or whatever the hell that uni was called.

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