Sample Pharmaceutical Sales Rep Interview Questions

Below are many of the questions you should expect to hear during your interviews.  Click on a question to learn why the interviewer is asking it and to read a sample of a good answer!

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of a pharmaceutical representative?

Question Motive:

Detect if candidate has a true understanding of the daily challenges a rep has (physician access, stiff competition, formulary and cost issues, rejection etc.)  Determine if candidate has the fortitude to press forward in challenging circumstances.

Good Answer:

I’ve been imagining myself in this position recently and this question is one I’ve actually thought quite a bit about.  I know from my current sales position (or prior) that just getting an appointment with a prospect is the primary challenge.  When in the Physician’s office I have seen the copious amounts of pharmaceutical reps that show up when I’m in for an appointment or taking my child (or Mom or whatever) for a checkup.  The doctor comes in for a matter of minutes in a rush and then in a flash is gone and I am a customer. So I’m convinced that the most difficult part of the job is getting quality selling time or face time.  I’ve seen the calls in the hall with the rep where they are talking at the doc and not with them.  I would employ a creative approach when facing the prospect of a physician that is like that.  I would start again with doing some investigative work and taking notes on the doc about his passions, loves, hobbies, or whatever but basically I would first determine some common ground and keep going back.  I’ve found that being persistent in a strategic and tactful way is always a winning formula.

Tell me about your last manager. Did you like him/her?

Question Variations:

Tell me about your last manager. Did you like him/her? If I was your manager, what is the best way to coach/mentor you to success? What qualities should a successful manager possess? Describe the relationship that should exist between the supervisor and those reporting to him or her?

Question Motive:

The hiring manager is determining if you are the type of employee that speaks highly of former mangers or if you are a gossip that will stab him in the back the first chance you get.  Also, he is determining if you are the type of employee that is coachable and how well you can handle criticism as you will be getting plenty of that in this position. Never speak negatively about your former manager.  You will be cut from consideration immediately if you do.

Good Answer:

My former manager and I had a very good professional relationship. I would have to say that we worked in synergy to achieve sales goals.  He and I had an informal weekly status meeting where I was able to ask for advice on the next step if necessary.  Also, there was an open door of communication in that I could call him during the selling day and give success stories or call when I was stuck in a rut to get some direction.  I find that the criticism that I received from my prior manager was something that helped me reach the level of success that I realized there and hold that experience as invaluable in my development as a salesperson.

At this point, you have to determine if the hiring manager has recently been promoted to a sales manager or if he is a veteran as a sales manager.  After this has been determined follow up with either option 1 or 2:

  • (Recently promoted sales manager has likely had recent success and will be more than happy to brag to you about, so you are setting him up for a grand slam ego boost which will help you in your being picked as a new rep). I feel the successful qualities in a manager are high expectations, honesty, and excellent communication skills. From my point of view I want to work with a manager that has had past success and is able to coach me in a way that will help me exceed expectations and replicate their former success.
  • (Veteran Manager has had success in the past to get to his position, and likely this type is more likely to want to make his bonus and have a turnkey personality type that can take direction and follow through):  I feel the successful qualities in a manager are high expectations, honesty, and excellent communication skills. I want my next manager to have the kind of experience in the industry to coach me so that I can be on a fast track to exceed expectations and sales goals.

Why do you want to be a pharmaceutical sales representative?

Question Motive:

Assess the candidate’s perception of what skills this position requires and how they believe their skills fit.  Determine if candidate has a realistic view of what this kind of career entails.

Good Answer:

I want to have a career in pharmaceutical sales because I am driven by the fact that success is rewarded both financially and in career advancement in pharmaceutical sales.  I believe my background as a true competitor in sports and in my career will be best rewarded as a pharmaceutical sales rep.  Also, I am a team player and would like to continue to develop my leadership skills and eventually manage my own district.

(This simple paragraph just reinforced the fact that you are driven, competitive, a team player and that you want to eventually grow into a more responsible role of management.  District managers like to hire these types because they are so hungry that the manager knows they can ask them to do just about anything like helping out with meetings, mentoring new reps, and possibly being their replacement one day if they are promoted to regional management or a Home Office assignment.)

Why do you think you would excel at pharmaceutical sales?

Question motive:

Does the candidate volunteer past success stories to draw a parallel between this position and past positions to demonstrate a history of success.

 

Good Answer:

I have a history of success.  My inner drive to be #1 has allowed me to excel in the things I focus on.  From sports to my professional career, I believe most would agree that I don’t accept mediocre effort from myself and therefore I have extraordinary success.  If you don’t mind, may I show you a couple items out of my brag book here and demonstrate to you a sampling of my past success?

(This is a slam dunk because you are asking permission to show quantitative evidence of how well you have done and this is exactly what you will be doing when you are asking to speak with doctors.  Nobody does this in an interview and you will be a shining star at this point. Make sure you have some examples of past sales success and/or success in sports and whatever you can come up with even if you make it up.  The important part is that you provide data to present as evidence of your success). 

I think you see that I have been successful and I believe it is not only my drive to compete and win, but also my approach to achieve starts with setting goals and coming up with a strategic plan on how I can achieve my desired goal.  For all these reasons I am very confident that I will not only excel in this position, but I believe that will do this consistently.

(So you have pointed out again that you are driven, competitive, organized, set goals, develop strategy, and consistently follow through with persistence).

Why do you want to change careers to pharmaceutical sales?

Question Motive:

Again they are trying to determine if your own assessment of your skills and experience is in line with this position.  You need to be the perfect fit.

Good Answer:

Although I have been very satisfied with my prior success in my current field, I feel that I can leverage my prior experience and move to the next level to challenge myself and be rewarded for being a top performer.  I enjoy working in the field and interacting with people quite a bit.  This position would afford me even more of that type of working day.  Also, the industry in general is a very strong one and these days that too is very important.

How will your education help you in a pharmaceutical sales position?

Question Motive:

Companies require a four year degree and typically hire those with business or science backgrounds.  What your degree is in really isn’t critical.  The critical point in this question is for you to remember that you are the product and somehow tie in how your experience in college and the learning process has primed you to study and do well on tests while balancing the rest of your life.

Good Answer:

As you can see from my résumé, my degree was in (whatever).  More than the facts I learned in my coursework, I feel that the true education was learning how to balance work and life.  I worked my way through college and my time was very limited.  I’ve never worked harder to achieve something on such little sleep.  But this made me appreciate my education and what hard work and persistence can deliver.  Mediocrity for me is now never an option.  That is the true value of my education and I believe it has set a baseline for my work ethic as well.

What qualifies you to be a pharmaceutical sales representative?

Question Motive:

Again, this is another question similar to one formerly asked.  They will sometimes ask the same question over in a different manner if they feel that you may have left something off or are really looking for another answer.

Good Answer:

As I have stated to you earlier, I am driven, persuasive, organized, analytical and likeable.  I do not accept mediocrity in my life or my career.  These facts along with my history of success qualify me to be a pharmaceutical rep.  (Remember to stop talking at this point).

What are your greatest strengths?

Question motive:

Determine candidate’s perceived strengths and determine if they are a fit.

Good Answer:

I feel that I have been blessed and possess well rounded skill sets and personality type.  My core strengths are drive and persistence, my ability to intelligently persuade and the fact that I have a likeability factor that has proven invaluable to me in reaching my goals.

What would you say is your greatest weakness?

Question motive:

You have to come up with a weakness.  The weakest answer is that you don’t have any weaknesses.  Make it a minor weakness and address how you deal with any weakness so that it does not interfere with your job.

Good Answer:

That’s a tough one.  I’d have to say that my greatest weakness is dealing with mundane paperwork and administration work.  Not because I cannot do that kind of work but because I do not have a passion for it.  I don’t wake up every morning early and say, “Hey, I can’t wait to do my expense report today! I wish I could do one everyday.”  Knowing that this is something I don’t like to do, I have developed a system to stay organized in all my paperwork so as it does not build up on me and become overwhelming.  So I may actually look like I am pretty good at this type of work, but I can tell you it does not come naturally.  I stay on top of it because I don’t want that to get in the way of selling.

Give an example of a time when you showed initiative in your current position.

Question Motive:

Determine candidate’s perception of what showing initiative is and rate their ability to paint that picture.  This also will demonstrate what type of effort the future employee is willing to give and how well they will submit to management.

Good Answer:

Recently, our company has had some challenges due to many projects being placed on hold or canceled.  So my approach has shifted to focus not just on the primary customers, but finding new customers.  I took a look at which businesses are still doing well and at the time my determination was the healthcare and nursing homes are still going strong.  This is likely due to the fact that these industries are market driven more than anything.  I have made an effort to develop relationships with the top contractors in the area and thereby have been able to consistently exceed my growing quota in challenging times.

Give an example of a time when you had a problem to solve and how you went about doing that.

Question motive:

Use STAR method: (Situation, Tasks, Actions, Results)

Good Answer:

Situation:  The situation was that a rural doctor (details are key to this kind of answer) that would not allow reps to go back into the sample closet had been asking for a lot of my samples while at the same time I had not seen any scripts come through. So I had no way of knowing if he really needed samples or if he was supplying his patients with free 30 day supplies.  Considering that I had a newly launched product and this was primarily an economically disadvantaged area I chose to sample heavy at this location.  When the doctor committed to me that he would write scripts with each sample given out after Alabama Medicaid started covering our product I still noticed that there were no scripts coming in weeks after he said he was writing.

Task:  I needed to confront the doctor about this in a way that would not alienate myself from his office.
Action taken:  I let him know that I had a limited number of samples and that I needed to start focusing my sample allocation to offices that were actually writing my product.  I also let him know that I appreciated him letting me back into the break room area to speak with him and that I always enjoy our visits.  I directly told him that since AL medicaid was no covering my product that there really was no reason why the patients shouldn’t be written a script as their cost was very low.  But for me to continue to sample I needed to see some scripts coming through.  I asked him if he still wanted me to come by and if he did would he start to write scripts for my product.
Result:  The doctor apologized for not doing what he said he would do and asked me to continue to come back.  He also said that he would write and asked me to continue to follow up with him.  Three weeks later he started to pop up on the weekly reports as a writer and he became one of my highest weekly prescribers.

A physician tells you that your drug is too expensive and that a lot of patients complain. How do you handle this issue?

Question Motive:

See if candidate can handle the objection of cost.  See if he can uncover the real issues that are being covered up.  Does he use probing questions and confront the physician with a value argument.

Good Answer:

Whenever I’ve been told that my product was too expensive, I point out that I haven’t done my job very well if the value of my product is not realized.  I would try to uncover why they are resistant to my product by asking probing questions.  After I determine what their true hesitations are then I go about addressing those issues.  My goal in following calls would be to give proof with efficacy data and confidence in my product to convince the physician that my product is unique and that comparing by price alone does not make sense as the benefits are superior to the competing product.

Speak of a time when you had to deal with a difficult person at work.

Question motive:

Does the candidate enjoy speaking negatively about former coworker?  How is it that he deals with people that are very different from him at work?

Good Answer:

I have been fortunate in my career in that I have not had to deal with someone so difficult at work that I have a distinct memory of that.  But I can tell you of a time when a coworker and I had teamed up on a project and we had a different perception of responsibilities which created a difficult situation.  The situation was that I was simply helping out on the technical part and he was driving the deal.  But the decision maker was actually quite technical and wanted to speak with me about the project.  I was getting 20% of the deal so I could not ignore my quota needs.  The rep and I decided that since I was essentially spending more time than originally thought we could compromise on quota retirement.  I put together a meeting with the sales manager and the sales team.  When we met with the manager and he awarded us both with 80% quota retirement since we were holding the client’s needs above our own.  As stated before, my manager is a tactful professional and he saw where this move benefited the sales rep, client and company.

What do you dislike about your current job?

Question motive:

Determine if candidate will speak negatively about company or manager.

Good answer:

Look, I know I need to give you a reason why I dislike something about my current job, but honestly, I like my current job.  I don’t have any activities that I do in my current job that I would classify as a dislike. I love getting up everyday and going in to work and working my daily plan.  I’m just not going to make something up because that would compromise my experience that I’ve had there.  In a nutshell, it is time for me to move on and my next move is into the pharmaceutical industry. I am primed to be a rep and I feel that although I’ve had past success in sales, my skill set parallels the skills needed to be an exceptional pharmaceutical sales rep.

Give an example of one of your most challenging sales.

Question Alternative:

Give me an example of one of your best sales.

Question motive:

STAR question format; Determine if candidate can verbalize an example of their past success and the steps they logically took to get make that great sale happen.

Good answer:

Use your brag book as a visual aid here.

Situation: I had an appointment with a customer that had experienced poor customer service with a sales rep from our company in the past.

Task: I had to convince them that I would not give them anything but my full attention in order to win back their business.

Action: After our initial meeting and letting them speak about their frustrations I was able to get them to agree to letting me look at their current telecommunication bills and see if I could help them out both with newer connectivity technology and with the overall cost per month.  I returned twice with information and a contract.  My continued follow up before the sale set the business owner at ease and he signed the contract.

Result: I won over a former customer and kept them for as long as I was working in telecommunication sales.

How do you handle the pressure of sales quotas?

Question motive:

See if candidate understands how important quotas are to the success of their career and see if they can handle the pressure that comes with having a quota.

Good answer:

My way of handling the pressure that comes with a sales quota is delivering a high level of effort for every work day.  I plan my day the night before and my week is planned out on Sunday night.  This allows me to know that I am doing all that I can to plan for exceeding my sales quota.  I feel little pressure now that I do these things and by working my plan I meet my sales quota on a regular and normal basis.  I find that it is not logical that one would plan ahead and put in the level of effort that I give and not exceed quota.  I have my sales numbers here.  May I show you what I’m speaking of here?  (Move around and use your brag book as a visual aid to show your numbers and to show an example of how you plan your weeks and your days ahead of time).

What things can cause you to get off track at work and lose drive?

Question motive:

Determine if candidate is a good fit for position in the fact that they need to not be discouraged easily

Good answer:

Anything that distracts me from working my daily plan has the potential to interfere with my good day.  My technique for staying on track involves working my daily plan and pushing through all items that need to be taken care of that day.  If something interferes with it like say a phone call from one of my parent’s about moving furniture that weekend for them, then I tell them that I need to worry about that later and need to get back with them.  Once I’ve accomplished my goals for the day and planned for the next day I can let my mind move to things other than work.  Again this is a way I deal with the demands of maintaining a consistent focus.  I will not allow silly things to get in my way of my success.

How do you target customers in your territory to maximize results?

Question motive:

Determine if candidate is understands what types of activities are necessary to successfully manage a territory focusing on most important doctors first.

Good answer:

First thing I do when targeting is identify who my targets are and who is most important.  I pull out the map and figure out where everyone is located then determine where I’m going first by the area that has the most important targets.  Then I start working my plan.  I adjust the plan as necessary when I have gathered more logistics on the doctor’s patterns and the territory.

How would you go about determining what a physician’s prescribing needs are?

Question motive:

Determine if candidate has the ability to probe and listen.

Good answer:

First of all I would look at what he is currently prescribing if that information were available.  Then I would ask some probing questions based on that initial information.  For instance, if the doctor was writing a lot of Trazadone and barely any Lunesta or Ambien my first question would be: “When you write for patients that have problems getting and staying asleep what is your thought process towards safety and efficacy?”  I know that Trazadone is written off label for sleep issues because it isn’t known to be particularly addictive and it is very cheap.  So if he writes it because it is cheap then I would point out that my product has some advantages in regards to efficacy.  If he thinks that Trazadone is safer then I would point out the selective nature and relative safety of my product.  So first I gather as much information as I can and then based on that information develop a number of probing questions.

How would you deal with a situation where a receptionist or a nurse is somehow upset with you or just irritable and refuses to let you attempt to see the doctor?

Question motive:

Determine if candidate can work in stressful situations and devise a way to move the sales process forward.

Good answer:

I’m glad you asked that question because that has happened to me in the past.  (STAR technique) The Situation: A receptionist was unhappy with the termination of the sales rep I replaced.  I inherited her account because of her termination and the receptionist was aware of this.  As I’ve said before, I have a likeability factor that has always assisted me in getting through these types of situations.  And the fact that I really wasn’t bothered by her coldness towards me helped me to be persistent in my calls.  She would tell me that it wasn’t a good time to speak with her manager about the account and that I should come back another time.  I allowed her to blow off some steam by treating me poorly and always was sincere and nice to her.  I saw that she too had a young daughter and after the fourth attempt I said nonchalantly mentioned that my daughter looks to be the same age as the girl on your desk.  She then opened up a little and mentioned that the picture was somewhat dated and that she needed to get a newer one.  Then we started talking about the awkward stage when they start losing teeth.  After a few minutes of this I broke in and said that I hoped she didn’t hold anything against me inheriting Lisa’s account.  I pointed out that I’m just trying to work hard for them now that I am responsible for their account and I hoped I had not said something that made her not like me.  She turned red and was completely embarrassed that she had held a grudge on me for something I had nothing to do with.  I saw the decision maker that day and walked out with a commitment for future business.  So my strategy in that situation is let them beat you up over and over and then relate to them in some way.  Then once you start to have a real conversation and there is some loosening in the mood, bring up the fact that you are just trying to work hard for them and hope that you haven’t offended them in some way.  Although frustrating, small thinking grudge holding receptionists are, with the correct approach, quite easy to navigate.

How would you go about getting more time with a doctor?

Question motive:

Determine if candidate’s level of drive and creativity in getting more face to face selling time.

Good Answer:

There are a number of things I would do in order to get more time with a doctor.  If I know that they come in early I would bring in a breakfast or some coffee if they like to drink coffee and try to get more time with that simple technique.  In my current position I am allowed to take sales targets out to eat and I would find out where they like to have dinner and ask them to meet me out for a more relaxed face to face time.

How will you stand out from other reps?

Question motive:

Since there are a large amount of reps in the field, ask the candidate to identify his unique talents and methods to be a little different and have an impact.

Good answer:

As I have consistently done in my career, I will standout by developing a reputation for my consistency, passion, and likeability.  To have the kind of success that I have experienced you must be unique.  I will continue to do the extra planning that it takes to keep good notes and practice a call continuum so every time I call on a doctor I am picking up where we left off.  That alone will separate me from the rest and my success will follow.

What would you do if you suspected that a competitor had hidden or moved your samples?

Question motive:

Determine how candidate would deal with a potentially difficult professional situation.

Good answer:

I would stand in the sample area for my call if possible and instead of telling the doctor that the competitor is moving my samples I would just ask him if he knows where my product is.  When he did not see it or started looking I would tell him that I really see how his patients could benefit from my product, but if they can’t find the samples then the patient to their benefit of a free trial is not available to them.  I would ask where it is they would like my samples placed.  My feeling is that the doctor has seen this a million times and likely does not appreciate the moving of samples.  Without saying one negative word towards my competition I would have pointed out the problem and the physician will be the one that picks the spot for the samples so he will know where to reach for my product.

Why should I hire you?

Question motive:

What level of confidence does the candidate have in regards to potentially doing this job?  If the candidate isn’t confident in their future success you can be certain that they will not be a stand out candidate.

Good answer:

You should hire me because I will be a top performer on your team.  I will bring a level of drive, consistency and passion that will inspire team members and most important achieve the maximum bonus payout.  You won’t have to worry about me not having a plan together and working hard. I will be in the field early and making calls until the offices are closing.  Whatever it is that I need to do to be a top performer is what I will do.  As I’ve said before, I am driven, persuasive, consistent and coachable and you are going to enjoy working with me as I believe I will enjoy learning from you.  You should hire me (this last sentence is said with a nod; then stop talking and smile slightly to show you confidence).

How do you handle selling more than one product on the same call and set it apart from the competition?

Question Alternative:

Your company has acquired a new drug that is approved by the FDA for launch.  Although your new product is more efficacious than the competition it is also more expensive.  How do you handle selling more than one product on the same call and set it apart from the competition?

Question motive:

This is a difficult question to answer because you must display that you have the confidence to sell two products on one call while also showing that you are flexible.  Plus you must articulate your selling strategy during this one.

Good answer:

First of all I would like to say that the opportunity to launch a new product would be very exciting.  During the initial launch I imagine that I would focus the initial calls introducing the product during lunches or dinners and when not possible during regular calls.  I would describe the mechanism of action and why this product is more efficacious than any of the competition.  I would continue to probe the doctor on every additional call to determine if he has bought in to the benefits of my product.  When I get the price objection compared to the product, I would point out that with the fact that this is the only pill that provides the results we see and for that reason you really cannot compare this in price.