Medical Device Sales Abound in Job Opportunities
by Shareen Pathak
Interested in healthcare sales? Stay out of the drug industry and choose device companies instead. Medical device sales reps are in high demand because of higher margins and forecasts for strong growth.
A quick perusal of medical device company careers sites shows many open sales positions.
At Bard Medical, there are openings for territory manager positions across the country, from Hawaii to Rochester, N.Y. Boston Scentific has 62 opening in sales, mostly in field representative positions nationwide. At Intuitive Surgical, reps are needed in the U.S. for its robotically assisted surgical platform, da Vinci. And at Medtronic, one of the largest device makers in the U.S., there are 95 sales positions available.
Medical device companies are "hiring sales reps," said Brian Cole, a practice leader in the medical device practice at Kaye/Bassman, an executive recruitment firm.
And health reform will raise demand further, since it is expected to add 32 million new patients to the system, and an aging population will mean a bigger need for devices, said Tom Ruff, president of Tom Ruff Company, a Manhattan Beach, Calif., medical device sales recruiter.
At the same time, sales opportunities in the pharmaceutical industry are harder to come by. Drug makers have been laying off sales reps by the thousands in the last few years, due to expiring patents and more dollars being diverted from sales and marketing to R&D. Novartis just announced a 1,400-person layoff; Roche announced that it will cut 4,800 jobs in November; Genzyme and Abbott Labs also made similar announcements to the tune of 1,000 and 3,000 layoffs, respectively. Over 45,000 jobs at drug makers have disappeared so far this year according to outplacement company Challenger, Gray and Christmas.
The Pace of Hiring
The strength of hiring in the device sector as well as the current layoffs in the drug industry can be attributed to pace.
"Growth in medical device sales has been more strategic and rational," said Ruff.
Instead of bringing on thousands of employees at a time only to lay them off once patents expired, medical device hiring is gradual and based on longer-term planning.
Even companies like Medtronic, which announced a weaker sales forecast for its products in the coming quarter, are investing in human capital, said Ruff. He pointed out that companies like Bard, Boston Scientific and Intuitive Surgical are also hiring and plan to hire more.
What It Takes
While the pay and opportunities are attractive, the sales job is a tough one because of the technical expertise necessary.
In most operating rooms, along with the bevy of doctors and nurses, sales representatives are present, advising surgeons on the device that is being used, whether it is an artificial hip or the various plates and screws used to mend broken bones.
"There's a complicated certification process involved," said Paula Rutledge, a former medical device rep and president of Orlando-based recruiter Legacy MedSearch. Most equipment salespeople come armed with a science degree, as well as a good understanding of anatomy and the human body, said Ashley Phillips, a search consultant with executive search firm Kaye/Bassman.
There is also extensive travel. Rutledge said that the territory for reps is vast, covering multiple state and many cross-country flights.
And because the job is a fast-paced, difficult one, companies expect candidates with strong sales numbers under their belt and who specialize in transactional selling.
Most of all, they want someone aggressive. "Arrogance and rudeness is a quality you should have as a device rep," said Rutledge.
Experience also pays. Rutledge recounts one rep who had been with an orthopedic company for many years, who was paid $750,000 to jump to another company. "And he brought all his people over," she said.
Though the job is transactional in nature, relationships are still incredibly important, especially to benchmark your personal worth.
What You Get
All in all, it's a tough job, but it comes with its benefits.
Though pay packages for pharma reps have always been flaunted, the less-glamorous medical device salespeople can earn much more -- though it's often less publicized. While an average pharma rep earns around $100,000 annually, the average rep in devices can make $300,000 a year, according to recruiter estimates. Rutledge estimates that those who work with hip, knee or heart implants, what she called the "pinnacle of the tier" can rake in half a million dollars a year.
The difference is in the glamour quotient. In better days, pharma reps were swimming in perks. "From all-expenses paid vacations to freebies, they had it all," said Phillips. "But in medical device, you're earning more, it's just in base, commission and a car allowance."
And the commission, if you're good, is uncapped at most companies, unlike in pharma. "The possibilities are limitless," said Phillips.
Pharmaceutical Reps Not Wanted
For you pharma reps reeling from yesterday's announcement of almost 1,500 job cuts at Novartis, medical device companies aren't welcoming you with open arms.
"Our clients are not willing to pay a fee to a search firm for those with pharmaceutical sales backgrounds," said Ruff. "They want previous device experience or B2B."
A more telltale sign is that Ruff eliminated the pharma side of his recruiting business entirely last year to focus on medical devices. "That tells you a lot," he said.
Some pharma reps do manage to break into the device sector, usually because of pre-existing relationships with hospitals or doctors. Still, there is a strong bias against hiring them.
"It's a totally different job," said Phillips. "Companies don't want to bring them on."
Different cultures are also at play. Pharma reps work in pods, usually operating within a team, device reps do not, said Ruff. "So companies are hesitant to look at those individuals."
Cole thinks there's an easier explanation. "I hear from med device guys that they think pharma reps are just lazy and don't do anything."
"Four years ago, pharma was the sexy place to be, with lots of handouts," said Phillips. "But in medical, you work for what you get paid -- and it's substantial."