The medical device industry is less apparent to the general public than many other industries. Unlike the pharmaceutical industry, there is little direct-to-consumer advertising by device companies. Industry giants aside, the names of most medical device companies are not commonly known.
Ideally, going into college, you would know that medical device sales is something you want to pursue and plan your course of study accordingly. You would choose the best companies to gain the right type of sales experience, put up great numbers and three to five years into your sales career, you would get your big break in the industry and build your career from there.
Of course, it does not always pan out exactly this way. Sometimes people “discover” the medical device industry later in their careers. I’ve interviewed people who are amazed to find out that sales reps are actually in the operating room during surgery.
So is there a point in one’s career when it’s just too late join the party?
I received a message through LinkedIn from someone who had taken an interest in the industry later in their career:
“Hi Lisa, I don’t want to impose on your day, but am hopeful you can offer your expert opinion on my career pursuit. I have a strong technology sales management background but have never focused on a particular industry. Healthcare is clearly where the action is so I would like to move in that direction. All the opportunities I see strongly prefer sales ‘specialists’ in the given medical sales field, even for executive management roles. Am I wasting my time or are there companies out there that have a track record of hiring the right sales leaders and providing training around the given competency?”
I’ve often heard that is takes about 10 years to develop an expertise in a given field. For anyone looking to break into medical device sales later in their career, it would be extremely hard to do so as a manager or executive. At these levels, most of the people are industry experts. Someone from the outside would most likely need to be prepared to take a step back into sales. Even so, breaking in could be very tough.
I would say the reverse would also be true: It would be tough for a medical device industry veteran to break in at senior levels in technology.
Although there may be many transferable sales skills from other industries, selling in the operating room environment is exceptionally unique. Unlike any other sales position, medical device reps are there first-hand while their new customers use their products and are immediately accountable in a way few other sales reps are.
Anyone who is serious about breaking in would need to become a student of the industry. They would need to learn anatomy and medical terminology. They would have to decipher surgical techniques and familiarize themselves with different products, procedures and companies. And that’s all before landing a job; this is what it would take to even get an interview.
My suggestion: If medical device sales is a passing fancy, let it pass you by. If you are already a decade deep in another industry, you’ll have to think long and hard about how far you are willing to go to break into medical device sales.
But if you’re serious, work hard to develop your knowledge and target an aspect of the industry that has a strong similarity to your past experience. For the person above, approaching the industry from a technology angle, like electronic medical records or other technology solutions for healthcare, could be a good avenue. If possible, focus on the healthcare vertical in your own industry to gain some experience selling to hospitals or other healthcare settings. And as always, network like crazy with people who are already part of the industry.
Breaking into medical device sales at any point is never easy. Interest alone is never enough. It must be backed by commitment, passion and action. This will lead to success at any stage of your career.
“Most of us serve our deals by fits and starts. The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly. That is dedication.” — Cecil B De Mille
Lisa McCallister specializes in recruiting for medical device sales and marketing positions with an operating room focus, such as orthopedics, electrosurgery, endoscopy and a wide range of surgical specialties. She has recruited two Rookie of the Year award winners. Connect with her on LinkedIn or check out her blog, MyJobScope.com.