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My Medical Device Sales Career

Sticky Interview Question: What have you been doing the past year?

I read your article on "The single Most Important and Loaded Interview Question:  Why do You Want to Leave Your Job?".  It is quite good, however you left out an entire segment of job searchers in this question - The laid off.  The Illinois Unemployment rate is 11.7% (Mar '10) and unfortunately, it's slim pickin's out here.  As of today, I have been laid off for an entire year.  With each new interview, I am hearing the same question. . . "What have you been doing the past year?"  I am now being denied interviews because I'm not working- which is ridiculous seeing as how that's what I've been spending the last year working on!  A little background:  I was a Pharmaceutical Rep, and I've decided to change completely to Medical device/supply sales.  Before that, I sold appliances to retailers.  I have over 7 years of successful sales experience, which makes the whole process even more frustrating!  So tell me, what is the best response to this question?!!???!

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Hello Kelly,

You are right, I left that off because it is another article all by itself! First of all, it is VERY difficult to switch from Pharma to Medical Device Sales or Suppy Sales...tough even if you were still employed! In this market the easiest thing to do is to get back into the same background that you have....go for almost a direct match; for instance, if you have Pharma Diabetes experience, try to find another drug company selling diabetes pharma products and apply through a contact vs. a job board (since you have been unemployed so long).

If I caught you last year right when you were first laid off (I also do Career Coaching for candidates and I have two now that just were laid off), this is the advice I give them:

1) Target jobs immediately that matches your exact background WHILE you also search for that "out of my background" type position (like Medical Device Sales).
2) If their is an educational need they would like to fulfill (like getting a full BS, or BA or MBA), get going and apply to a good public (inexpensive school) and check out grant money. Follow my drift here...if you end up unemployed for a long time...you go to school more hours and that explains the long term unemployment...you decided to go back to school!
3) Got to PDI or another Pharma contract company and try to immediately get plugged in after 3 months of no bites on the resume (I am fully aware, that PDI does not look great if a Pfizer or Wyeth are looking for full time reps..but they are laying off anyway..right?).

That's all nice I bet you are thinking, "but it is now a year later and this won't help me". When it get's to that stage...drastic measures are needed and one's you might not like to do, but perhaps financially you need to make some hard decisions:

1) Get a job doing something...Have you gone to PDI to see if they have a contract sales position, that may still be available.
2) Do you have transferable skills that could be used in a straight commission opportunity (I lost my job and decided out of choice I did not want another VP job...I took one aspect of my job and turned it into a business 5 years ago). In this case perhaps Insurance Sales, btob Sales; you may not want to do it, but you will learn new skill sets AND be able to say you are working!
3) I wrote an article about 3 Dimensional Networking (look under the Library Section in the category of Job Seeker Articles and you will find it listed). Your best bet is getting a job through a person contact or friend into the same or different industry who will give you a break.
4) If all else fails here, how about switching occupations and going back to school for a specific trade: Accounting, Nursing (don't laugh...BS or BA people do it all the time...a 2 yr. RN can be had), Trade School. One of my laid of pharma people told me he always wanted to be a Fire Fighter; he was in his 30's....he called me back a year later and he was a Fire Fighter, he just made the age cut he told me!

I know I don't know your personal situation, but I tell you what Kelly...e-mail privately within this system if you do not find an answer here OR if you feel your reply would be good for others to learn...feel free.

This IS a big issue...pharma reps. are no longer needed in the numbers they once were and probably never will be in the future with the new Government Regulations!

Linda
Linda,

Thank you very much for your quick response to my post. I am actually amazed at how accurately you "hit the nail on the head!"

I was laid off from a big pharma company with the other 40% of the sales force last April. Before that, I was a successful sales rep for a great appliance company covering an 8 state territory in the midwest. I am sure that my successful B2B background is the reason I have had interview opportunities for Medical Device positions in the past year. I've actually interviewed with Stryker, Integra, Baxter, Bard, Smith & Nephew, and a couple of Biotech companies. However, nothing has panned out from these opportunities. It seems they either choose representatives with direct medical device experience, or promote from within.

1) Initially, I did look at Pharma positions and medical device positions, but realized that I would like to return to more of a Sales position. Also, a friend of mine that made the switch from Pharma to Device said that the ideal device candidates have less than 3 years of Pharma. The past 7 months, I've only been targeting Device companies, and some Biotech.

2) I have a B.B.A. in International Business & Marketing. Not many companies are looking for an MBA.

3) Funny you mention going to a contract company! I actually am interviewing on Monday with a contract company for the SAME EXACT position I was laid off from with the same products. However, the salary is about $10,000 less! What do you think about the lesser salary for the same position?

4) I've considered going back to Appliance sales, I loved it. I've even thought about starting my own business! I am a little apprehensive to take that plunge though, with the economy the way it is.

5) I totally agree with your suggestion for Networking - I would not have had the interview opportunities I had without contacting everyone I know, or don't know but found through Linked In or other friends, family, acquaintances, etc. It is what's made the difference in my search.

6) I am very lucky because my husband has a great job, and we are doing ok with me not working, but it's driving me crazy. It's difficult, because I've never had a problem finding a job, I have excellent sales experience, rewards, etc. - and not having a job for a year is a big blow to the ego. It's been a difficult process, so I really appreciate others taking the time to provide advice, and help out.

Thank you very much!

Kelly James
Hello Kelly,

This is my advice..you are unemployed and you need to get plugged in ASAP….your current salary…is NOT what you WERE making, it is what you are making now…(we both know what that is!). That said, take the contract job that is paying you more than you are making NOW and you can springboard off that to the next step in your career with a paycheck in hand each month!

New business start ups are difficult right now, but many new businesses are started from a passion and using off evening or weekend hours to get them started!

Good luck to you, I have a feeling you are on the right track and thank you for helping others with your questions! Many are in the same boat and I often get asked all of these questions.

All the best!

Regards,

Linda Hertz


Kelly James said:
Linda,

Thank you very much for your quick response to my post. I am actually amazed at how accurately you "hit the nail on the head!"

I was laid off from a big pharma company with the other 40% of the sales force last April. Before that, I was a successful sales rep for a great appliance company covering an 8 state territory in the midwest. I am sure that my successful B2B background is the reason I have had interview opportunities for Medical Device positions in the past year. I've actually interviewed with Stryker, Integra, Baxter, Bard, Smith & Nephew, and a couple of Biotech companies. However, nothing has panned out from these opportunities. It seems they either choose representatives with direct medical device experience, or promote from within.

1) Initially, I did look at Pharma positions and medical device positions, but realized that I would like to return to more of a Sales position. Also, a friend of mine that made the switch from Pharma to Device said that the ideal device candidates have less than 3 years of Pharma. The past 7 months, I've only been targeting Device companies, and some Biotech.

2) I have a B.B.A. in International Business & Marketing. Not many companies are looking for an MBA.

3) Funny you mention going to a contract company! I actually am interviewing on Monday with a contract company for the SAME EXACT position I was laid off from with the same products. However, the salary is about $10,000 less! What do you think about the lesser salary for the same position?

4) I've considered going back to Appliance sales, I loved it. I've even thought about starting my own business! I am a little apprehensive to take that plunge though, with the economy the way it is.

5) I totally agree with your suggestion for Networking - I would not have had the interview opportunities I had without contacting everyone I know, or don't know but found through Linked In or other friends, family, acquaintances, etc. It is what's made the difference in my search.

6) I am very lucky because my husband has a great job, and we are doing ok with me not working, but it's driving me crazy. It's difficult, because I've never had a problem finding a job, I have excellent sales experience, rewards, etc. - and not having a job for a year is a big blow to the ego. It's been a difficult process, so I really appreciate others taking the time to provide advice, and help out.

Thank you very much!

Kelly James

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