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What Hiring Managers Are Looking For In Pharmaceutical Sales Candidates With Darren Leathers | Part 2

Posted on August 19, 2020

MSP 13 | Pharmaceutical Sales


What do you need to have or do, exactly, to land the pharmaceutical sales position that you want? In this second part of Samuel Gbadebo’s interview with Darren Leathers of Bristol-Myers Squibb, they discuss in more detail the qualities that hiring managers are looking for in pharmaceutical sales candidates. Is there a minimum educational requirement? What kind of sales experience and sales numbers are hiring managers looking for? How does hiring work in the oncology pharma space? How is pharmaceutical sales hiring changed by the COVID-19 pandemic? Get the answers to all these, plus the valuable lessons that Darren learned in all his years in the industry.

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What Hiring Managers Are Looking For In Pharmaceutical Sales Candidates With Darren Leathers | Part 2

We are continuing with Darren Leathers in Part Two. Darren is talking about what it means to be an effective pharmaceutical sales rep and what he looks at as a hiring manager in Oncology when he’s thinking about putting someone on his team. Darren has been a Hiring Manager for a number of years. He hasn’t only hired in the Oncology space. He has hired in the Primary Care space, Oncology space and different specialty spaces. He talks about what is evaluated when considering anyone that wants to get a pharmaceutical sales position. This is great information. If you’ve read the last episode, you have a little bit of insight as to who Darren is. On this show, we’re going to get more into what he looks at, what he considers and what every person that’s going for a pharmaceutical sales position should be thinking about. Regardless if you’re new to the industry and you’re trying to land a pharmaceutical sales position, or if you’re a seasoned pharmaceutical sales rep that wants to do something a little bit different and work in a different organization. Darren goes into the details of what you need to make sure you’re doing and what you should be considering.

I want to give a quick shout-out to two students of mine who just graduated my program. This is Melanie and Andrew. I want to give a shout-out to both of you. One of you got into a medical device company called Comet. Congratulations, you showed up to the program. You can see you got results. I’m proud of you for making that happen. Another one of you got into a biotech company called Roche. You’ve also wanted to be in pharmaceutical sales. Melanie, I’m talking to you. I’m proud of you as well. You guys really have showed up in the program. You got the results and you make things happen. Congratulations. I hope everyone enjoys the interview with Darren, Part Two. Thank you again for reading.  

I’m going to change up a little bit with a question that I get a lot. That comes into the educational aspect of a great rep or a great candidate. You see now that most everyone in the industry has a college degree. Would you say that anyone still gets hire that does not have a college degree in the pharmaceutical space in 2020?

I’ve been in this industry for many years and I don’t know one person that not had a college degree. I don’t think that’s changing.

What’s your take on the MBA? I’ve met representatives that had an MBA and nothing has changed. Their career literally took off. What’s your perspective on the MBA, where it fits and what do you encourage for your team?

Having a Bachelor’s degree is first and foremost specifically in Oncology. We won’t even entertain anyone coming out of college. You need many years of experience before you can even enter. Coming into the general pharma world is a little bit easier to have limited experience in sales to penetrate the market. With regards to an MBA, it depends on what an individual wants to do. The first thing you have to do in a sales environment is about, are you putting up the sales numbers? That’s very objective. That’s what you’re measured on and that’s what’s going to get your ticket to the dance. I don’t care how many degrees you have, if you’re not performing in a sales capacity and that’s what you’re assigned to do, you’re not going to advance your career. The MBA is the credential that might help that.

If you are a person that is wanting to pursue different things within the organization and move up to some of the executive levels or go to marketing or go into different departments within the organization outside of sales or executive sales leadership that you’re managing a broader group of people, then certainly that credential helps. At the end of the day, when it comes to sales, the credential itself does not carry that much more water, but it does make you more attractive. Certainly, if you’re interviewing with an organization and I’m looking at an individual that has a successful track record in sales and they have an MBA, and I’m looking at an individual that has a successful track record in sales and doesn’t have an MBA, I’m going to probably look more favorable to that person with the MBA for a couple of reasons.

One, they have different learnings and knowledge than the individual that doesn’t have. Those skills and learning could may be transferable to make them a better contributor to the team. Two, also gaining that MBA says that this person is making those sacrifices to continue to increase their level of education. It shows that level of commitment that one makes to pursue that and not stop at the Bachelor’s degree. That gives me the drive that this person has. One of the big characteristics I look for is drive. Having that MBA after they’ve already got their Bachelor’s says that they have more drive to do more.

No matter how many degrees you have, if you're not putting up the sales numbers, you're not going to advance your career. Share on X

In this environment with hiring freezes going on, with us talking about sales performance, leveling the playing field, you’ve seen like everyone else that there are sales reps that have been laid off. There are smaller pharma companies that have not been able to sustain salesforce because of the current environment. In sales performance, there might be a gap because someone was laid off early in 2020 or because the company was struggling towards right when they were about to be laid off. In this environment, when you get candidates, how are you taking that into account?

In this environment, it’s totally understandable. In the pharmaceutical industry, we are hiring most people that are also in the pharmaceutical industry. It’s rare that we’re hiring someone outside of the industry. If there are a lot of layoffs, oftentimes our fellow industry members know that there was a layoff with another company, this company downsized. It’s clear that it is happening. I still will entertain someone that has been laid off and see if there’s a gap in their resume. If they can explain why they were laid off and I knew that there was some history of a layoff, then that’s certainly perfectly acceptable. When it comes to a lot of different jobs in a time where there were not a lot of layoffs, I would not want to see a person switching a lot of jobs and being a big job hopper. That’s me, personally.

Some people are a little more liberal to that these days, but I like to see a consistency of work history without a lot of gaps. The reason for that is because hiring someone is a time-consuming process and a very expensive process. If I see someone that is going from one job to another job every 1.5 or 2 years, why would I have confidence that this person is going to stay on board with my organization and not leave, and I have to start this process over again? If you think about it, when you take on a new role, it takes you about a year to understand what to do, how to do it, how to navigate the systems, the process, the customer base. It takes a while.

Once that person comes to a point where they’re up and running, and then they decided to leave 6 months or 1 year later, then your investment is down the drain. I take pause in looking at resumes that have a lot of gaps or a lot of jobs and would not be my first group of candidates that I would look at. However, if I knew that there were some downsizing and layoffs within the industry and this person had prior to that, a good history of a track record, then I certainly would entertain him.

You said that in this space, it’s more pharma hiring pharma. You’re speaking specifically to oncology looking to hire pharma. Are you saying in general that you believe that pharma looks to hire pharma as opposed to people from a different industry?

I was probably speaking more from an oncology standpoint. In oncology, you’re going to get most people with some level of oncology experience, specialty experience, medical device, account management type of experience. Most people in oncology environment have probably had 15 to 20-plus years in the medical industry. That’s what I meant about pharma to pharma. However, in the general pharma arena, especially bridging into general pharma, a person who has some sales experience would certainly can bridge over into pharmaceuticals much easier. That was my path and what I needed to do.

Most companies are going to say, “You need to have some level of experience before you come in.” That being said, when I was managing people in a general pharma arena, I typically didn’t want to hire someone that had more than five years sales experience with another company. The reason for that is because for instance, if I was looking at someone from Pfizer who was wanting to come over when I was managing at GSK, “What can GSK offer you that Pfizer is not giving you? You have a mentality of how you’ve been brought up in Pfizer. What are you going to bring differently to GSK that you’re not getting at Pfizer?”

There are lots of different habits ingrained when you’ve been with another company for a long period of time and then transferring over to a like company. I wasn’t that keen on looking at candidates that have a long track record or history with another company to come into another general pharma role. I like someone that may have had 2 or 3 years. They were able to get their feet wet into pharmaceuticals. They haven’t formed any bad habits. They haven’t been brainwashed to drink the Kool-Aid of that company yet. They’re passionate about what they’re doing. They understand the market dynamics, what the industry entails, and they’re ready to take their career to the next level.

MSP 13 | Pharmaceutical Sales

Pharmaceutical Sales: When it comes to sales, educational credentials by themselves does not carry that much weight, but they do make you more attractive.


I’m not going to ask you to even be hypothetical about it. I’m going to rely on what you’ve seen and experienced. Besides their performance, what would you say was the number one thing that someone outside of the industry did that made you say, “I want to consider this candidate?”

One, they’ve done their homework like nobody’s business. They’ve researched the company. They have a clear understanding of what the industry is about. They’ve read books on the pharmaceutical industry. They’ve talked to their own local physician or family physician to ask them about the pharmaceutical industry, what it entails, what interactions that physician has with representatives and, “Do you have representatives you could put me in touch with?” That person would then reach out to someone in the pharmaceutical industry to try to gain an understanding of what the industry is about. This person would then try to spend a day and ask how can they spend a day with someone on my team to gain some insights of what the pharmaceutical industry is about. They’ve got all those different steps to say, “My mind is made up. This is where I want to be. I know I can do this job and I’ve done my homework.”

It comes back to that grit that I talked about and that drive to do more, to try to separate yourself. Those would be things that I’ve seen people do in the past that gave me a little bit more favorability to that individual to say, “I can see pulling this candidate into the pool.” At the end of the day, every candidate you look at is a risk. It could be a candidate that has five years of experience or candidate that has zero years of experience in pharmaceuticals. Each candidate is a risk. I look at them on paper, interview them and make my decisions based on that interview and their experiences. I’m trying to mitigate the risk. Who’s going to come in to this role and on one of my team that’s going to be able to contribute to the team and to the business, and get through a learning curve and start to perform much faster? That’s what I’m trying to do.

There are no guarantees to that because I’ve hired some people and they didn’t turn out to do well. I’ve hired some people that had somewhat limited experience and have done extremely well. I’ve been with oncology division for many years. Typically, when you hear about oncology roles, it all comes with a requisite of you must have five years of oncology experience or something along those lines and requisition. Out of maybe the seven or so people that I’ve hired over the last few years, I’ve only hired one person with oncology experience. I’ve hired most people that have had account experience in medical sales, specialty sales and it’s worked out well. It depends on what that hiring manager is looking for. At the end of the day, I’m trying to say, “How am I going to mitigate my risk and who’s going to be the less risky for me?” That’s what I try to do to make my decisions on who I hire.

What is the best thing about working in the oncology space in your opinion?

Not to sound cliché or what a lot of people may say about the pharmaceutical industry. It truly is about the value of medicine that we bring to patients with cancer. When I was in general pharmaceuticals, we would say that as well, but with oncology, it truly is different. You have a pride that the drugs you are selling are truly extending patient lives. If you think about it, you go to an oncology office and you walk into an office. Many of those patients sitting there won’t be alive within five years. Greater than 50% of these patients will have moved on.

Knowing that you are helping create memories for these patients, the drugs that you’re providing to these customers and how you’re educating them, you’re helping create memories. It’s more than just selling the drug. You’re talking to every person in that office that is touching either the patient or touching any of the financials that come about on how to make sure that patients can get the drug financially. It’s about account management and doing good work to increase memories for patients. That’s what I like about oncology.

If there was some piece of advice you could give your former self back when you started with SmithKline Beecham, what would it be?

Anyone who’s interested in pharmaceutical sales should learn more about the industry by networking with a lot of people that are in it. Share on X

Increase and make sure that you brought in your networks, especially sponsors or champions within your organization. One thing that I probably depended on was my abilities and what I could do to prove myself to be successful and were able to get a couple of champions to support me, to help me navigate my career and get to different roles. Oftentimes, some of those champions that you have move on and there are new people in line. If you haven’t created that network of champions to help ally for you and support you, then it makes your path a little bit more challenging. I would have to make sure that you increase your network, maintain those networks and continue to always leverage those networks because they come and they can go. It’s important to increase the people that you can engage with.

What about your long-term goals? Have you thought about where you want to be five years out?

At this stage of my career, I’m looking to retire. What I mean by that is retire from the industry of working in big Corporate America. I would certainly like to do some management consulting or get on some boards or something along those lines to still stay active and participate in this industry in some fashion. That’s what I’m looking is the finish line to ending my career and whatever comes in between that, if it’s something desirable to help me continue to learn and grow, it will be something I certainly could pursue and will pursue. The days of trying to chase something is not quite there like it used to be. I’m looking at the retirement land.

What’s the last piece of advice you’d give to all our readers?

When it comes to wanting to get into this pharmaceutical industry, it’s a great industry to get in. I certainly encourage anyone who’s interested to do all that you can to learn about it and network with a lot of people that are in industry to understand that this is an industry that you would want to be in. It’s something that you will walk away being highly energized and motivated, like you’re doing great and meaningful work on a daily basis. Continue to pursue the opportunities.

At this point, with not only the pharmaceutical industry but any industry, it’s about making sure that you network and build that network. As we all know, oftentimes it’s not what you know. It’s oftentimes who you know because oftentimes when you get an interview, you’re getting interviewed because you’re qualified to do the job. If you’re getting interviewed and you’re qualified to do the job, but you also have someone that’s in your network that’s helping influence that hiring manager or speak on your behalf, that’s going to give a person an edge up. Networking and leveraging those networks will be highly important to do.

Thanks for coming on the show, Darren. It was excellent having you. We’ll be following up with you and this potential retirement track.

I appreciate it. Best of luck to you as well. We certainly will be in touch. Thank you.

MSP 13 | Pharmaceutical Sales

Pharmaceutical Sales: If you haven’t created a network of champions to support you, it makes your path a little bit more challenging.


That was Darren Leathers. He dropped so much wonderful information for everyone out there. He got into what hiring managers consider when they evaluate a candidate. Regardless if the candidate is someone new to the industry or someone that’s very seasoned and familiar with the industry. We went over a lot of things. We went over how performance speaks volumes compared to the degree someone has. However, having a degree on all things matters. We went over the job hopping. How do you explain and walk through your resume in a way that’s attractive to a hiring manager? The experience you have and how will you perform in your current role or in the role you had previously? Have an entitlement mentality. Being able to say, “Even though I have these experiences, can I be coachable and open-minded to something new?” Researching the company and taking the time to understand what the company is about before you go to the interview.

The grit and demonstrating the grit that you have to go out there and be successful or at least do the things that create success each and every day. Hiring managers, when they’re evaluating a candidate, they’re trying to mitigate the risk. They want to take on an asset to their team, someone who’s going to move the business forward and provide even more value for patients and more value for their providers, then the value of the medicine that’s being brought to the patient. You’re stepping in and owning whatever it is that you represent as the sales representative. Making sure that message is communicated into everyone you’re doing business with. These are all wonderful things that need to be considered for anyone that wants to get into pharmaceutical sales.

Another thing though that I can stress enough that Darren mentioned more than once is the power of networking. Networking is a word that I probably hear more than any other word when it comes to getting a position in any field, especially in medical sales. What does that actually mean? Networking doesn’t just mean meeting someone and that is that. Networking means building relationships. It means meeting someone, and then taking the time to understand what they’re about. Being able to communicate clearly what you’re about, finding synergy in that and then keeping that relationship going. It no longer becomes this thing of, “I need something. Let me call this person. He can get it for me.” It actually becomes more of, “I have all these great relationships that I’ve taken the time to cultivate and develop with these amazing people. I’m going to make sure to keep up with them. If something comes up that they need, I’m going to be available. If something comes up that I need, potentially they’ll be available. We’re always going to do what we can to serve each other and keep this relationship going.” One thing I’d like to do is I’d like to leave another challenge. You all know I do this almost every episode. I want to challenge you to think about your network now. Think about the relationships you have. Think about the people in your network. Think about the people that you know you’ve wanted to talk to or reach out to, but for some reasons you just haven’t.  

As you’re thinking about these people in your network, I challenge you to contact one person now and let them know how much you appreciate having the opportunity to know them, and start a conversation or continue a conversation. Think about someone in your network that you know you should contact or you haven’t contacted in a while and it would be great if you could and did. Contact them and let them know how much you appreciate them being in your network. Phrase it however you like, whether it’s them being in your network, the opportunity to get to know them, the fact that they’re connected to you, however you want to phrase it, but let someone know. Feel free to visit the EvolveYourSuccess.com website. Leave a message by hitting the Send a Message tab at the bottom right and let us know that you actually took on this challenge and you contacted someone. We love to hear it. If you have a story to share with us, we can go ahead and sample it on our next episode.

Again, a big shout-out to Andrew and Melanie. You both did an amazing job through the program. Now, you have your positions in medical devices and pharmaceutical sales. I’m so proud to announce that. Also, if you’re looking to get a position and you’ve been thinking about getting into medical devices or pharmaceutical sales or genetic testing or lab sales, and you’re looking for something to help you make it happen, don’t hesitate to visit EvolveYourSuccess.com and take the assessment. After you take the assessment, it’s going to give you a great snapshot into what you can do to improve your medical sales search. You can always schedule a call and find out how you can be a part of our Medical Sales Career Builder program and get that next position. Thank you all for reading this show. Remember to stay tuned for more amazing episodes.   

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About Darren Leathers

MSP 13 | Pharmaceutical SalesWith a proven track record in the Pharmaceutical industry, over the past 16 years I have held commercial leadership roles with increasing responsibility to include: Sales Leadership, Marketing, Corporate Training, Hospital Sales Leadership and Strategic Operations. A results driven, strategic, effective and inspirational sales leader that consistently delivered strong performance and exceeded sales goals.



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