Downsized in Pharmaceutical or Medical Sales?

If you have been selling in the medical or pharmaceutical industry for the past few years, you will have either been downsized, experienced the fear of possible downsizing, or have seen one of your colleagues downsized.

Unfortunately today, the pharmaceutical and medical sales industry seems to be one of the leaders in restructuring, realigning or right-sizing their employees.

If you are one of the many people currently experiencing downsizing, don’t let it stop you from moving on and possibly moving up with your next career move.  The negative stereotype thinking of a downsized employee is no longer true.   Some of the best salespeople get downsized due to tenure, company mergers, acquisitions, and occasionally just due to poor planning.  Companies are hopeful and forecast large sales numbers and then fail to meet their predictions.  Employee restructuring may be due to the lack of FDA approvals, label changes or generic entries into the market.  Competitive products within the market segment may also take the lead via marketing or perceived superior clinical data.  However it happens, there is not much that can be done about the volatility of the industry because healthcare remains dynamic and is always changing.

Greg Heslin, in his article on, does a great job at defining these terms.  He says, “Downsizing is the act of reducing the number of employees on a company’s payroll and is considered different than layoffs. Downsizing is scaling down the number of employees permanently rather than temporarily like layoffs. Employees who are laid off usually have a good chance at being rehired, where as those who are victims of downsizing do not.”

The numbers are startling.  Challenger, Grey & Christmas employment tracking service reported in the year 2000 that 2453 employees were downsized from pharmaceutical companies.  By the year 2007 that number had reached over 31,000.

So, back to the original question- I have been downsized…now what?

Ronald Reagan said, “Recession is when a neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.” The most important key is that you realize that even though you were let go from a particular company, you are still valuable!  Downsizing can be hard on even the most confident salesperson’s ego and without confidence it is hard to sell yourself during the interview process.

If you have not been downsized, but it remains a possibility with your current employer, start a file now to use for your “brag book”.  Gather your sales numbers and achievements and if you are later downsized, remember to get a letter of reference from the employer indicating you were not dismissed based on performance.  These steps will help remove all doubt from any potential employers mind about why you are not currently employed.  Sales numbers speak volumes on a resume!  Past performance is an indicator of future performance, so make sure your resume is filled with sales numbers, quota attainment, awards and achievements.

Also of importance is to note the number of employees the company has recently downsized.  Document the number of downsizing waves you were able to make it through prior to being dismissed.  Why?  Because if you were the one person a company chose to dismiss out of 300 representatives, this statistic is harder to overcome then if the company dismissed 50% of their sales force.  Sales managers look at numbers and statistics are a great way to communicate what occurred with your last employer and why.

I received a severance package.  When should I start job hunting?

If you were lucky enough to be given a severance package, it is important to use this time wisely.

  • Start interviewing as soon as possible.
    When interviewing keep an open mind about opportunities and evaluate each company and their pipeline to avoid being restructured in the future.  Keep in mind however the longer you wait to get another position, the more difficult it will be to get hired.
  • Try to select job opportunities that match your skill sets.
    For example, if you sold a cardiovascular drug, think about applying for medical device sales positions selling to cardiologists.  Keep in mind, if you have established relationships in a particular area, that experience is valuable to potential employers.
  • Try to select job opportunities that match your salary history.
    Companies are leery of salespeople that are willing to take a lesser salary unless commission potential outweighs the difference.  No one wants to take a step backwards and you shouldn’t have to if you are realistic.


You have been and are valuable!  RELAX.  Read articles and books to keep yourself current on selling methods and industry news. Review your own personal direction and career needs and with all of this information, refocus your career goals.  Take some time to revise your resume and to reinvent yourself.  Talk to your past associates and friends to find out which products and companies are “up and coming”.  It’s an over used cliché’, but now is the time to network.  Employment leads and opportunities can arrive in non-traditional ways—use your imagination.  Be optimistic and utilize your resources.  Remember, many individuals have found opportunities because they have been forced into change.  They moved on to successful, even more rewarding positions.  You can too!

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can and
wisdom to know the difference.”
~ Reinhold Niebuhr