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The pharma sales recruitment process is quite different to how other sectors within the industry conduct their interviews – and if you’re new to it there are several mistakes you need to be sure to avoid.

Typically, candidates are required to undergo two interview stages for any pharma sales positions. The first stage is an initial face-to-face or telephone interview. For the second stage, candidates will be invited to a sales assessment centre, where they will undergo various tasks to assess their knowledge, skills and capabilities in a work-style environment.

A key component of the recruitment process, assessment centres are designed to enable employers to gain a much better understanding of a pharma rep’s suitability for the role. For those who are inexperienced with assessment centres or are looking to begin their career in a graduate position, we’ve already put together a handy guide on what candidates can expect at an assessment centre and how to adequately prepare themselves.

But for both new and experienced candidates alike, it’s important to know how to avoid some of the most common mistakes made during a sales assessment centre. We asked our specialist Sales Recruitment Consultant, Hannah Hall, for her insights into this:

  1. Finding the balance between formal and friendly

One of the key traits of a pharma sales rep is their ability to build relationships with stakeholders, and this is often done via excellent communication skills. During an assessment centre, it’s important to show this friendly side whilst maintaining professionalism.

Remember, interviewers aren’t just looking for candidates who meet the job requirements. They are also seeking someone who has the right attitude and personality that fits their company culture.

So, how do you formally present yourself, showing your bright personality and ability to sell without coming across as too arrogant?

  • Adequately preparing for the interview will help you remain calm and collected throughout. In addition, the more confident you are the more likely your personality will shine through rather than your nerves.
  • Avoid talking too much. It’s important to remember that it’s not how much you say that’s going to impress the interviewer, it’s what you say. Rambling can be an indicator that you are nervous and haven’t fully prepared for the interview. Keep your answers concise and on topic.
  • Be mindful of your body language. Ideally, you want to come across confident and approachable within your interview. You should avoid crossing your arms and maintain a good posture throughout.
  • Rule of thumb is it’s always better to turn up for an assessment centre over-dressed as opposed to under. Too casual and you’ll give off the impression you aren’t taking this seriously.
  1. Differentiating yourself from the competition

It’s important you’re still memorable to the interview panel once the assessment day is over. In order to achieve this, you need to differentiate yourself from other candidates rather than simply ticking boxes. You need to be innovative and creative in how you answer questions and approach tasks, which will help you get the interviewer’s attention and prevent you from getting lost in the crowd.

For example, you may be asked to talk through a presentation you’ve prepared. It's essential you stand up when presenting, are confident, communicate clearly and keep eye contact with everyone in the room. To ensure the panel are engaged with what you have to say, you need to make the presentation visually appealing. We recommend avoiding full text slides, incorporate charts and diagrams to highlight key information and have a consistent theme throughout.

For any help putting together an eye-catching presentation for an assessment centre, your recruiter will be able to help!.

2. The STAR format

Another key task you may be tested with is a competency-based interview. This provides candidates the opportunity to explain certain situations you’ve come across within your career and how you overcame them. To answer competency-based questions, it’s best to utilise the STAR format - Situation, Task, Action and Result.

The purpose of STAR is to help candidates communicate clear, succinct and structured answers. The most important part of this format is A - Action. This allows you to explain the rationale behind why you approached and how you overcame the situation the way you did.

Without using the STAR format to answer competency-based questions you risk missing out key pieces of information or struggling to piece together an answer at all.

3. Brag files

A brag file is an evidence file that showcases your greatest achievements throughout your career. Essentially, a brag file is an extension of your CV which allows you to highlight to the interviewer what sets you apart from other candidates.

Failing to show up to an assessment centre with a brag file could have a negative impact on how you’re rated as a potential candidate. Even if you’re not asked explicitly to bring one along, it’s important that you still do so.

To ensure you take full advantage of this opportunity, here are some of the key elements you need to incorporate into your brag file:

  • Certifications
  • Awards
  • References
  • Work examples and supporting evidence
  • Sales results
  • Testimonials
  • Performance reviews

4. Lack of preparation
Failing to prepare for a sales assessment centre is a recipe for disaster, so it’s vital you put in some significant prep time ahead of the day around the following:

  • Conduct research into the company, their strengths, culture and competitors.
  • If you know who will be on the interview panel, check out their LinkedIn profiles in advance.
  • Research thoroughly what products you may be selling.
  • Prepare interesting and forward-thinking questions about the future of this job/ company.
  • Have a clear understanding of why you want this role and be prepared to communicate this within the interview.
  • Identify key components of your skills, capabilities and personality that make you the perfect fit and practice selling yourself in a couple of lines.
  • Practice – and practice again – any presentations you’ve prepared.
  • Be sure you know exactly where and when the assessment centre is taking place and have any parking or travel instructions with you which you might require.

Although preparations for assessment centres may seem daunting, fully investing your time and effort into it will give you a significant advantage over other candidates. Avoid these common mistakes and you’ll be on the right path to achieving your dream job!

If you’re preparing for a sales assessment centre and require any help or advice get in touch with Hannah Hall today. Or to see all our current live vacancies within the pharma sales sector click here.

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