There are many interview and meeting tips such as start with a firm handshake and good eye contact, bring copies of your resume or even “Don’t forget to wear matching socks” my favorite from the movie “A Few Good Men”. These types of tips can be valuable but they are one-offs, scattered across the interaction with no unifying principle or theme to align them together. Most roles do not lend themselves to a whole theme for your interview interactions. Fortunately the Medical Science Liaison (MSL) role does and it is hiding in plain sight. Since MSLs are also scientists, cut from the Einstein cloth, why not create a unifying principle during your interviews? Not of space and time with a dash of gravity to curve the geometry but rather a theme lifted directly from the MSL role of meeting a stakeholder or KOL (key opinion leader) for the first time and developing a real relationship.
Movie Lesson #1: Dress well, look the part.
Tip 1: Do not think of it as an interview, instead use the more familiar skill of an MSL meeting where you are prepared to successfully collaborate with an internal stakeholder/KOL!
I’m a recruiter, not a physicist, my apologies to all my scienced friends that I just “unified” in alienation to my Einstein junk science summation. The point I am making and the interview theme that I am proposing is to treat your interviews as an MSL would approach an internal stakeholder or a KOL. Your interview theme starts with displacing the word “interview” and replacing it with the less stressful, more familiar work “meeting”. If you are job searching you might have 5 interviews in a year, which is not enough at-bats in baseball to even have a meaningful average. Your familiarity with being interviewed is usually not a skill you have honed with enough repetitive practice so it is my assertion that those who are already doing it well are appropriating a skill they already have developed and applying it to the interview. That skill is using a work meeting to develop a meaningful relationship exchanging useful information, i.e. what MSLs do.
TIP 2: Be prepared like an MSL – Research everyone you are meeting with and the products/pipeline of the company through multiple channels including LinkedIn, Google searches, publications/writings, reaching out to people you have in common, etc. to figure out how your upcoming “meeting” can bring value to them and in turn an actionable insight (job offer) to you.
Let’s discuss what attributes make for a really good MSL meeting. MSLs are expected to bring customized value to their meetings with KOLs. They do this by preparing for the meeting through research; they get to know what they can about the person they are meeting through proprietary databases, LinkedIn, Google searches/publications, talking to colleagues, etc. They go into the meeting with the purpose of creating a lasting relationship by delivering value specific to the needs and likes of the person they are meeting. MSLs strive to bring value to their KOL meetings every single time they meet or talk on the phone to ensure that they are building a strong relationship that gets them back in the door on a regular basis. MSLs seek to gather actionable insights that make the relationship even stronger. The MSL role requires both science skills and interpersonal skills.
Many people have science skills and many people have interpersonal skills; only a sliver have both of these skills that the MSL role requires.
Tip 3: Your Scientific Presentation during the “meeting” is critical for demonstrating your MSL capabilities that combine your scientific acumen with your relationship building soft skills.
The number one determinative factor of interview outcomes for my MSL candidates is how they did on their scientific presentations. The importance of the scientific presentation to an MSL candidate getting a job offer is exemplified by the MSL Society offering a three-day live workshop to improve this specific skill. Dr. Samuel Dyer holds these workshops to go beyond the science and teach scientific presentation. MSL presentation skills are of course grounded in science but they come to life because the strong interpersonal soft skills of the MSL make them compelling must see TV. The vast majority of MSL hiring processes require a scientific presentation. Do not think of this as a test or an interview, just an opportunity to build a relationship with your audience through science and demonstrating your most basic MSL role capabilities.
Movie lesson #2: Use Success Stories to bring your history to life!
Tip 4: Prepare 5+ Success Stories that demonstrate your experience and create a bonding opportunity with your audience.
Did you ever have a child ask you to tell them a story? Humans of all ages love a good story and a story well delivered is a bonding experience; prepare 5+ success stories for every “meeting” you have that you hope will end in a job offer. I use the term Success Story to go beyond the STAR interview technique of answering questions. The STAR technique was designed to help you go beyond a potentially mundane list of tasks and responsibilities you might use to describe your work experience. STAR stands for: Situation (a project or challenge faced), Task (your responsibilities/assignments), Action (your steps to solve the situation) and the Result of the action you took. STAR components are like the raw data and science that goes into an MSL’s scientific presentation but the success story brings it to life in a bonding moment with your audience. This is what MSLs need to do well; it will be how you get the job offer.
If the first question you are asked is to “Tell me about your background” start by thanking them for that question and roll right into your first Success Story. Tell me about your background is the most typical first question, yet they have your resume in front of them, they already know your background. What they are really asking for is a story; this is your opportunity to deliver and bond.
Tip 5: Prepare 3+ open ended questions to demonstrate your interest. When asked if you have any questions, no is the wrong answer.
Having 3+ open ended questions at the ready demonstrates your interest and excitement in joining the team. Try to keep your conversations flowing in both directions, you speaking in Success Stories and actively listening and drilling down on their responses. Take the time while listening to recalibrate how the discussion is going and make adjustments such as directing the conversation to your strengths via Success Stories, if possible.
Movie Lesson #3: Create a mission statement, an interviewing theme, not just a memo… and take the fish, they have manners!
By creating a strategy of approaching the interview process as an MSL would engage a KOL or internal stakeholder you will be simulating your capabilities to function as an MSL. The interview process will then allow you to demonstrate your MSL chops and hopefully hear one of the best movie quotes ever, “You had me at hello, you had me at hello” and get the job offer.
Ken Kupersmith is a specialized Executive Recruiter for BioPharma Medical Affairs/MSLs at Smith Hanley Associates, LLC in placing Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs), Medical Directors, Medical Information, Medical Communications and Regulatory Affairs Top Talent nationwide concentrating in all Therapeutic Areas.