Breaking into the Medical Science Liaison (MSL) profession is very competitive! Your curriculum vitae (CV)/resume is often your first and only opportunity to make a positive first impression and grab the attention of hiring managers. (“Resume” and “CV” are often used interchangeably within MSL job descriptions, but by definition, there are differences between them that determine their usage for most other professions.)
In a profession where specialization and precision are paramount, understanding the dynamics of this critical process is essential for MSL applicants to stand out from the competition in order to secure their next role (aka THE greatest job in the world!).
The statement, “Your CV needs to grab the reader’s attention quickly,” couldn’t be more applicable to MSL hiring managers. To get noticed, your CV must be focused on meeting the employer’s specific needs. This involves customizing your CV to align your relevant skills, experience, and accomplishments as closely as possible to the requirements outlined in the job description. As a result, you will need to create a customized CV for each MSL role you apply for.
Length of time MSL hiring managers spend reviewing a resume
Typically, when MSL hiring managers receive a CV, they will initially review it quickly to determine if it’s a match to their needs for the role. When I received a CV as an MSL hiring manager, I typically spent less than three minutes conducting an initial review. While preparing the 2nd edition of my book “The Medical Science Liaison Career Guide: How to Break Into Your First Role”, I conducted (as part of the MSL Society) a global survey that included 185 MSL hiring managers to understand the hiring practices for the MSL profession. This survey is the first time the hiring practices of MSL managers have ever been revealed, and the data is published exclusively in the 2nd edition of my book. The survey consisted of 39 questions, including a specific question regarding the length of time MSL hiring managers spend initially reviewing a CV/resume. The survey revealed that most hiring managers also conduct a quick initial review as well. In fact, a majority (59%) of MSL managers, both globally and in the U.S., spend less than three minutes on an initial CV/resume review (Tables 1 and 2).
Table 1. Survey question: “On average, how much time do you spend reviewing a CV/resume the very first time you review it (aka ‘first pass’)?”
2018 “MSL Hiring Practices Survey,” MSL Society
185 MSL Managers
Table 2. Survey question: “On average, how much time do you spend reviewing a CV/resume the very first time you review it (aka ‘first pass’)?”
2018 “MSL Hiring Practices Survey,” MSL Society
97 MSL Managers
The quick initial CV review conducted by MSL managers necessitates that your resume instantly conveys your relevant skills, experience, and accomplishments in a way that captures the hiring manager’s attention and interest.
Why MSL resumes are given a cursory glance
The first reason is the sheer volume of applications that MSL job postings tend to attract. MSL managers are inundated with CVs for every MSL vacancy. Due to the unique nature of the MSL position and the lucrative compensation and opportunities it provides, the competition for these roles can be fierce. Hundreds of applicants may submit their resumes for a single MSL job opening.
The second reason is MSL hiring managers are typically experienced Medical Affairs professionals who are seeking specific qualifications, skills, and experiences that directly align with the needs of the MSL role they are hiring for, so they are able to assess a CV quickly.
In addition to the rapid initial three-minute scan, MSL hiring managers will also dedicate additional time to a second review if your CV passes the initial screening. During this second pass, the manager will typically delve deeper into the details of your qualifications, experience, and overall fit with the role. As a result, again, it’s critical to ensure that your CV is not only attention-grabbing but also aligns with the needs of the role outlined in the job description.
An effective MSL must be an excellent communicator. I have always said the MSL role is NOT a scientific role but a communication role through science! Your first opportunity to demonstrate your communication skills and relevant expertise—and your only form of initial communication with potential employers—will likely be through your CV/resume. This single document serves as the determining factor in piquing the interest of a hiring manager, recruiter, or HR representative. A well-crafted CV leaves an immediate positive impression, while a poorly constructed CV will likely prevent you from being considered or ever being granted an interview.
Dyer, S. J. (2023). The Medical Science Liaison Career Guide: How to Break Into Your First Role (2nd ed., p. 236).
About the author:
Dr. Samuel Dyer
CEO and Chairman of the Board
Dr. Samuel Dyer is the CEO of the Medical Science Liaison Society and has over 23 years of international MSL experience. During his career, he has managed MSL teams and operations in over sixty countries across the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, and New Zealand. He has facilitated the successful launch of pharmaceutical and medical device products for both Fortune 500 pharmaceutical companies and small biotechnology companies.
Dr. Dyer has coached, interviewed, and reviewed the CVs of countless aspiring MSLs. His insights and guidance have resulted in hundreds of aspiring MSLs successfully breaking into their first roles.
While leading the MSL Society, he has conducted MSL training programs for over 50 pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device companies in more than 15 countries. Dr. Dyer has also written extensively on the Medical Science Liaison profession, including numerous published articles, benchmark studies, and reports. He has been the keynote speaker and moderated numerous international conferences on various MSL–related topics, including creating teams, management, MSL training, proper utilization of MSLs, global trends, and the KPIs and metrics used to measure MSL performance. Dr. Dyer has also served as a resource and consultant on a number of MSL–related projects for several organizations, including McKinsey & Company and Bain & Company.
Dr. Dyer has a PhD in Health Sciences from Touro University and attended medical school at Washington University (Health & Science) School of Medicine. He has a master’s degree in Tropical Biology (where he studied in the Amazon) from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and a bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of the State of New York. Dr. Dyer also completed a certificate program for Executive Leadership and Strategy in Pharmaceuticals and Biotechnology at the Harvard Business School.