What does it take to land a role as a MSL? Breaking into industry with your first MSL role requires a tremendous amount of effort and persistence. More importantly, it requires patience. Stay positive and focused. This article is your guide based on my experience, opinions, and best practices for positioning you as an attractive candidate for a MSL career.
- WHY do you want to become a MSL? To start, make sure you have researched the role and responsibilities of a MSL so that you are 100% sure this is the career you want to pursue. Be prepared to answer the question, “why do you want to become a MSL?” I guarantee you will be asked this question on interviews and from recruiters. Not only will you be asked WHY, you will be asked WHAT. What does a MSL do? Be ready to answer these questions and explain how you are a good fit.
- Find a Mentor. The MSL community is one of the most collaborative and generous fraternities of professionals. Every MSL knows what it was like to struggle for their first opportunity and are typically willing to mentor others if asked. Seek out a mentor through a colleague, peer, prior classmate or on LinkedIn. A MSL mentor program is available through The MSL Society. I recommend attending industry conferences and joining The MSL Society to ensure you are a part of the MSL community and have access to a multitude of resources. Seek out MSLs and see if they would agree to an information interview. When interviewing MSLs, be sure to ask how they went about their MSL job search and what advice they can offer.
- A comprehensive, well-written CV or resume is the foundation of your search. Invest time and effort into your CV in order to make it the perfect representation of your background, skill-set, prior experience, and capabilities to achieve your goal of becoming a MSL. One way to get started is to ask a MSL, friend or colleague if they are willing to share an electronic copy of their CV for review and potential use as a template. Get outside opinions from your peers, recruiters, and even resume writers to be sure you are 100% confident in the finished product. For extra guidance, see my recent article on resume writing and editing on LinkedIn.
- LinkedIn: Ensure your LinkedIn profile is a mirror image of your resume. Keep in mind that most recruiters and employers will cross reference your LinkedIn profile once they have possession of your resume. It is critical both are a match. Your LinkedIn profile is your digital brand and career image. Take the time to add a professional and recent photo. A casual, recreational, or outdated photo is never perceived well; a lack of picture is not appropriate either. Next, be active in the medical affairs community on LinkedIn by joining MSL or industry groups, follow companies and key influencers. Engage as often as possible. Spend time on a regular basis sending out invites and adding as many new industry connections as possible. It is a very important part of this process (I explain why below). Here is an example of what a good LinkedIn invitation request might look like:
Dear Jane, I really enjoyed reading your recent LinkedIn article (or post) and found it very informative. I am an Oncology Clinical Pharmacist seeking a transition to a MSL role, and was hoping to join your networking on LinkedIn. Thank you in advance for considering my request. Have a great day! John
- Scientific / Therapeutic Expertise: Highlight your “scientific value proposition” on both your CV and your LinkedIn profile. You will be significantly more attractive to potential employers if you clearly document and present your therapeutic expertise, knowledge, and experience. If you have X years of oncology research or clinical experience in XYZ setting, be sure to include it as MSLs are scientific experts and make you more attractive to potential employers.
- Strong communication and presentation skills are mandatory for MSLs at all levels, in all companies. It is critical to portray this on your CV, and more importantly, in your interactions with potential employers and recruiters. List presentations and speaking engagements, as well as any training, mentoring, or teaching experience. If you do not have much to document, seek out opportunities to present. Volunteer to speak at community functions, Toastmasters or networking groups, schools, clinics, etc. Contact prior professors, colleagues, and guidance counselors for opportunities to speak.
- Job Search Tools and Strategy: Seek a MSL specific career center and follow this three step process for utilizing career development sites Indeed and Simply Hired.
Step 1. Set up “job alerts” on both sites so that the research comes to you. Here’s how it works:
- Go to Indeed.com
- Type in keywords “Medical Science Liaison” and your nearest major city
- Hit “search” for results
- Create a “job alert” with this criteria by adding your email address
Next, repeat this step for Simply Hired to allow multiple sources to email new job postings daily. Of course, search for jobs on LinkedIn as well as other industry or career job boards that you find on the Internet.
Step 2. Create a spreadsheet to keep track of the opportunities you wish to pursue. Document the job title, company, territory, posting date, contact person (if available,) and date you apply.
Step 3. Try to get a foot in the door. Before applying to a specific position, go to LinkedIn and do a search on the company to see if you are connected with anyone in the organization (this is why it is so important to add as many connections as you can.) Send a LinkedIn In-mail to this connection so that you can try to personally get your resume to a person, versus submitting online to the big black hole of a company website. Stay organized and use your spreadsheet.
Be tactful about your followup, and do not apply multiple times to the same position or check in too frequently. I believe in follow up and tactful persistence, but be careful not to overdo it or overstep your bounds.
The MSL’s next issue will feature The Job Search Checklist for Aspiring MSLs, Part 2 of 2. Good luck as you begin to mark off the checklist items.
Tom Caravela has 27 years of pharmaceutical industry experience and is the Founder and Managing Partner of The Carolan Group, LLC. Established in 2002, The Carolan Group is a leading pharmaceutical and biotech search firm specializing in medical affairs and medical science liaison recruitment. Tom is responsible for leading a team of expert recruiters and account managers in client expansions for various levels of field based and in house medical affairs professionals including MSLs, MSL Leaders, Managed Care/HEOR Liaisons, Medical Directors as well as various other medical and clinical affairs roles. With nearly three decades of pharmaceutical industry experience, Tom is a frequent speaker and consultant for clients, advisory boards and industry meetings. His strategic interests focus on hiring, retention and career development for the field based MSL role.