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 a continuation of your guide based on my experience, opinions, and best practices for positioning you as an attractive candidate for a MSL career.
- Network, Network, Network: It is very important to network with industry professionals. Especially any friends, colleagues, or acquaintances that are currently MSLs or working within medical affairs. Reach out and see if they would be willing to have coffee and chat. Perhaps they will offer advice or pointers. Ask if they will review your resume and offer recommendations. Most importantly, ask kindly if they can keep you on their radar for any positions that may become available at their current company. Again, getting a foot in the door is always key to your next step. If there is someone who is willing to help, it could make all the difference. Attend The MSL Society Conference and take advantage of their global membership directory. If you can afford it, attend medical affairs conferences and bring plenty of business cards.
Important Networking Rule: Positive and Memorable Engagement. We all know the expression, you only get one chance to make a first impression. You want to make yourself memorable and leave a positive impression. One of the biggest issues I notice with many aspiring MSLs is the need to be more prepared and more polished.
- Know your elevator pitch (brand) i.e., what you bring to the table.
- Have a purpose and be tactful in your request.
- Be well-rehearsed and smooth.
- Offer a genuine compliment whenever possible.
- Be gracious, always thank the person for their consideration.
- Do not be too eccentric, it may just come off as weird.
- Find a connection or something in common. Use LinkedIn.
- Follow good business etiquette: maintain eye contact, a firm handshake, look your best.
- Be brief and mindful of how much you are talking. Do not overshare.
- Other Industry Options: It may be wise to consider other industry roles to begin, such as an entry-level position in medical information, scientific communications, medical writing, medical outcomes, etc. All are great ways to break in and eventually transition into a MSL role.
- Engaging with MSL Recruiters: Through your networking and research efforts on LinkedIn, Simply Hired, and Indeed, I am sure you will be able to find several medical affairs or MSL recruiters to make a connection.
- Send a personalized connection request, short, polite and to the point. NOT…”Hey, can you find me a MSL job.”
- Once the connection request is accepted, send a direct message no longer than 250 words and attach a resume or request their email address to send a cover email (350-400 words) and attach a resume. Ask if it is possible to set up a brief call at the recruiters convenience.
- Recruiters get inundated with connection requests and direct messages from aspiring MSLs. Accept that it may take time to get a response, if at all.
As a MSL recruiter myself, I can say on behalf of my colleagues, we all want nothing more than to be able to place you in your first MSL position. Statistically, we may only have one or two opportunities that would consider an aspiring MSL out of every 10-12 jobs. The percentage is low, but opportunities do exist. We want to be the best resource we can, but oftentimes, companies seeking entry-level MSLs may not engage a recruiting firm on these positions. We will certainly do our best with the opportunities that we do come across. If you do not hear back right away, it is likely because the recruiter does not have anything available for you at the time. Please do not take it personally, get offended or discouraged.
- Training and Certifications: Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympic athlete of all time, had coaches and trainers throughout his entire career. There are great resources out there to teach candidates about the MSL role, develop skills, and help you prepare for the career path. I am often asked, “If I obtain a certification, will it get me a job as an MSL?” There are no guarantees that any training or certification will ensure you a job, however; it will certainly help you in terms of preparation.
- Interview Preparation: The interview is the culmination of ALL your efforts in the job search process and the final step in obtaining an MSL role. Preparation and practice is key to your success in this effort. You can expect to start with a “phone screen” with human resources and or the hiring manager followed by an onsite interview. The live, onsite interview will be a series of individual discussions with hiring team members or a panel interview which will be a group of interviewers. You will likely be asked to do a presentation which is typically a 30 minute (15-20 minutes of slides and 10-15 minutes of QA) topic of your choice with a preference for a scientifically relevant discussion. For industry specific interview preparation articles and information, visit my activity on LinkedIn and use The MSL Society 2019 Global MSL Salary & Compensation Survey for access to results and resources.
- Patience: Pursuing a career in industry and trying to land your first MSL role requires patience. The percentage of MSL opportunities that would consider an entry-level candidate is not high, but do exist. The best advice is to be patient, tactfully persistent, and work the process. If a career as a MSL is meant to be, it will come together for you in time.
In conclusion, one of the most common questions asked from aspiring MSLs is “how do I overcome the lack of MSL experience?” The answer is through networking, matching your background, experience, and transferable skills to the specific responsibilities outlined in the job description, and proving you understand the role. Most importantly, be convincing of why you want to be a MSL and how you are a good fit for an organization. Best of luck as you complete the checklist items and in your search efforts.
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.