After attending the MSL Society’s 9th annual conference in Las Vegas in December 2021, I took some time to reflect on various inquiries our team received about how to effectively step into the MSL role from a clinical, academic, or research background. The industry is a tough nut to crack, but it is absolutely possible. The true keys to breaking into the MSL role are positivity, perseverance, preparation, and being intentional in your job search.
Here are a few insights I have compiled and picked up over the years, as a former MSL/Medical Affairs recruiter and current client-facing Director at the Carolan Group:
- Play to your clinical and scientific strengths. Position yourself as a scientific expert and target jobs that align well with your area of therapeutic expertise.
- In lieu of prior Field Medical experience, pharma companies will sometimes “bend” to hire a scientific expert in a specific therapeutic field that would be turn-key, in terms of understanding the science.
- For example, if your entire research background is in Cardiovascular Disease, it would be best to prioritize seeking out opportunities (and companies) specifically in CV or Metabolics, as it makes the most natural fit for both parties.
- On the other hand, if you have practiced as a BCOP-qualified Oncology Clinical Pharmacist for the past 8 years, you should target Oncology MSL roles that align with your specific expertise in Solid Tumors or Hematologic Malignancies.
- Use your specific scientific background to your advantage, and be deliberate and intentional about the roles you are pursuing and applying for.
- Consider targeting larger, well-established organizations with solid infrastructure, resources, and more substantial field teams. Many of the aspiring MSLs I went on to place as a recruiter landed at some of the largest pharma and biotech players.
- Many larger companies can offer more resources and infrastructure to a newer MSL than biotech in a strong “growth mode” with roughly 50 employees that are moving fast and furious. It is often a smart move to target larger organizations that have well-established programs, as they are more likely to have the bandwidth to hire a scientific expert (a PhD, PharmD, or MD) that has the clinical/scientific piece down pat but might need some ramp-up time in the field.
- Larger organizations also tend to offer a longer, more comprehensive training period and potentially a mentorship program to get new MSLs caught up to speed. For example, if you are an MSL on a team of 14-16 MSLs nationally, it is more likely that you will have great support and will have a smaller territory to get acclimated to.
- Smaller pharmas and biotechs should not be discounted, but they very often seek to hire more experienced MSL candidates that can hit the ground running in the field.
- Consider a contract MSL role as your first Liaison role.
- Contracts are a great way to begin a long and fruitful MSL career. Again, it is best to target teams that align very well with your scientific background. You can also consider Community Science Liaison roles, which entail many of the exact same responsibilities – but entail calling on community physicians and practices.
- Play the long game and consider a different Medical Affairs position as a “stepping stone.”
- It is far easier to pivot within the industry when you are already IN the industry. Do not discount different opportunities to step into the industry and build your career from there. Many MSLs that I know started their career in an ancillary role, such as a post-doctoral fellowship or an in-house position in Medical Information or Scientific Communications.
- There is a WEALTH of opportunity within the industry, and it is sometimes the best option to start in an ancillary Medical Affairs department or position, in order to get a stronger foundation to move into the MSL career.
- Pack as much scientific information and “meat” into your resume or CV as possible.
- Again, in order to position yourself as a solid prospective MSL candidate, you have to position yourself (both verbally and on paper) as a scientific expert. You should be careful to add enough detail regarding the science, clinical trials, research, or clinical/patient care work you have been involved in.
- Be sure to include:
- Your publications, abstracts, presentations, scientific affiliations, etc.
- If someone finishes reading your resume or CV and does not have a strong sense of your therapeutic background, body of work, or accomplishments, you will want to think about adding more detail and better positioning yourself on paper.
- Do not step into an MSL interview with a tenuous, surface-level understanding of the role.
- If an HR person – or worse, Hiring Manager – gets the impression that someone does not fully understand the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of the MSL position, they will NOT be moved forward.
- It’s very important to do your due diligence before an interview – even if it’s just the first “screen” – and to impart a strong understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities that MSL work entails.
- The good news is there are many resources available to help!
- You can do independent research online, join a great professional network like the MSL Society, ask qualified MSLs for a bit of their time for an informational interview, or partner with a trustworthy MSL/Medical Affairs recruiter to help you navigate the interview process.
MSL interviews are hard to get, so make sure to capitalize as best you can, if you do win the opportunity to meet with an HR member or Hiring Manager.
- In addition to understanding the MSL career in general, make sure you have done your homework on the job and company you are applying for.
- Research the territory and think about access. Do you have any connections at key institutions or medical centers in the states associated with the territory? Do you have any pre-established KOL/HCP relationships that you can bring to the table?
- Be prepared to explain your “why” – why you make a good fit for the position, why your background aligns, and why you are genuinely interested in the organization.
- Thoroughly research the science and clinical pipeline. Does your background have any parallels to the company’s science? Have you utilized any of their products in a clinical setting?
- Utilize your professional network.
- Regardless of industry, people still often get jobs through connections – whether friends, colleagues or former managers. As a recruitment firm, we so often get the news from companies that they’ve decided to go with an internal referral, as opposed to an outside candidate that they are not as familiar with.
- It is important to utilize any industry connections you have (as appropriate). The hope is that they’ll be able to get your CV/resume into the hands of a decision-maker.
- Partner with a Medical Affairs/MSL-focused recruiter that you find honest, trustworthy, and helpful – and that gives you a good gut feeling.
- All bias aside (being in recruitment at the Carolan Group), the benefit of working with a good recruiter is their ability to be a true partner to you. A great recruiter will offer you advice on your CV/resume, will help you prepare for interviews, will maintain a steady flow of communication, and should coach you every step of the way.
- Recruiters should also be able to get your information into the hands of the right, key decision-makers – whether the HR person working on the position or the actual Hiring Manager.
- Word of caution – not all recruiters are created equal! You should trust your gut in your interactions with a new recruiter – if they give you any red flags, you should look elsewhere.
Wishing everyone tremendous success throughout 2022 and beyond!
Bridget Rasmusson serves as the Director of Client Services & Operations at The Carolan Group. Bridget has been working in Medical Affairs since October 2016, originally starting her career on Tom Caravela’s team at The Carolan Group as an MSL/Medical Affairs Recruiter. After over three years in that role, she moved over to client management and now interfaces with all pharma and biotech Hiring Managers/HR personnel. Bridget’s former background includes experience as a Writer and Proofreader, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature.
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