How to make a great impression in a Medical Science Liaison interview

Dr. Samuel Dyer is a former Medical Science Liaison and MSL manager who has held leadership roles in Medical Affairs for companies including Bristol Myers Squibb, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, Abbott and Genentech.  He is the founder of Medical Science Liaison World, a website dedicated to providing career guidance for MSLs. I recently spoke with Dr. Dyer, and have offered to share some of his career advice with the readers here at the Your First Pharma Job blog.  In this article, Dr. Dyer gives some great suggestions for making a great impression at your medical science liaison job interview:

Keys to Researching Pharmaceutical, Biotech, or Medical Device Companies for a Medical Science Liaison Interview

by Dr. Samuel Dyer,

The key to successful interviewing is preparation. This preparation includes performing thorough research on the company that you will be interviewing with.  Too often MSL candidates seek to limit the research stage and as a result appear disinterested and uniformed during the interview process. Insufficient preparation can seriously jeopardize your chances of moving forward in the interview process and ultimately obtaining a job offer.

Areas of Research

Many hiring managers and other interviewers will disqualify those candidates who don’t seem to have in depth knowledge of the company and its products especially those that the MSL will be working with.  Your research should include:

  • What products the company manufactures – or if it is a big company, its blockbusters?
  • What is its history, mission and goals?
  • What is the company’s primary Therapeutic Area or Disease State focus?  Who are its primary customers?
  • Is the company a National company or does it maintain a global presence in its specific market or the Pharmaceutical Industry?
  • How large is the company in terms of number of employees and revenue generated?
  • How is it positioned in the industry so that it differentiates itself from its primary competitors?
  • Who is the leadership team composed of? What are their backgrounds?
  • How does the company carry out corporate responsibility in terms of social and environmental issues?
  • Find out if the company is on the Fortune 500 list and where it is positioned?  Find out how it was positioned in the prior year and ask why the change?

Thoroughly researching a company will prepare you to be able to confidently and accurately respond to questions regarding these topics. There are a wide range of research tools that MSL Candidates can utilize to research a pharmaceutical/biotech/medical device company.

Tools for Research

  • The company’s website for its history, mission, marketed products, research pipeline, organizational structure, and staff bios.
  • Read any press releases as they will highlight current news, such as new product offerings or staff changes.
  • Review industry-based publications not only to obtain information regarding your target company specifically but to obtain the latest news related to industry trends and issues.
  • Use Google alerts to stay current with regard to company news.
  • Use social media to keep current on company and industry news.  Follow key decision-makers on Twitter and search for their profile on LinkedIn.  Use Linked In groups to establish a presence and build rapport with company and industry insider.
  • Online directories such as Bloomberg and Standard & Poor’s also provide financial and market data on many types of businesses. 

Discuss the Research

At some point during almost every interview you will be asked to describe how well you fit into the company culture and values, along with what you know about the company beyond the information contained on the company website. If you have performed sufficient research, this will give you an opportunity to potentially stand out from other less prepared candidates by allowing you discuss and share relevant responses to these questions. Taking the time to show interest in potential employers will likely result in their showing interest in you as well.

Whether you’ve succeeded in getting a job interview, or are still in the process of conducting informational interviews, you can use this advice to boost your knowledge and show off your awareness of the key issues facing individual companies and the industry as a whole.  It’s a great strategy for making the best possible impression and boosting your chances of getting your first pharma job.

Posted: July 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Interviewing, Medical Science Liaisons | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

How to take the stress out of arranging informational interviews

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that I am a strong advocate of the informational interview as one of the most important tools in the job seeker’s toolbox.  I believe this is especially true for job searches in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector, because talking to people provides a much better opportunity to share your knowledge and enthusiasm than a resume or online job application can provide.  There is an enormous amount of research proving that informational interviews are far more effective at leading to job offers than almost any other job search method.

However, I also know that there’s a reason that people don’t use this method very often: it can be terrifying.  For many people, just the idea of calling up a stranger to ask for help with a job search is enough to send stress levels through the roof. They’re afraid they’ll get yelled at for bothering someone, make a bad impression, and blow their chance at a better life.

Well, I know how you feel.  In my former life as a pharmaceutical headhunter, and in my current career in business development, I have cold-called thousands of biotechnology industry professionals.  Believe it or not, I have done this despite the fact that I’m basically pretty introverted.  Making these calls hasn’t ever been easy — but I’ve developed strategies that have helped me develop a career based on my success at this task.  Here are a few things you should try:

  1. Start with a script. Write down what you’re going to say. Keep it simple – don’t use big words where a small one will do – and keep it conversational in style. Practice reading it out loud, and if it doesn’t feel natural, change it up. I’d suggest starting with something like this: “Hi, my name is ___. I’m hoping you could help me. I’m just looking to get my start in the pharmaceutical industry, and I’m trying to learn more about careers in ____. I wonder if we could schedule a 10 or 15 minute call so I could ask you a few questions about your job and the kind of work you do.”
  2. Practice makes perfect. Practice reading your script until you get comfortable with it. You shouldn’t be trying to memorize it – just getting familiar with the rhythm and the idea of saying these things out loud, so it doesn’t feel awkward when you do it for real. Call up your own voicemail and practice saying it into the phone. Call up your friends and try it out on them. By the time you speak to a ‘real’ contact, this should feel like a conversation you’ve had a thousand times before.
  3. Lower the risk. Use skype, or a cheap long distance plan, and make your first few calls to companies in another state. You’re unlikely to ever actually apply for a job there, so it won’t matter if you stumble or lose your nerve. When you do start making calls to companies of interest, start with the ones that interest you the least. By the time you work your way up to the people you really want to impress, you’ll be far more comfortable — and you’ll be able to show off some of what you’ve learned from your previous calls.
  4. Lower the risk – 2. Start by calling people in more junior roles. You’ll be able to learn a lot from them, but they won’t really be in a position to make or break your career. If you’re lucky, they’ll still remember the challenges of starting out and will be more willing to share their time with you as a result. However, on the flip side, be aware that more junior people often don’t have as much flexibility with their time.
  5. To begin, just schedule. Your goal with this initial call will not be to have the full conversation – it’s just to set a time for that conversation. This will give you more time to prepare, and takes the pressure off your contact because you’re not expecting them to drop everything right away.

Basically, that’s it.  If you’re comfortable, and polite, I think you’ll find that people are nicer, and much more receptive than you might expect.

Once you do score an informational interview, there are plenty of guides online that will give you suggestions for getting the most out of it. For me, the key points are to keep it short and to the point – aim for no more than 15-20 minutes; use the interview as an opportunity to clarify your understanding – which is a chance to show off what you already know; DON’T directly ask for a job – this is a violation of the ‘social contract’ of an informational interview; and finally, DO ask for referrals to other people you can talk to.

Hope this has been helpful.  Good luck with your search!

Posted: July 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Informational interviews, Interviewing | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

BIO Career Fair – June 27

Just thought I’d share this announcement I got in my email recently.  BIO is, of course, possibly the largest biotechnology meeting/conference in North America.

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Posted: June 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Industry associations, Interviewing, networking | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

How to find something to say in an informational interview

Slate magazine has had a number of really interesting commentary about the pharmaceutical industry lately, which is the inspiration for today’s post. If you are looking for clinical research jobs, or other jobs in pharma, it’s important to follow news and commentary about the industry. General interest publications and the business section of the newspaper are one source; industry trade magazines are another. Being informed and aware of current trends and issues can be a huge advantage in a number of ways:
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Posted: March 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Informational interviews, Interviewing | No Comments »

Using LinkedIn to find Clinical Research Jobs: Part 1

The Blue Sky Resumes blog has a great post, the 7 Mistakes You’re Probably Making on LinkedIn.

The pharmaceutical and biotech sectors have been enthusiastic adopters of this social networking site. If you’ve ever wondered how to find the names of people to call for informational interviews, or for personalizing your cover letters, this is your answer.

These days, LinkedIn should definitely be a part of your networking strategy but you can’t just put up a profile and forget it.   Louise Fletcher’s advice will help your profile get attention.

If you’re trying to land a clinical research job, you should apply these tips on how to write a clinical research resume to your profile as well. Be sure to sign up for some LinkedIn groups that relate to your career goals (e.g. the Good Clinical Practice group).

In a future post, we’ll talk about how to use LinkedIn to actively build relationships, and discuss the value of other niche social networking sites.

Posted: February 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Informational interviews, networking, Resources, Resumes & CVs | Tags: , , , | No Comments »