MSL and medical sales coach

Real strategies for landing MSL and Medical Sales jobs


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Should aspiring MSLs target large or small companies to land their first MSL job?

Blog - bullseye2016 has barely begun and it is already proving to be a busy year for MSL hiring. Two of my MSL coaching clients accepted MSL positions over the last week. Based on the high level of interview activity, the strong hiring trend will continue. I am frequently asked if there are certain companies more likely to hire MSLs with no experience. Finding that first MSL job would certainly be easier if there was a simple answer to that question. In looking back at 2015 I had clients accept positions at many of the major pharmaceutical companies as well as small biotech companies. Each company has a different set of needs when it comes to what they look for in MSLs. There will always be roles that require an experienced MSL with specific expertise, but in general I find most companies are willing to hire and train new MSLs because they view the MSL role as key and worth the investment to grow the right person. What makes someone the right person? That is going to vary based on each company and what they need from their MSL team. No one person is going to be the right candidate for every company or job. Last year a major pharma company expanded their field medical affairs team to support the launch of a new cancer drug. Two of my clients interviewed for oncology MSL positions in different regions. They interviewed the same day and met most of the same team members. They both received (and accepted) job offers. The two candidates could not have been more different. One was a Ph.D. with academic research experience and the other was a M.D. with clinical practice experience and some oncology research. The job description for the jobs they accepted was identical. It is situations like this that demonstrate how difficult it is to assign a “type” to a company. The reason companies use behavioral based interviews is to identify the traits a candidate possesses that will make them a good match for the role, the team, and the company overall. I recommend that aspiring MSLs keep their search broad. The type of company you fit best with may surprise you.

Elizabeth Danford, MSL resume writer, interview coach, and job search strategist

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What are the backgrounds of MSLs being hired with no MSL experience?

MSL blog question markOne of the questions I am asked most often is what companies look for when hiring new MSLs. Is there one specific skill you can add to your resume that will guaranty you interviews? As a job search coach I have the unique perspective of seeing who ACTUALLY gets hired, what companies are hiring them, and what the interview process truly entails. What I am about to say may come as a surprise to many, but the reality is there is “no secret sauce”. While the MSL role is similar from company to company, what a company looks for in the backgrounds of MSL candidates can vary greatly. Over the last few weeks interview and hiring activity for MSLs has been exceptionally high. When I review the backgrounds of the candidates getting interviews, they are all very diverse. They include a Pharm.D. with clinical pharmacy experience, a Pharm.D. with retail pharmacy experience, a Ph.D. with two years of postdoc experience, a Ph.D. with clinical study experience, a Ph.D. with biotech industry experience, a M.D. with clinical practice experience, and a M.D. with research experience. In one case the same company interviewed a Ph.D. with all academic research experience and a M.D. with clinical practice experience on the same day. Both MSL candidates received job offers (for different territories). The candidates could not have been more different, but both fit with what the company was looking for.

Companies use a behavioral interview process to identify traits in a candidate that fit best with the MSL role. They will train a candidate on how to do the job, building from your clinical or scientific background combined with your aptitude and specific personality traits. The MSL interview process is extensive and designed to demonstrate not only your technical expertise and communication skills but also your strategic thought process, drive, focus, ethics, and collaborative abilities. Being a great scientist will not guaranty success as a MSL and companies know this.

Always keep in mind that no single candidate is going to be right for every company, but you only need to be the right candidate for one company. There are jobs within companies that will require experience, but most companies have extensive MSL training programs and will hire and train the right candidate.

What are your job search challenges? Ask Elizabeth, the MSL job search specialist, resume writer, and interview coach.


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Where do you start when writing your resume for the MSL role?

Stop submitting your resume into the black holeI am asked almost daily for “tips” on writing resumes for the MSL role and how to overcome the challenge of not having existing MSL experience. The job search and interview process is complicated and impacted by many factors. It is a process, and there are no shortcuts. Your resume is the foundation your job search is built upon. It will have a direct impact on every aspect of your search. The views I share on resume writing, the job search and interview process are based on what I experience first-hand as I coach aspiring MSLs into their first jobs. Why am I so confident that a pro-active approach works? Because I see the results – beginning with writing the resume up to the point a job offer is accepted. In the last week three of my coaching clients landed their first MSL jobs. Each candidate was very different; one a M.D., one a Pharm.D. and one a Ph.D. Because each person is different, each resume will be different. Below are some general tips to consider when writing a resume for MSL jobs.

First, understand the role, not just what the job description says. While the focus of the MSL role may be the same, every company uses their MSL teams slightly differently. Yes, you will build relationships with KOLs, but what is the point of those relationships?

Second, look at your background objectively. What are your differentiators from other PhDs, MDs, PharmDs as they relate to the MSL role? Differentiators equate to your special features. Experience in areas like clinical research, managed care, protocol development, clinical education, and specific therapeutic expertise are some of the features that sought after.

Next, look at the layout of your resume. Will the reader have to search to put the pieces together? If you make someone work to understand your background they will likely move on to the next resume. Keep it basic and straightforward. Complicated formats are distracting and confusing.

My goal is to keep job history content to two pages if possible. Publications and presentations can be included on additional pages. There is no universal rule for how long a resume should be, but keep in mind too much detail is just as detrimental as a lack of detail.

A well-developed resume will help you in the interview process. Initial interviews last 20 – 30 minutes. If you spend 15 of the 20 minutes trying to explain your background because your resume is confusing, you will not be able to answer the other questions they interviewer needs to ask.

Questions about your job search challenges? Ask Elizabeth, the MSL job search specialist, resume writer, and interview coach. Elizabeth@clinicalstrategist.com


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No MSL experience? No problem. Real tips for landing your first MSL job.

Blog pyramid picture for MSL success

Searching for that first MSL job can be a frustrating and disheartening experience. There are lots of jobs posted, but they all require MSL experience. How do you get MSL experience if no one hires entry level MSLs? As I job search coach, I have the unique advantage of knowing what types of people companies REALLY hire. Guess what, most MSL jobs are not filled by experienced MSLs. Actually, a very small percentage of MSL jobs are filled by experienced MSLs. That’s right, most MSL jobs are filled by candidates with NO MSL EXPERIENCE. I know this because I see the job offers my coaching clients receive. All companies train their MSLs. They are looking for core traits (scientifically, therapeutically, personality, confidence) to build from.

What does it take to land that first MSL job? Insight, strategy, and initiative.
INSIGHT – as a Ph.D., Pharm.D. or M.D. you have lots of significant experience, but not all of it is relevant to the MSL role. Build a resume that presents your features (experiences) that best relate to skills used in the MSL role. Having insight into the role and what companies need from their MSLs will help you accomplish this.

STRATEGY – How are you going to tell your story? Are you going to be passive and wait for jobs to be posted before sending a resume? Develop a strategy to get noticed by key decision makers. Instead of focusing on the job search process, understand a company’s hiring process. Use a top-down approach to demonstrate your ability to reach key opinion leaders.

INITIATIVE – You have your resume and job search strategy in place, now take the initiative and start marketing yourself to key decision makers. The more people that see your resume the more likely you will land an interview. Differentiate yourself by demonstrating initiative and sending your resume to a hiring manager.

Questions about the MSL role or job search process? Ask Elizabeth, resume writer, interview coach, and MSL job search specialist. Email me at: elizabeth@clinicalstrategist.com


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What is standing between you and your MSL career? Hint – it is not lack of MSL experience.

picture for resume submission on computerHow long have you been searching for a MSL job? You know the jobs are out there, but how do you land one if you have no MSL experience? For most MSL candidates, their biggest obstacle is not lack of experience, but the job search process they are using. In June alone, I had six MSL coaching clients accept jobs. None of these clients had previous MSL experience. The group consisted of three Ph.D. Postdoc Associates, one M.D., and two Ph.D.’s working in the industry as research scientist. July is turning out to be equally active with interviewing and hiring.

Some facts to help you understand the process and what you can do differently to get interviews and job offers.

  • All companies that hire MSLs will hire a MSL with no previous experience. (There will always be a specific job that requires experience, but many do not.)
  • All companies provide (and require every new hire to attend) comprehensive MSL training programs.
  • Each company uses MSLs in a slightly different capacity. The role is the same, but actual focus areas can vary greatly.
  • Over 50% of all jobs filled are never posted.
  • The MSL interview process is a series of behaviorally based interviews requiring a solid understanding of how to answer questions using the STAR format.
  • Academic CVs rarely highlight the areas that will be most relevant to the MSL role. A professional resume will not only help you get interviews, it will also simplify the interview process.

How do you get interviews? The first step is to tell your “story” to a true decision maker. By applying on-line or sending resumes only to HR, you will always be evaluated against a job description. Since most job postings are going to list experience as a criteria, you will not make it past that first cut. High level decision makers are the people who understand the MSL role and how your background will fit with what they need.

Questions about the MSL role or your job search challenges? Ask Elizabeth, the MSL job search specialist, resume writer, and interview coach. Elizabeth@clinicalstrategist.com, author of Launching your MSL Career, the MSL job search guidebook. http://www.clinicalstrategist.com/layomslcagu.html