I have been very fortunate in my career to have assisted a number of aspiring MSLs land their first position. It’s honestly one of the most rewarding parts of the job. I empathize with the difficulty of making that a reality and I understand how tough it can be for the candidates throughout the process. It is a lot of work, and it can take a lot of time, which is why my goal is to offer any help or guidance I can to help you make the process a little less tricky. The tough love to follow is coming from a good place, I promise, and I hope it can help guide you in the right direction!
First off, I can talk until I am blue in the face about preparing for an interview, and it’s because it’s one of the BIGGEST things you actually have control over that can truly put you over the edge. Not preparing enough and winging it in an interview is a critical mistake that happens time and time again. It can take a lot of work for an aspiring MSL to even get to an interview stage, so it’s impossible to imagine someone not doing everything in their power to capitalize on that opportunity, but it happens. A lot. You should always look up your interviewers on LinkedIn and review their profile. Review the company website and read company presentations, press releases and be sure to investigate the pipeline. It not only helps show your interest but will help you be able to highlight connections to your background that will match with the company and team and help you formulate well thought-out questions to ask your interviewer. Whether your interview is with HR, Hiring Manager, or MSL teammates, no one is more important that the other. You need to prepare like it’s the final make-it or break-it round. Every single time.
Second, it’s no secret that communication is a cornerstone of the MSL role. Unfortunately, just because someone has the qualifications on paper does not automatically mean they are guaranteed a successful transition into the MSL role. You have to be able to tailor your communication style to various audiences at different degree levels. You also have to be able to socialize and communicate effectively with internal and external stakeholders. You can’t just HAVE the scientific background, must be also able to articulate your understanding of the science. Honestly, one hurdle people frequently encounter is with the most basic question – “Tell me about your background”. You need to make sure you have a clear and concise message about your background as it relates to an MSL role at that company. From a company’s perspective- if you can’t even talk about yourself (the one thing you should absolutely be an expert on), why would they hire you to be a face of their company in the field with high level KOLs?
Now that I’ve harped on preparing, doing your homework and communicating effectively, it’s important to remember we’ve got to find a middle ground with all of this. You never want to sound robotic or scripted. Make sure to be yourself! MSLs are social creatures who are approachable and personable. Those are intangibles that most hiring managers will be looking for in an interview. So, it’s one thing to recite these answers in your head, but you need to practice vocalizing your responses and becoming comfortable with saying these things aloud. It helps build your confidence in what you’re communicating if you know it backwards and forwards. This is especially important in the final stages where there’s a presentation. Going one step further and recording yourself then playing it back to help you identify your filler words, vocal crutches, and areas you can smooth over can really help bolster your confidence as well. It sounds silly- but I promise you it’s worth the try!
Lastly, there are a few questions I commonly hear that not everyone will be able to clearly, concisely, and confidently be able to answer. If you can’t answer these FAQ, your chances of moving forward in a process are slim. You have to demonstrate you’ve done your homework, are truly invested in the process, and have the ability to articulate what you know to various audiences.
What can you tell me about what you think an MSL does?
You must UNDERSTAND what an MSL does. Not just read a job description and think you’ve got a handle on it. Talk to people who are doing this job, look online for resources that explain, do your homework. You MUST have a solid grasp on the ins and outs of this job and be able to convey what you know. If you can’t communicate that foundational piece of information, you are off to a really poor start in the interview. Also, knowing what an MSL does will allow you to make the connections you need to with your interviewer to demonstrate common ground and where you can contribute value.
Why do you want to become an MSL?
Really think about what has inspired you to pursue this career path. I would recommend not leading with something like “I enjoy traveling”, or “I understand MSLs make pretty good money”. Your motivations should be genuine and pure. What excites you about this type of job, why do you think you’ll be fulfilled doing it, how do your skillsets align. Again, you’re not going to be equipped to answer this if you don’t fully understand what an MSL does—see it’s all connected. J
Why do you think you’d be a good fit for this type of role?
You can roll some of these questions into each other, but this question allows you an opportunity to touch on your tangible and soft skills to offer a well-rounded snapshot of what you can bring to the table. Remember, as a NEW MSL you’ll be a bit of a “project” to start, so you need to make sure you’re highlighting all the ways you can immediately add value (think research experience, direct clinical experience, knowledge of competitive landscape, any industry exposure you’ve had, KOL connections you might be able to bring to the table, etc.).
Why are you interested in OUR company?
I’m sure you’ve heard the comparison that interviewing is like dating, and there’s so much truth to that. You want to take the time and get to know and understand the company you’re interviewing for (and vice versa) before you marry them. If you don’t take sincere interest in your date it’s unlikely they’ll want to see you again, same with interviewing. If you’re treating this company just like every other company and not highlighting what makes them stand out to you, why they are special, and why you’d be excited to continue the relationship—why would they put any effort into you? It is very obvious when candidates are using canned answers and canned questions in an interview, take the time and specialize those for each company. It will only help you, I promise!
You can’t just have the scientific or clinical background and expect to make it, the MSL job is a lot about E.Q. and blending communication, relationships, science and education. Keep that in mind as you’re thinking about the direction you take when you’re answering these questions. This isn’t EVERY question you need to think about, but it’s a good place to get started.
It’s important to remember that a positive attitude, energy, and enthusiasm truly go a LONG way. I have seen new MSL candidates beat out very experienced people before as a result of their energy and passion for the role. Clearly, you don’t want to be weird about it, but the preparation and diligence you convey during your conversations will speak volumes for your effort and you’ll show up invested and engaged.
It can be a bit overwhelming and stressful as you’re preparing for MSL interviews- especially if this is your first one. Please don’t hesitate to explore the additional resources on the website (www.pharmafinders.com) and remember to just FOCUS ON THE THINGS YOU CAN CONTROL! Do your homework and be confident with what you know.
You’re gonna do great!