Show Me the Money

What your total compensation package should look like as an MSL. 

I’m here to talk all things money, specifically for the MSL role. As a recruiter, I am talking to candidates of all backgrounds: from 0 years of experience to 20+ years within industry. I’ve heard it all when it comes to compensation and benefits. Although there are a lot of perks that pharmaceutical and biotech companies offer to MSLs, it can make it complicated for you as a candidate to understand what is considered a fair market offer. 

I will always recommend looking at the total package and not just the base salary. It’s so hard to blanketly discuss what all MSLs will get in a total package, but I am going to hit on the high notes here in hopes of starting and continuing a discussion on compensation. 

Below are highlights of a total compensation package along with industry standards and general tips for you to keep an eye out for:

Base Salary 

One of the most talked about components of a total package is base salary. It’s also one of the hardest pieces to pin down. Base salary depends on your years of experience as well as the size of the company and internal bandwidths (and don’t forget the better you interview, the more likely the company is to push their base range). One big myth I hope to squash is when moving from company to company, you shouldn’t expect a 10% increase in base. Standard is 3-5% increase. 

What we are seeing on the market: As a brand new MSL, a great medium is $140K on a base. I’ve seen lower and higher but that’s a nice middle ground.  1-2 MSLs can fall around 145-165K. Anything 2 years – onward gets tricky. The range is so large, and it really will depend on 1) how well you interview 2) the company’s bandwidth. Highest ranges for an MSL fall in the 210-215K range. 

The best advice that I can give here is to always lead with transparency. When working with us on roles the more information we have, the better we are able to negotiate your base salary. Also, our rate depends on your base salary so I can tell you, we are in your corner. 


A target bonus is an additional perk that all MSL roles offer within biotech and pharma. It’s a specific percentage of your base salary that is awarded yearly around either March or June (Dependent on your company’s fiscal year). There can also be multipliers added onto your bonus but varies based on company and personal performance. 

What we are seeing on the market: 15% for an MSL, 20% for a senior MSL. We have seen lower and higher, but that is a general range to keep in mind. 

Car vs. Car Allowance

There isn’t a lot to discuss here that isn’t straight forward. A company or fleet car will be offered or a car allowance. A car allowance can either be a set amount of money given each month (yes, taxed) or through a more automated fixed and variable system.  Note though that this benefit is not guaranteed. In some rare instances, smaller companies may not offer any car incentive. This is seen more when travel of the MSL is mainly in the air.

What we are seeing on the market: Fleet car types are extremely varied. Car allowance on average tends to be around $800 a month. Motus is one of the more popular car reimbursement programs that provides an individual reimbursement plan. 

Equity and LTIs

A fun, exciting but extremely variable component that some biopharma and biotech companies will offer candidates is equity. The most common form offered to a candidate is stock options and/or RSUs. This is a way to be bought into a company and have additional compensation, but it can be extremely complicated. Check out our newest resource on all things equity to get a deeper dive into all the differences and terms you should know when evaluating your equity package and vesting schedules. Outside of RSUs and options, some companies will also offer an employee stock purchase plan (ESPP), but this is always an option that you do not need to participate in. 

If a company is not publicly traded and thus has no stock to offer, you will sporadically see Long Term Incentives (LTIs) as a part of compensation. This can most commonly be seen as a lump sum of cash vested over a set amount of time. 

What we are seeing on the market: Equity in general is an additional perk. Yes, it can be risky, and stock can be “under water”, but regardless this is a great incentive that not every company offers. When you see this in an offer, really take this into consideration as an additional perk! 

General Benefits: 

  • Never assume there is a 401K match. This is not always a given and also be sure to ask about a vesting schedule. 
  • When discussing vacation, I recommend clarifying if a holiday shut down is included in the allocated time off  
  • Pensions are becoming increasingly sparse. 

Money is never anyone’s favorite thing to talk about, but I hope that I can normalize this process further. We at PharmaFinders are constantly surveying the market for industry standards and are here to help talk to you about your compensation. I am only scratching the surface here and would love to hear your thoughts or talk with you directly about your total package and where you are at in terms of the market standard.