A couple of weeks ago we hosted another “SEMbio Hangout.” SEMbio Hangouts are a series of virtual meetings we host via Zoom where we meet with MSLs, aspiring MSLs, and MSL managers to discuss trends or popular topics.
Our topic last week was “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” where we got to pick the brains of a few new MSLs to hear their thoughts on how they were able to land their first MSL positions. Our three panelists – Rebecca Hill, Renee Rotolo, and Ren-Jay Shei – have all become MSLs in the past couple of years. While it’s always nice to get tips from hiring managers, this time we got to hear the tips used by people whose success in breaking into the MSL role is fresh.
Here are 5 of their top pointers for prospective MSLs.
1. Network, but do it well
There was an interesting point made by the panel regarding networking. Networking is a topic that everyone seems to know the importance of, but that everyone seems to have different schools of thought about. Most notably, one panelist referenced a study on networking by Dorie Clark which found that networking makes many people feel “dirty.” There is a feeling of guilt that can be generated by doing too much asking and not being able to offer much in return. Networking is important – not just to make more connections, but also to learn more about the MSL role itself – and as a prospective MSL you should be making an effort to share your connections and experiences in return. MSLs are learners and are inquisitive by nature; you may have research experience they would be interested in hearing about. Or perhaps there is someone at your clinic or institution they would be interested in getting introduced to. Making networking as much of a two-way street as possible will go a long way in your job search.
2. Be intentional with your networking
Another good point made on networking was to be “intentional” with your outreach. If you are attempting to reach out to people via LinkedIn, be targeted in your approach. Finding common ground is important. This could mean looking to connect with people who graduated from the school as you or finding MSLs who work in a disease state you also work in. But also be sure to take the time to research their background first. It’s frustrating for someone to take time out of their schedule to network only to realize that the person who reached out to them didn’t take time to look over their bio or research what their company does. Be sure to follow up down the road, too. Checking in just to see how things are going well helps keep your connections with people alive and exhibits authenticity.
3. Be ready for the challenges of being a new MSL
Too many prospective candidates, the MSL role sounds utopian. While it is definitely a great career, there are challenges you should be ready for! Our panelists shared the biggest surprises they faced as they got up and running in their positions. One such challenge is learning to be productive on the road. As a Ph.D. research or as a pharmacist, you typically have everything you need in your workspace and you get accustomed to working certain hours. And when you do travel for work, it’s usually acceptable to put up an “out of office” reply and leave work behind for a few days. This is not the case as an MSL. Learning to get work done at airport terminals, on the airplane, and in hotel rooms is imperative as an MSL. To give some perspective, there was an interesting statistic quoted in this panel: only 5-8% of your time is actually spent with key opinion leaders (KOLs) while much of the rest of your time is spent traveling and doing administrative work.
Another challenge is being able to get KOL meetings. Even when you come in knowing that it’s not a cakewalk, you may still be surprised at how tough it can be to schedule time with KOLs. This remains true for senior MSLs and is even tougher right now with virtual meetings being the norm.
4. Don’t rely on technical skills
One of the qualities that the MSL community has as a whole has sharp technical skills. Unless you are a true expert in the disease state your role would focus on, you shouldn’t rely much on your technical expertise to get you the job. Showing your social skills and business acumen are ways to set yourself apart. Excelling in the “art of conversation” is something hiring managers are always going to have their eyes and ears out for. This means knowing when to elaborate and when to be concise, when to ask follow-up questions, and how to keep a conversation alive in general.
5. Learn about the position
A great way to impress interviewers is by knowing how to talk about what you expect to do as an MSL. This seems simple enough, but the panel all agreed that there really doesn’t seem to be a very good description of what an MSL does out on the internet. Just because you’ve read a few articles about the role does not yet mean you have a solid understanding of what it means to be an MSL day in and day out. Doing informational interviews with MSLs would be very instrumental in being able to discuss the MSL role at more than just the surface level. Being able to “talk the talk” as if you’re already in the industry will instantly set you apart from other candidates.
Questions or comments? Email me at email@example.com.
Author: Lawrence Beck, CPC