Medical Science Liaison (MSL) Interview Stages

The medical science liaison hiring process is usually broken down into three different stages.

Stage 1: Phone interview with some from the HR department or the talent acquisition manager

Stage 2: Face to face interview with the hiring manager

Stage 3: Clinical paper presentation

Stage 1: Phone interview with someone from the HR department or the talent acquisition manager

The talent acquisition manager will likely hire for a lot of different departments within the pharma company. For an MSL job, they will have been given a position description and a list of skills to look for in MSL candidates. They may or may not have hired MSLs previously and depending on their experience they may not have a complete understanding of the MSL role, which can be really useful for aspiring MSLs as if you can provide a clear and confident description of the MSL role, then you will pass the first stage of the screening process.

They will be looking for 3 things during the telephone interview.

1. Your understanding of the MSL role

You can demonstrate your understanding of the MSL role by stating;

“An MSL is a non-promotional role. The MSL acts as the bridge between the internal pharma company and the external therapeutic environment. The role of the MSL is to develop collaborative relationships with key opinion leaders in given therapeutic area and utilise these collaborations and insights gained from these KOLs to execute projects that are aligned to the brand strategy.” For example, if you are interviewing for a rheumatology MSL position at Abbvie, you would elaborate further and say “a rheumatology MSL at Abbvie would interact with key rheumatologists and leverage these relationships to achieve some of the key strategic objectives of the rheumatology portfolio. Examples of leveraging these relationships include inviting the rheumatologists to attend advisory boards, or to speak at company sponsored education events or to do a clinical trial with the Abbvie’s rheumatology products.”

2. Educational background/experience and how that fits with the skills required in the position description

Look at the position description and discuss your experience by using the exact words and phrases listed. For example, if the position description states they want someone with a PhD, proven relationship building skills and business acumen, when the talent acquisition manager asks: “Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background”, an example response would be;

“I finished my PhD in 2018, since then I’ve been working as a research scientist, during this time I’ve had the opportunity to build relationships with scientific leaders resulting in collaborative publications in high impact journals. During my PhD, I also set up a side-business to offer tutoring to college students in biology. I recognised there was a gap in the market and I had the skills to fill it. I’ve always had this business acumen and I think I’d be a great fit to for a strategic role such as an MSL.

3. If you are passionate about working for the company and will be a good fit for the company culture

In order to demonstrate you are a good fit for the company culture check the company website and their values and use an example of something you saw for the reason you applied. For example; “I applied for this job at Merck as your core values of a desire to improve life and achieve scientific excellence really resonated with me, and that’s essentially the reason I started my career in science and based on your values and my values I think I would be a good fit for the company culture.”

Stage 2: Face to face interview with the hiring manager

This will involve typical MSL interview questions such as; what’s your understanding of the role? What challenges do you see with the MSL job? What’s your understanding of the therapeutic area? Check out the interview section to learn how to answer all these typical questions.

Stage 3: The presentation interview

MSL candidates are usually asked to present a clinical paper presentation, which they get 48 – 72 hrs in advance. The paper they are sent is usually related to the therapy are they will be working on, for example if you are applying for a job as an oncology MSL, the paper will be related to a drug used to treat cancer. In my experience, you are often asked to present the registration paper from the drug you will be working on. So, if you applied for a job to work on Keytruda which is an oncology immunotherapy from Merck, the paper they send you will likely be one of the key studies on the efficacy and safety of Keytruda.

MSLs can also be asked to present a 90 day plan. This involves explaining what they would do in the first 90 days of becoming an MSL at the hiring company. A 90 day plan would usually involve around 10 slides and would cover topics such as:

  • Stakeholder mapping

  • Another important thing to do in the first 90 days is upskilling in the therapeutic area. This involves reading clinical papers, the approved product information and clinical guidelines in the relevant therapy area.

  • Identifying conference to go to is another key aspect of 90 day planning. Conferences for MSLs are a great way to meet KOLs and upskill in the therapeutic area.

  • Developing relationship with sales reps and other colleagues.

  • Understanding the brand strategy – when you are hired as an MSL, you want to add value to the company and in order to do this you must understand what the company is trying to achieve and the overall strategic objective of the brand.

  • Developing the medical strategy. The medical strategy will include projects that are aligned to the overall brand strategy. For example, if the brand strategy is to increase use of a certain product by a group of specialists, the medical project aligned to this will involve identifying KOLs in that speciality group and understanding their thoughts on the product and their clinical experience so far.

  • The last part of a 90 day plan is to set up KOL meetings. The reason this is the last part of the 90 day plan is because you want to know who your KOLs are and the brand objectives before speaking to KOLs and planning your meeting objectives.

This done for you 90 day plan can be used to quickly prepare for an MSL interview.

In summary, the MSL hiring process involves:

  • A phone interview with HR where you will be asked about your understanding of the MSL role.

  • A face to face interview with HR and the hiring manager where you’ll be asked about your skills and experience.

  • And a presentation of either a clinical paper or a 90 day MSL plan.

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