No MSL experience? No problem! How to highlight your transferable skills when applying for MSL jobs

Updated: Oct 13, 2018

In order to get an MSL job, you must first secure an interview by highlighting on your CV that you have the necessary skills to become an MSL. “But I don’t have any MSL experience” I hear you say. No problem, neither did I when I applied for my first MSL job, but what I did have was the ability to sell my transferable skills and convince the hiring manager that the experience I had gained throughout my PhD meant I was a great fit for the MSL role! Although it may be tempting to highlight your ability to western blot even the most troublesome proteins on your CV, an application for an MSL job is not the time to gloat about this skill (though it will make for interesting water cooler chat when you get the job). In this article I’m going to share how to convert common PhD graduate skills into sought after MSL skills.

What are the most important MSL skills?

Excellent communication skills are pivotal to the success of an MSL. The ability to communicate effectively has an impact on many key responsibilities vital to the MSL role. As an MSL, you will be required to develop relationships with KOLs. In order to build rapport, you must highlight your ability to adapt your communication style to that of the KOL. For example, if you are an extrovert by nature who hates the sound of silence and you need to develop a relationship with an introverted KOL who likes time to think before responding to questions, you’ll need to adapt your extroverted communication style and adopt a more introverted, quieter and patient communication style in order to develop a relationship.

MSLs are often required to influence and engage KOLs to work on specific projects that are being led by the pharmaceutical company. These projects may involve inviting to KOL to participate in an advisory board or speaking at a local conference. A successful MSL is one that knows how to communicate in such a way that they can influence even the most head strong KOLs to recognise the benefits in attending an advisory board or speaking at a conference.

Pharmaceutical companies hire MSLs due to their strong scientific background and MSLs need to be able to disseminate and communicate scientific data in a confident and clear manner. A confusing presentation or convoluted explanation of clinical trial results will damage the MSLs reputation as a therapeutic expert. Clarity is king when it comes to data dissemination.

How can these skills be highlighted on your CV?

A little bit of wordsmithing can go a long way to get a hiring manager to see your potential as an MSL.

When preparing your CV for MSL applications, research responsibilities on MSL position descriptions (PD) and incorporate common words/phrases into your CV and your LinkedIn profile.

Example 1

PHRASE ON PD (Responsibilities)

o KOL engagement -establishes long-term scientific/strategic relationships with key physicians/scientists and with related major medical associations and academic centers of excellence


o Leveraged my relationships with KOLs to develop numerous collaborations in X therapeutic area

Example 2

PHRASE ON PD (Responsibilities)

o Dissemination of scientific data


o Extensive experience presenting scientific data at both national and international conferences

Example 3

PHRASE ON PD (Responsibilities)

o Facilitate KOL involvement in national, regional, global and local educational forums including advisory boards, symposia and continued medical education (CME) events


o An active member of the Young Physiologists Group and successfully organised symposia and engaged both national and international KOLs to present their research findings

In summary, remember that even if you don’t have MSL experience it doesn’t mean you don’t have the experience to be an MSL – leverage your transferable skills to optimize your CV for a successful application. What other skills have you gained during your PhD that are applicable to the MSL role? Comment below!

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