Master your MSL interview presentation

One of the most unnerving experiences for MSL candidates is the interview presentation. You may not have control over your topic selection, and you definitely will have no control over where it happens, who shows up, and what they’ll do when they show up.

I have seen many aspiring MSLs “blow their chances” during the interview presentation, often because they were not as prepared as they should be or could be. Sometimes they also trip over the traps set for them by the interviewers.

Some hiring managers I know deliberately do things to unnerve the job candidate during the presentation itself.

They may put on a poker face so you don’t know how they are receiving your presentation.

They may interrupt you a few times to annoy you.

They may ask you questions to make you lose your place during the presentation.

They may ask a question that they know you won’t know the answer to.

During the interview presentation, hiring managers are not always looking to be your cheerleader or your best friend.

They’re trying to simulate potential real life situations you may run into as a MSL.

They want to know if you can handle the same kind of situations a working MSL may run into, and more importantly, they want to know if you can survive it.

I remember when I had given clinical presentations as a MSL, not all of my audiences smiled or nodded. Most of the time, I’d never met any of my audience members before, and they were there to be convinced of the usefulness of the clinical data I presented.

I once flew to Hawaii from Los Angeles to give a presentation to a clinical pharmacy director who had a reputation for giving pharma companies a hard time. That flight was 5 hours, and I was scheduled to give a presentation in the afternoon. The director ended up not coming to my presentation at the scheduled time that he requested! I was then led to the director’s office, where I was asked to give my presentation again, directly to the director. I was pretty tired after my 5 hour flight and giving 2 presentations in a row, but it worked out.

When you prepare for your interview presentation, keep in mind that your audience will be a mixed group.

It’s more important to make concepts ACCESSIBLE to as many people in the audience as possible, than to use a lot of esoteric jargon to show your expertise. You can come across as an expert without speaking in tongues.

For those of you who may not have clinical research experience, you have to practice verbalizing the study design. For example, what type of trial the reprint was for, what was the trial design, how many patients, key demographics (usually showing that study groups are comparable), what is the eligibility criteria, and what is the treatment protocol.

You also want to end the presentation with ‘what’s in it for the patients’. Even if you do not have direct patient care experience, you can talk about what you’re talking about has to do with how patients will be affected should they receive the drug. If you talk data for data’s sake, then you’d be seen as out of touch with patient care. Data should always mean something for patient care.

I did this for one of my earlier interview experiences, when I was still talking about the results of my Ph.D. thesis research. If I could figure out how to make my preclinical research in “G1-S cell cycle-transition” relevant to patient care, you can, too!

One of the ways you can prepare for an interview presentation is to listen to free webinars that may be available during clinical society conferences, where they may have clinical experts summarize key studies presented at the conference. Listen to how they communicate this information.

Finally, do not memorize the presentation word for word. I mean it.

I’ve seen more people derailed by memorizing and then get interrupted and they can’t get back on track, and suddenly the presentation unravels. Practice using note cards to help you jog memory of what you’ll say about each slide, until you no longer need the note cards.

If you want to really master your presentation slide deck, practice giving the presentation out of sequence – meaning – you pick a slide at random and then speak the points on that slide, then another slide at random and speak to that point. I used to practice giving presentations backwards – I’d start from the last slide then work my way to the first slide.

It’s not an easy exercise, but believe me, your confidence level will soar when you know that you have mastery of your clinical presentation.