Member Question on Picking Interview Topics

A subscriber asked:

I recently had a phone interview for an MSL position and was told that IF the application process continues, I would be asked to give a 15 minute talk on a topic I felt comfortable presenting. I instinctively prepared a talk describing my research but am worried that since my work is basic research, I would be perceived as too aloof and/or removed from patient care.

Would you suggest I stick with what I know really well (my research) and emphasize potential applications to human health or choose another topic? If so, what should I present on?

What topics do MDs and PharmDs usually select for their presentation? In one of your on-line posts, you
mentioned that some companies do not offer the option of selecting the topic for their presentation.

Will you please give me some examples of the assigned presentation topics in this scenario? I assume you would be asked to talk about the drug you would represent and/or the disease states it is approved for treating.

Note: above is edited for brevity and confidentiality

Jane’s Answer:

MDs and PharmDs would tend to pick clinical topics that relate to their disease specialty – so they would talk about a clinical study and emphasize on the pharmacology of the treatments that address those diseases.

As a PhD you will have it tough. I am not going to sugarcoat it (and I know this, because as a PhD I’ve done my share of interview presentations in the past as a MSL). 15 minutes is a very short time, which I do not really like companies to do, but they may like this format as a quick way to judge your ability to present within a short time frame.

So here is what I would recommend:

– pick something you REALLY know. ie your work.

– focus on THE key disease that your work addresses. If you do neurobio – what is one disease that relates to the mechanism you study?

– look at the STANDARD treatments for that disease

– know the drugs for that disease inside out (read the prescription inserts that you pull off the drug websites)

The way you divide the time may look something like this:

5 mins – Intro to your work in general terms

5 mins – mechanism you study and how this manifests in disease, plus the standard treatments that may address the disease by hitting on the mechanism of action you study

5 mins – current development in this mechanism in general and application to patient care

The above is a general guide – you do not have to split the time evenly and you may even want to shorten the introduction to 2 minutes and spend more in the body of your presentation.

The problem with short presentations is that you need to actually prepare a lot more than if you had to do an hour presentation. I would dread a 15 minute presentation more than a 45 minute presentation!

Ultimately, however long or short, whatever the approach (assigned topic to you or asking you to choose your own topic), the interview is meant to assess the following:

– Your presentation style and “platform” presence

– Your ability to scale the presentation to the length allowed (the interviewers may be lenient if you run over time. KOLs may not be as understanding!)

– How well you distill your presentation into the core messages you wish to convey

– How well you communicate that message to a potentially diverse audience

– Whether you can handle unexpected glitches or problems, including your ability to anticipate these and respond appropriately

My book chapter on the interview and the section on the presentation can be a useful review as part of your preparation for the interview presentation as well.