Question about Reference Letters

An aspiring medical science liaison asked:

With my background in clinical research/trials and as a foreign MD looking to break into MSL career, can I give the names of the principal investigators/co-investigators I have worked with as my referees? My concern is that some of them might not know what MSL is all about. Do I inform them?

What should the reference letter look like?

If not how do I get a MSL to give me reference letter since shadowing one might be difficult?

If you coach me, would you give me one?

There are several questions in this and I’ll answer them in order.

But first, let me explain the purpose of a reference letter.

A reference letter should come from someone who knows well your professional contribution (work) and/or personal contribution (character).

Often with a job application, you prefer to get references from people who are very familiar with your work and your contribution as a professional. This is the reason why reference letters usually come from your former supervisors or coworkers who have worked closely with you, and they can speak in good detail what you are like as a professional.

…can I give the names of the principal investigators/co-investigators I have worked with as my referees?

If you have worked closely with clinical investigators who know you well and are willing to serve as your references, then you can list them as references.

You can ask for references by saying that you are applying for opportunities within the pharmaceutical industry, and whether you could list them as a reference. You want to make sure that each person you list as a reference:

1) is willing to serve as your reference. Sometimes people have a hard time saying “no”, so you need to ask the question in a way that will not make them feel bad about saying “no”. You do NOT want to have someone who is not willing to be your reference, on your reference list.

2) is capable of describing your contribution or work. This is why you only ask people who have worked with you and therefore have first-hand experience about you or your character to serve as a reference.

My concern is that some of them might not know what MSL is all about. Do I inform them?

You can tell them in general terms that you are applying for a MSL position and this is a field-medical affairs position. For the most part, you can tell them some of the important characteristics for MSL professionals, such as communication skills and high degree of self-motivation/self-direction. This way they can be prepared to talk about their experience observing your communication skills or level of self-motivation.

What should the reference letter look like?

Most of the time you don’t need to include a reference letter. You only need to include the contact information of the person willing to serve as a reference. The employer’s human resources will then contact that person to ask him or her questions about you.

A reference contact may look like this on your resume:

REFERENCE
Dr. John Doe, M.D.
Professor of Medicine, XYZ University
TEL [123] 456-7890
Email drjohndoe@xyzuniversity.edu

If not how do I get a MSL to give me reference letter since shadowing one might be difficult?

I think you may be interpreting “reference” as “recommendation”, which are two different things. Again, a reference must be a person who is very familiar with your work and / or your personal character [this is also called “a character reference” and should only be used if you do not have enough work experience to have work references.]

It is unlikely that any MSL would write a letter of recommendation or reference for a candidate – if the candidate is a great one – the MSL would personally refer that person to the employer.

If you coach me, would you give me one?

No, because this would be a conflict of interest. Here’s why: you have purchased my MSL career program, and already we have a business relationship where you are the customer. Even if you pay me a coaching fee, the same financial / business relationship exists, and the same conflict of interest exists.

Furthermore, a reference is useful when the person is very familiar with your work – and for the most part – I will not have the same level of knowledge and experience about your work as someone who has actually worked with you, either as a supervisor or as a coworker.

I have served as references for former MSL colleagues and MSL directors
So I can tell you from personal experience what your references can expect when they are contacted. They will likely be contacted by the employer’s HR (human resource) office, or a third party background check company. The person will tell your reference why he is calling, and whether he could ask your reference some questions about you.

The reference will probably be asked questions like:
– How long have you known {candidate}?
– In what capacity did you work together with {candidate}?
– What would you say is the {candidate’s} strengths?
– What would you say is the {candidate’s} weakness?

As you can see, you want on your reference list people who can answer the above questions, and you want to know that their answers will be helpful to you as a candidate. If you are not confident about a reference’s ability to answer these questions, you may not want that person as a reference.

This is a great question – I know there are others who may find this information on references useful! Thank you for asking and good luck!

Jane