DR J. #2 - How not to go into a phone interview with a recruiter

Dr JB is back again after popular demand. This time with an interview with a recruiter. We hope you enjoy it.

After a short leave of absence, I am back online. Let me now share how my telephone interview ended my happy MSL spell.

Most frustratingly, I wish I could turn back time and re-do that interview, as I have burned an important bridge there. Not gonna happen again of course, so let me illustrate what went down:

As I wrote in my first text, I was in for quite something else than what I expected. When I got the voicemail saying “Hi, this is David from XYZ company, I was wondering whether you would be interested in a position like MSL with us. I’d like to share some thoughts and see what your view is, I’ll send you an email so we may set a date and time to talk on the phone”, I was both highly excited and even a tad bit confident. Because, what could happen, right? It’s just a hello-get-to-know-you-chat to set another date and time? Did that before. Nope. It wasn’t at all casual, it turned out to be my First Interview. And it went somewhat like this:

“Hi this is David again, I hope you’re doing fine”. “Very much so, thank you, how are you?” I asked. “Great, thanks!” and following a brief friendly and casual chat, he asked: “So, I have seen your interesting LinkedIn profile and the thing is that we are setting up an MSL team for a client of ours, ABC Pharma, which is looking to get their new anti-cancer therapeutic 1234 into a phase-I clinical trial. Your experience looks promising for the role, can you briefly explain how your skills might fit that role?”.

Ehm, OK, this is something else than a professor talking for 45 minutes about his pet molecule, numbing your brain into standby-mode, and at the end him asking you to teach his pet some tricks in the coming 2 years.

So, (of course) I explained by summing up my research; “Yes, thank you so much for calling, and for arranging this time of day, that sounds very interesting (streeetching time to arraaange my thoughts). Wellllll, uhhh ssseeee, in the last years I focused mainly on molecule A that interacts with cascade B to activate C cells. This I hope one day will lead to a therapy against this terrible form of cancer. Also, we have been establishing a new immunotherapy by targeting D molecules specifically in E-type cancer cells. Which also we hope can get into a clinical application one day. In any case, I think my experience with A and B, C cells and D molecules is a bit different from what ABC Pharma is aiming at. Still, I’m eager to learn new skills and really interested in the position”. I was happy that I managed to squeeze all my research interests, outlook and the pet molecule into that 5-minute elevator talk – must have been a bit compressed for him. Still, my condensed summary fits normal academic conduct.

A short silence followed. There was some static on the line I noticed. Suddenly I questioned if David was still there and also if he actually had a background in my field.

Any field for that matter, did he know what C cells are – if he at all understood, even my ‘lay version’ was complex… Damn, I thought. I responded in an academic reflex, didn't think of the opportunity at hand, how my experience and insights could help ABC Pharma to get ahead, my possible new employer! I didn’t even ask what 1234 did..! Could I rescue this??

After what felt like ages he replied: “Yes, OK, so … (scribbling) … You mean that these D molecules can activate your…(paper rustling), ehm, C cells? That-is-so-interesting-indeed. Maybe one day a possible cancer cure”. Oh, he misunderstood, I should explain it again to him. Truly brief and simple now! Not a chance. David happily chattered on; “But you see, this novel therapeutic from ABC works by targeting certain processes, you know about those?”, indeed I heard about it and explained, concisely. I felt the job-chance slipped away. “Indeed, so hence you’re not that far off, experience-wise” he mentioned. “Your immuno-oncology expertise really fits. You got more to offer than you think.” That sounded unsettling. “So when does your contract end, when can you start? We are looking for someone who can start the end of next month”. Not good news I thought. This is tight, I have a longer cancellation period. “Well, my cancellation is a bit longer than that, so we’d need to figure that one out”, I mentioned. David said, “OK, we could look into that, what is your salary by the way?”. That’s quite direct indeed I thought, so I tried to bounce the question; “Well, what would the salary be for the position at hand?”. The starter salary he vaguely indicated was apparently not fixed.

While I was frantically thinking of how to get the interview going smooth again and come up with a good answer to the vague salary, David ever-so-friendly, but dryly, mentioned: “What do you know about the MSL role?”. It suffices to say that at that point, it was mostly the standard definitions, I didn’t know the deeper layers yet. So I fed him what I knew, hoping to convince.

He said “well thank you so much! I got all I need. Maybe talk to you in the future”. After some friendly words, he hung up. Too late, that was it. I ended up on a side-track. Stalled. We didn’t get to know each other, I confused him with utter jargon!

I was talking too narrowly, didn’t appreciate the bigger framework, actually forgot to ask about the whole company altogether…!! The interview lasted under 20 minutes… It felt like ages. Still, next time they’ll find me prepared.

Dr J

If you like reading Dr J’s blog and want to come as prepared as he did for YOUR OWN MSL job interviews, then join the most comprehensive global Board-Certified MSL training platform today. Just go to the Board-Certified MSL training page and use the following coupon to get a 10% discount:


Or join our free MSL webinar to learn more about the MSL career by clicking HERE

Do you have a great story to share, or an MSL topic to talk about? Email us on [email protected]


MSL newsletter

Receive MSL blog stories, great MSL content, MSL news, career advice, MSL jobs, tips and discounts straight into your inbox.