Every year the Medical Science Liaison Society publishes their Salary Survey, which should be mandatory reading for every MSL. This information can be used as a benchmark to understand the market value of the MSL role by years of experience, therapeutic area and size of employer. Dr. Samuel Dyer, in his online MSL training sessions, uses a mock interview question to show a brilliant way for the MSL job hunter to use this Salary Survey data.
MSL Interviewer Question: What are you targeting for your base compensation for your Medical Science Liaison role?
Candidate Response: Well I’m flexible (pause for emphasis) but that being said the most recent salary survey from the MSL Society released in January of 2018 had the mean base compensation of an MSL with less than one year of experience at just over $132,500. Now this amount can vary, sometimes quite significantly, depending upon things like therapeutic area; an oncology MSL may be compensated more than a neurology MSL. It can also fluctuate based upon the territory; the cost of living may be more in NYC than in Tennessee or Arkansas. Also, a company can take into account the current product life-cycle stage for how they compensate the MSL position, understanding that the MSL role can be more important earlier in a product life-cycle with near launch activities. All that being said I would hope for a competitive offer, but I’m flexible.
What this response does is simulate many of the best attributes of how an MSL communicates and builds relationships with their KOLs. It starts and ends with relationship continuation statements like “I’m flexible” that keeps the conversation going regardless of the reaction. Then this response provides data, $132,500, the source of that data, The MSL Society 2017 Salary Survey, and perhaps most importantly the “story” behind the data, how it fluctuates, by therapeutic area, location and stage of the product life cycle. It asks for a competitive salary offer but remains flexible and open to a discussion. The answer simulates an MSL providing therapeutic information to a KOL with the data, the source of the data, the story of the data (maybe even the identified data gaps) but does not tell their KOLs how to practice or research, they can draw their own conclusions. An answer like this can really make you stand out as ready for the MSL role, as well as clarifying your salary expectations.
I often hear from MSL candidates when I ask them what they are targeting for their base compensation things like; “Well, I was making $140,000 in my pharmacy role”, or “Compensation is not that important to me so I’m willing to work for less”. Both those answers are deeply flawed. It doesn’t matter what you were earning in a different occupation and compensation is important. The MSL role is the fourth best compensated role in the county according to a recent Glassdoor report.
MSL Society Salary Survey
US MSL Base Compensation
Less than 1 year: $132,837
5-6 years: $161,500
9-10 years: $174,000
More than 15 Years: $189,000
The answer where you offer to work below market rate has several problems. This answer demonstrates that you may not know your market worth or are not confident that you are worthy of it. It sends the signal that you may be using this company to establish your credentials as an MSL, just let me in the door. Then after investing in you to develop KOL relationships, the fear is you may leave the company for better compensation. BioPharma wants to keep their MSL field-force long-term as the relationships you develop with KOLs become even more valuable to the company as trust and familiarity grows. There is nothing wrong with accepting a below market offer if you think the career move is worth it, but wait for them to ask, otherwise it can come off as desperate.
Answers that demonstrate how you would operate if given the job can really differentiate you from your competition. Be prepared with really good answers to typical questions like “What are you targeting for your base compensation?” or even “Tell me about your background?” It will pay off, in more ways than your base salary.