On a rare sunny afternoon in Manchester, Network Pharma Ltd organised a careers event aimed at people looking to find more out about what a career in medical communication involves. It was a packed afternoon, with three presentations from people already in the industry, followed by a mix of junior and senior staff from some of the leading medical communications agencies across the UK.
Peter Llewellyn, Network Pharma Ltd, introduced the day and provided a brief introduction for us all. His summary was that although it’s quite difficult to get into initially, once you have experience, doors open fast.
Next followed presentations from Jane Smith and Ben Clarke from Mudskipper, an Amiculum company, Rick Fleming, Aspire Scientific, and Phil Hall, Carrot Pharma.
What does a career in med comms involve?
Day to day work can be quite varied. For a writer, you could be working on publications, congress abstracts, presentations, clinical trial manuscripts, review articles or meta-analyses to name but a few. For account executives, days revolve around liaising with clients and key opinion leaders in the field you work in. There is the possibility to attend conferences and congresses, on behalf of a client, to summarise presentations relating to particular therapy areas.
Coming from an academic setting, it can be a culture shock. It is a business environment, with strict deadlines. There will be criticism, but it should be constructive. Sometimes it can feel like you’re on a writing treadmill and can’t get off. On the positive side, there is variety, some flexibility and the opportunity to travel and work with experts in their field. Med comms is in high demand. Most importantly, experience gained during PhDs and post doc work is valued, but be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up.
Starting your career in med comms
Most importantly, how to get in? There are a few different avenues including writing, editorial and account or project management. Some opportunities are available to start more generally and specialise later on when you have a better idea of what each role entails. Attend agency open days to get an idea of what they’re about, the remit and size of the company, as well what training opportunities are available.
Tips and Tricks
Not all agencies are the same, so it pays to do your research beforehand. Make sure to look at the role type, location, what therapy areas they cover and size of company. Try to find to about the culture in the company – do they have regular drinks on a Friday, or a subsidised gym membership for example?
CV and cover letter
Again, know the companies. This will allow you to tailor your CV and cover letter depending on where it’s being sent. Be bespoke – what do you have that makes you stand out from the crowd? Be succinct – nobody likes waffle. Network – by attending careers events like the one in Manchester, you are able to meet with lots of companies in one day. Take the initiative, call the company and ask to have a look around, can you have a meeting with anybody there to discuss what it’s like? Even a quick coffee or a Skype chat is better than nothing.
A cover letter should be no longer than 1 side of A4, and MUST be personalised. Don’t send out the same cover letter to every job you apply for. Address it to a person. If there isn’t a named person on the job advert, call the company and ask who to address it to. Nobody likes to get a ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ letter when it’s so easy to find a name. Outline what skills and value you can bring to the company, what will they find attractive in a candidate? Highlight it.
For your CV, there should be lots of white space, not too crammed in. Succinct, no more than 2 pages of A4. Use facts and figures, and make it results orientated. Yes, you completed your Duke of Ed 10 years ago, but what did you get from that? Include voluntary work, especially if it’s relevant in some way. So you organised a charity ball? Perfect. Events management, publicising, a role host of responsibilities that you were responsible for! Two things to steer clear of – do not include a photo of yourself, it uses space necessarily, and leave off hobbies and interests if you can’t link them to why you’re interested in a career in med comms.
Before you arrive, request information about the format of the interview. Do your research, ask questions and make sure to drink water during the interview. Know your CV. If you’ve included something, then you should be willing to discuss it. Will there be a writing assessment while you’re there, or are you expected to complete it before you arrive?
Importantly, they don’t expect you to be able to write at this stage, interviewers are assessing your ability to write, and your ability to meet the brief. If they ask for 800 words, don’t hand in 900. Crucially, what is presented to you for a writing test is not necessarily representative of what your every day workload will be like.
Some companies offer internships, and these are a great way to gain experience and get a foot in the door. Opportunities like that should be used to your full advantage. They may not be publicised, but it is worth getting in touch with the individual companies to find out what they offer. Having a writing portfolio is an advantage. To be able to show that you can write, even if it’s a blog, or for a student newspaper, is all relevant to show that you’re committed to writing.
For more information, and the full presentations, visit firstmedcommsjob.com.