SSR are experts in healthcare communications, our staff have worked at many of the large global agencies in the roles you’ll be applying for. They have had first-hand experience of working in an agency and are in a position to offer excellent advice to prospective candidates on medical communications jobs.
Please submit your CV to be considered speculatively for any roles, we’ll be in touch to see what experience you’ve had and where you could fit in. If you’re a (life) sciences graduate, or with a degree in media relations/PR/advertising and looking for medical communications jobs – we’d love to hear from you.
We have been monitoring CV’s and safe-guarding candidate priorities for nearly a decade. In order to help you with the initial stages of your application and give you a good indication of the entire process, we have prepared the following guidance and information on various important topics.
These articles, alongside any advice from your consultant, are designed to help you succeed in securing the ideal role.
The interview will usually be your first point-of-contact with your future employer, as such, it is essential you make the best possible impression. That impression will make the difference between a great candidate getting the job and a great candidate missing out at the final hurdle. Interviews are a stressful experience for all and an absolute nightmare for some – the more exposure, preparation and practice you have, the better you will perform.
It may seem a little unfair – but 33% of surveyed employers knew whether or not they wanted to hire someone in the first 90 seconds of interview. That means you’ve got a minute-and-a-half to look employable. It’s a lot of pressure; even strong candidates can be overwhelmed. If you’re naturally nervous, try to remember to smile and make eye contact, hold your hands together to avoid fidgeting, always sit up straight and never cross your arms! This is your chance to gain the role you always wanted. Bearing this in mind, why is it that so many candidates fail to do any preparation at all?
Nearly 50% of interviewers found that candidates were let down at interview by having little or no knowledge of the company. This is an amateur mistake and indicates not only a lack of commitment, but brazen indifference. Almost everyone has a computer or access to a smartphone – do your research, find out about the company, their clients, goals and culture. Failing to even visit the agency’s website doesn’t convey confidence; it demonstrates laziness and is likely to sabotage all of your work so far. If you can’t find any information then speak to your consultant, SSR is more than happy to help and will be able to give you a good idea of what it’s like to work at the agency.
If interviews make you anxious, careful preparation can help you remain calm and increase confidence. Either way it shows an active interest in the agency, the industry and more importantly the role you’re applying for! Employers love to see a candidate that is keen, focused and well-read. It’s also nice if you have something to ask beyond “when do I start & what holidays do I get?” Be analytical with your research, examine the job-brief in relation to your skills, make an honest comparison – augment your strengths and think through any weaknesses – be prepared to be challenged on your CV and past experiences.
SSR are here to help you through the process, look to your consultant for guidance and advice. They’ve been in the industry for years, have worked for some of the agencies and have a great understanding of the culture and people. Smiling and nodding will only get you so far, knowing that extra bit of information can really help swing the balance. Interviewers know you’ll be nervous, but they’ll expect you to prepare!
How you dress is almost as important as what you say – some would say more! In a recent survey 65% of employers stated that the way a person dresses could be the main deciding point when choosing between similar candidates. Colourful, dirty and rumpled clothing could cost you that all important position. For creative roles and in agency an environment; it may not be necessary to wear a suit to work, but remember, you haven’t got the job yet!
If there’s any doubt then ask your consultant, but when preparing your outfit; remember this is an important first-impression, do you want to come across as the knowledgeable, stylish and motivated young professional you undoubtedly are? Or do you want to appear like you’ve just rolled out of halls for your first ever interview?
Interview Guidance Notes
Remember, if you’ve got to an interview it means the employer is interested in you, they want to learn more about you and why you want to work for them. This is a great chance for you to convey your passion, intelligence and ability. Do not think of it as a formal assessment of your entire working history. Most employers will be looking for an insight into your personality, experience and potential.
Most employers will have a job description with key criteria that they are looking for. One of the strongest ways of preparing yourself is to analyse those key skills and attributes in relation to your own skills. Focus on how your experience and knowledge makes you stronger in these areas. If you’re particularly weak on a certain skill, then ask if they offer training or stress that it is something you’re looking to improve.
In addition to the guidance above we have included some brief bullet points on interviewing and how to prepare. This is a general guide and your consultant will always brief your properly on what to expect from your individual interview.
Do your Research:
Before you attend your interview, it may be beneficial to do some preparation on the following points:
- Where, when and with whom you are interviewing. Remember finding out info about your interviewers can help generate talking points, it’s also proves that they’re real human beings who’ve been in a similar position to you at some point!
- The company, culture and the role. This is very important when it comes to commenting/asking questions about the company and can make the difference between a good and a successful candidate.
- The position – is it new? Old? How did it come about? Why?
- Your expectations. Always good to know what you expect from the role and the agency. This can really help when making the tough choice between two job offers.
- Analyse your skills in contrast to the brief. Consider any examples of skills/attributes you’ve used to your advantage on previous projects – compare that to an agency environment & the healthcare communications industry – try to focus on how your specific skills and experience can be applied positively to this environment.
- Motivation: this is often a deal-breaker for candidates. Assess why you want to work for the agency, where you see yourself going with them and where you want to be. Be prepared for the question “why are you leaving your present role” – be positive and not personal or critical, focus on future goals, personal motivations and career reasons.
- Questions: prepare a few questions for discussion after the interview just in case the conversation covers some of them. Failing to ask questions is one of the top-five mistakes and shows a lack of enthusiasm, interest and intelligence.
- Arrive early! You should aim to arrive a maximum of 10 minutes before your interview, sitting in the lobby for an hour isn’t going to do you any favours – but arriving with a few minutes to prepare can give you time to speak to staff, read up on the company or just calm your nerves.
- Perfume/Aftershave: try to choose something relatively mild and don’t “plaster it on” (many people are allergic to different perfumes).
- Look your interviewer in the eye; shake hands firmly but not aggressively.
- If you are in the habit of fidgeting, twitching, twirling or drooling, try to keep your hands together and your mouth closed – smile occasionally! Looking enthusiastic and engaged by your interviewer means you’re much more likely to make a good impression.
- Listen carefully – respond accurately and concisely – do not waffle!
- Be passionate & enthusiastic about the position & agency.
- Dress smart: no bright colours, low-cut tops, unshaven, slippers, vests etc.
- Do not criticise your previous employers, or reminisce on your “golden years” at another agency – this creates a terrible impression.
- Prepare yourself – get as much information on the agency’s latest developments, important events and company history, find out their goals and philosophy and incorporate it into your own.
- Prepare questions – you will be asked about your past experiences, maybe even mistakes…have answers prepared for these types of questions (see list of interview questions) and prepare your own questions as well. Having some questions to throw back at your interviewer can really take the pressure off and turn the process into a conversation.
- Listen to your interviewer, be concise and react to what they are saying – try to look enthused and interested.
- Look your interviewers in the eye – 67% of candidates fail to secure a position due to a lack of eye-contact, avoiding this can make you seem untrustworthy and evasive.
- End the interview on a positive note, comment on how much you enjoyed the meeting, ask how you felt you did; if you’re feeling particularly confident try “when do I start?” Always shake hands and thank them for their time.
Occasionally clients will ask to interview a candidate via telephone. This can be a great opportunity for a potential employee to make a fantastic impression and meet their future colleagues in a low-pressure environment. Telephone interviews are most commonly used for candidates who live too far away to interview but can also be a way to narrow down an especially large selection of candidates.
If anything, they should be treated as a welcome respite from the pressures of a face-to-face interview. However, they still require careful preparation. See the advice above for more detailed guidance on preparation, but it’s still a good idea to read the job description and gather an idea of how your skills and experience fulfil the criteria they are looking for.
Ensure that you are ready to take the phone call in a quiet and secluded area, away from TV, children, neighbours and other distractions. Always use a land-line where possible to guarantee a stable connection (if you are using a landline, turn off your mobile to avoid distractions and if you do have to use a mobile make sure you have good signal and “call-waiting” disabled.) Have your CV with you, ready to look at and reference – you can almost guarantee your interviewer will have a copy at their end. Print out the job description and have it next to your CV, the proximity will make direct comparisons easier.
Phone Interview Pointers:
• Think about your response – don’t waffle and say the first thing that comes to your head, a few seconds of silence followed by a well-reasoned and knowledgeable response is much more desirable than a verbose spiel that misses the point.
• Always answer the question – sounds simple, but the most common mistake in telephone interviews is unintentionally refusing to answer the question.
• Speak clearly, calmly and with enthusiasm. Smiling whilst on the phone can alter the pitch and tone of your voice – creating a more favourable impression.
• Do not interrupt! Interrupting can be a sign of arrogance, disrespect and impatience – not favourable qualities for any employer.
• Take notes on key points or comments, they’ll be useful when preparing for the next stage and can act as your own personal feedback form.
• At the end of the interview – ask when you’re likely to hear back or for more information on the process (alongside any other prepared questions).
Your Curriculum Vitae acts as an introduction to your working profile. Employers will decide in thirty seconds of looking at a CV whether or not they want to see someone, if fifty-percent of that time is spent trying to find out what degree you’ve earned – it’s not going to improve your chances of securing an interview.
There is no standard format for CV’s and depending on your working profile, your personality and the position you are applying for, formats can vary quite drastically. In general though there are a few basic maxims that should be followed when applying for a non-creative role. With creative roles, CV’s can often be used as an accompaniment to portfolio’s and as such reflect the creative talents and artistic style of the author, usually created in PDF format utilising intricate layouts and colourful designs. For creatives, this can be a very useful and effective way of conveying your experience in an appealing layout.
However, for those applying to account handling roles in PR, Advertising MedEd etc. this flamboyant style of CV can often be a put-off. Generally CV’s should be well structured, plain and formal; clearly categorised into distinct sections that are easy to digest. Remember, CV’s aren’t an encyclopaedia of your working history; they are a thought-provoking insight into your skills, experience and responsibilities. You can use the CV as a convenient platform to steer the conversation, but all of the detail and embellishment should come in the interview.
Any CV should contain all the personal information relevant to this specific application. One of the biggest mistakes candidates can make is writing a general CV, if you know the role (or type of role) you are applying for then tailor your CV to suit (see below) – analyse the key job criteria and incorporate them into your CV. If you are particularly weak in a certain area, mention that you are trying to develop this particular facet of your profile. As a matter of course, avoid including photographs, tables and large banners, these just detract from the real content! We recommend that all CVs are written in word (unless you are a creative) and should be restricted to two pages of relevant information.
The following paragraphs contain information on what should be included in your CV, this is intended as a general guidance and is not an exhaustive list:
Contact information should always be clearly laid out at the top of your CV. This should include; name, phone number, email, postal address (for creatives – include a link to your portfolio at the top as well). If you are not a UK national state your country of birth and emphasise your right to work in the UK.
Personal Profile this should be a few lines on your particular skills and attributes that would contribute to you being successful in your intended role. If you’re particularly proud of something this is a great place to mention it, similarly, focus on positive attributes relevant to the role. Try to give an honest indication of your character, without waffling! Most people think of themselves as diligent, hard-working and well-educated, try to communicate something about your character and personality throughout your CV to set you aside from the others.
Employment History this should be in reverse-chronological order (latest roles first) all companies that you’ve worked at should be listed with clear dates of employment (start – finish), your job title and a very brief outline of your key responsibilities. This is not an exhaustive list of what you did on a day to day basis; mention key projects, main tasks and work that has allowed you to develop your skillset. If you have worked in a role very similar to the one you are applying for, emphasise the similarities between them. If you’ve worked agency or client side, lists the clients/brands you’ve worked on and the therapy areas and be prepared to elaborate at interview. The most important issue would be gaps in employment – this is a glaring alarm bell for any agency/recruiter – you’re working history should not have any unexplained gaps, so check the dates and explain any discrepancies.
Education: Start with your most recent qualification, most roles at this level will require a degree; list the University, Course, Qualification obtained and the dates of your studentship clearly. Mention other qualifications attained above GCSE level and any training courses or professional development attended. Where necessary or beneficial give a brief outline of the skills you developed or attained at each stage.
Interests & Attributes: this should reflect interesting personal activities or societies. It could be an opportunity to mention something you are particularly passionate about. Try not to mention anything too controversial (political parties, religious groups, anti-religious groups etc). A rough indication of your personality and current activities is all they are looking for – try not to include the sports team you played for at school or anything else you no longer engage in.
IT Skills: Most people are expected to be capable of using Windows basics like Office and Outlook, if you have any further skills list them and how they were acquired. For creatives, this is especially important and should be an exhaustive list of all your software abilities, giving an indication of your proficiency with each is also a good idea and can really assist your application – try not to leave anything out.
Spelling & Grammar: Check your spelling and grammar until you’re absolutely sure it’s perfect – and then get someone else to do it. Often the effectiveness of someone’s writing comes down to style and not accuracy, getting a second opinion can often help identify those “strange sounding” sentences you missed. Make sure dates match up neatly to the position they relate to, work on spacing to make sure everything is neat and perfect.
Offer & Acceptance
If your interview was unsuccessful, you will be given detailed and constructive feedback from your consultant as to why you weren’t chosen. This can be for a range of reasons and shouldn’t be taken personally. Regardless of how your interview went, feedback your thoughts about the process to your consultant, let them know what you thought of the agency, the interviewers and any presentations/tests you were asked to do. Your consultant will feedback your enthusiasm (or otherwise) to the employer and can significantly increase your chances of success.
A successful candidate will have the pleasure of receiving one or more offers from employers. These can be made in a variety of forms (telephone, email, at interview etc) but will usually be made via your consultant. An offer is not final until you have signed and returned the official offer letter and contract – it is important that you do not hand in your notice until this is completed.
The offer letter and contract should contain all of the relevant terms of your employment alongside any additional professional or personal information. This can include, but is not limited to, salary, benefits, bonuses, time-off, working hours and benefits. If there is anything in the contract or offer letter that you are unsure about, or would like to change, refer to your consultant before confronting your employer. SSR are great negotiators and it is extremely beneficial to have an experienced intermediary arguing your point.
If you wish to accept the offer in principle, inform your consultant and await the formal contract. SSR are salary experts and can give you a good indication of the industry standards as well as what to expect. Never try to discuss or argue salary at interview, not only is it presumptuous, it can also create quite a negative impression with your future colleagues and employers – if salary is mentioned, give an indication of what you are expecting and move on. Once you’re agreed on salary and the employment terms, accept the offer, return it to the agency and then hand in your notice!
Handing in your Notice
Handing in your notice can be a stressful and emotional experience for many candidates. Some people will have been with an organisation for years and leaving can often feel like moving towns or leaving school. This pressure is not alleviated by the commonplace introduction of exit-interviews. These interviews are conducted by your current employer as a means of assessing your reasons for leaving, what you felt about the company and as a chance for them to secure your loyalty.
It is highly probable that your current employer will want to keep you as part of their team and will make a counter-offer to that effect. This is an extremely flattering experience for any candidate and can lead to some consternation over what to do. If you are unsure, consult your SSR advisor on the matter, they are on your side and will want to establish the best course of action for you.
If you were looking to move agencies then there is usually a compelling reason, this could be increased career prospects, salary, culture, location or a whole host of things – do not lose sight of that. Whilst ungrateful employers may become strangely affectionate when you threaten to leave, remember, if they really valued your contributions why haven’t they taken any action previously? In fact 80% of people who accept counter-offers resort to leaving the agency within the following year.
If you were happy with your agency, enjoyed the culture, location and weren’t looking to move – it could be worth considering. From an employer’s point-of-view, it is much more cost-effective to offer a promotion than to recruit and train new members of staff. Many employers can take an attempt to resign as a personal affront – a rare few will even convince you to stay whilst they search for your replacement.
Treat your resignation as a typical business meeting – if an exit interview is conducted, your employer may ask for feedback on their company and managerial style. Try not to be too personal or critical, if you have a genuine point of concern or reason for leaving – now is the time to put it across in a reasonable manner, give examples of what happened and any affect it had on you.
SSR are here to help you secure your next role and hopefully the next step up the lander, be that in terms of remuneration, position or even improved job satisfaction. The above is merely a guide and cannot cover all the vagaries of the recruitment process. If there is anything you are unsure of, or require further clarification on; please do not hesitate to contact your consultant at Sam Small Recruitment. Now that you’re ready to apply – take a look at our job section for our latest opportunities!
SSR receive a lot of candidates for creative roles looking to enter the marketing and advertising sector, many are curious about career progression and the opportunities available for a creative in the healthcare communications industry. We have compiled this brief summary of creative positions within an agency which should give you a fair indication of where you’d fit in and where you could end up. Creatives are the core of any communications industry and are pivotal in its long term success.
Creative Roles within Advertising
If a creative role appeals, whether your passion lies in originating ideas or in a role where you can utilise planning and organisational skills there are several options to consider:
This is the lead creative role in an agency where you will be responsible for shaping and developing the creative work, whilst mentoring and guiding the creative teams, in liaison with the account handling teams and clients. You will most likely have started out as an art director or copywriter and progressed over a number of years and responsibilities to achieve this esteemed position.
This is a conceptual role creating ideas and concepts across a range of materials and involves working closely with a copywriting partner to generate ideas. You will also be responsible for briefing and directing artworkers, photographers, illustrators and other suppliers as necessary. Good computer and presentation skills are advantageous.
This is a conceptual role working alongside your art director partner, creating ideas and concepts. You’ll also generate the copy for headlines and text across a range of materials. A life sciences degree or a keen interest in science will help you understand the complexities of the many therapeutic areas you’ll work across. Many copywriters start out as medical writers and migrate to this more creative role.
This role involves origination of designs across all media and also working closely with art directors to bring their ideas to life whilst ensuring brand and style consistency are met across all of the materials within a campaign. You will have an excellent eye for detail and most likely a passion for typography.
Creative Services Director
This is the lead creative services role overseeing the project managers and studio manager in scheduling and progressing multiple projects through the agency from client brief through to delivery whilst ensuring that quality is maintained and delivery achieved. Team management skills and the ability to multi-task are essential attributes.
This role involves working closely with the creative and account handling teams ensuring projects are progressed in a seamless and timely manner. You will be responsible for creating timing schedules and estimates, driving the process and making things happen, flagging up any issues and coming up with solutions. The ability to multi-task effectively, act with diplomacy and with a focus on getting the job done with the minimum of fuss are key attributes.
The responsibilities for this role include scheduling and planning the workload of the art workers and designers who create the files for the marketing materials from design origination through to print ready documents. You will also monitor the hours worked against estimates and be involved in the reconciliation process to ensure budgets are adhered to.
This role involves taking the layouts of the art director or designer to a finished standard, ensuring that files are accurately created to client style guidelines and supplier specifications. You will need to be highly computer literate and possess solid software programme skills. A good eye for detail and a high level of accuracy is required to fulfil this role.