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The Value of Perseverance in the Job Hunt

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Pulse on Study Conduct by Elizabeth Weeks-Rowe

The desire to progress along a career path from investigative site to industry is especially strong for ambitious study coordinators who have a CRA or clinical management position as a career goal.

They understand the CRA role is the pivotal starting point from which their research career can flourish. They are determined souls who assume their experience will ensure they reach the next career level.

Consider an experienced study coordinator (SC) applying for a CRA role. Training likely would be minimal; the job responsibilities align (source document creation/review, regulatory standards, IP compliance and dispensation, etc.). One would presume a hiring manager would jump at the chance to hire a highly trained SC as a CRA.

Unfortunately, that presumption is wrong. An experienced SC, according to hiring managers, lacks one critical element: monitoring experience, the required adjunct to validate the research experience of the candidate. This discouraging paradigm can halt a potential career in its tracks. An extensively trained SC would have a considerably more difficult time obtaining a CRA position than a less qualified candidate with even a little monitoring experience.

To cross over to the industry side is an endeavor fraught with frustration for those unable to see beyond the immediate rejection letter. Perseverance and patience are necessary. SCs grow tired of hearing words of encouragement from their industry counterparts, which sound patronizing. For the candidate who has spent years in pursuit of pharma/CRO positions, scouring web sites and social media, attending networking events and updating CVs to appear more marketable to recruiters, each rejection letter begins to transform enthusiasm into discouragement.

As an SC, I spent nearly a year applying for CRA positions and was plagued with self-doubt during the process. When I finally was granted an interview, it took three excruciating months to complete the intensive process and be offered a CRA position. But I refused to give up, and here I sit as proof of the value of perseverance.

Tips for applying for CRA positions

  • Do not limit applications to CRA or desired positions. Apply for every relevant clinical position with a pharma/CRO to get your foot in the door: project assistant, clinical trials assistant, feasibility representative, etc. You may need to take a step back in title and pay to take an eventual step forward. Companies are incentivized to promote from within as it helps with employee retention, infrastructure stability and professional development.
  • Update your CV with any relevant monitoring tasks, such as internal source/CRF review of your studies/site, auditing of employee training records, internal IP accountability or regulatory binder review. Word your CV to detail relevance to monitoring experience.
  • Discuss your desire to move into a CRA role with your monitors. Ask their advice. Show your willingness to do what it takes to work harder for them, which gives them more incentive to recommend you, if they can, to their companies.
  • Apply and reapply for positions, despite rejection letters.
  • Have a colleague, preferably at a pharma/CRO, review your CV for content.
  • Have mock interview sessions with any colleagues or friends in industry, HR, CRA or management positions. They can provide insight into relevant questions, responses and what can make you more marketable and presentable during an interview.
  • Consider ACRP or SOCRA certification to boost credibility.
  • Look for specific CRA academy or CRA training positions/programs within CROs.
  • Do not give up, as it can take one to two years to obtain a position in industry.

Recently, a close colleague successfully transitioned to an industry role. “Tonya” and I met three years ago while conducting a pre-study assessment visit at the ob-gyn research practice she managed. It was an experienced, efficient site, and I knew it would make a positive addition to the study. The meeting finished early, and Tonya suggested we go for coffee, the start of our friendship. Tonya confided in me her strong desire to move to industry (as a CRA or educator). She shared her frustration over hours spent applying for positions, with rarely even a rejection letter as a reply. I understood her frustration. On paper, Tonya was an excellent candidate—RN, B.A., with 15 years of experience as an SC and site manager (including auditing). However, she lacked formal monitoring experience. Tonya asked for my help. I advised her to apply for any clinical position in a pharma/CRO that would get her foot in the door, but that she may need to take a step back, in position and salary, to progress in her career. Tonya nodded enthusiastically; I was impressed with her determination.

We stayed in touch. I reviewed her CV and advised her to add more detail relevant to monitoring. We discussed job interviews and I analyzed her responses. She refused to give up.

Finally, Tonya was invited for an in-person interview with a large CRO hiring educators to help sites facilitate patient identification, enrollment and retention measures. It was a dream opportunity. I have never seen anyone more enthusiastic or prepared for an interview.

Several weeks later she learned the company had chosen another candidate with more experience. She was dejected and said she was going to take a break from the job hunt, that it had become too difficult. I advised her not to give up.

Several months later Tonya unexpectedly contacted me with good news: the first candidate had not worked out and the company had offered her the job. She was ecstatic.

So to those with the dream to transition to industry, do not let any rejection letter deter you. Don’t give up. With perseverance, you will reach your career goal.


Elizabeth Blair Weeks-Rowe, LVN, CCRA, has spent nearly 14 years in a variety of clinical research roles including CRA, CRA trainer, CRA manager and clinical research writer. She also is author of the novella Clinical Research Trials and Triumphs. Currently she works in relationship development/study startup in the CRO industry. Email ebwcra@yahoo.com

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