How to Break In to the Industry

So, you want to become a CRA?

Sure you’re bright, astute, willing to learn, and capable, but getting your foot in the door in this industry can be a real uphill challenge. I know you will find your path, but I can offer some tips and advice to hopefully help you. If you are interested, you can click here to read the story of how I broke in to the industry.

By my analysis, these are the items (in no particular order) that matter most when you are considering a new career as a CRA:

Transferable Experience to become a CRA

A medical background or degree in Life Sciences will be of great use to you. Working in the industry (even if it was in the lab, manufacturing, etc.) is relevant so don’t discount it. Think of the skills you use everyday in your other job(s) and how they could bring value to you as a CRA. I switched from Data Management and the Commercial side of pharmaceuticals and many hiring managers were dismissive of that experience. I stood up for myself every time and explained that the skills of data analysis and the ability to finesse the strong personalities of a pharmaceutical salesforce are incredibly relevant and transferable to the CRA role.

CRA in to the city
Living near a major city will make
you a more attractive candidate.  There
are more jobs and proximity to a large
airport with many flight options makes
travel that much easier.

Geography Matters

One of the most attractive things about the CRA career is that you can work anywhere so long as you are near an airport. Well actually, that is one of the most attractive things for experienced CRAs who want to work from home or regionally. If you don’t have 3-5 years experience yet, you’ll have a much harder time landing a gig if you live in the boondocks. Major hotbeds for CRA jobs are cities where you find lots of pharmaceutical/device companies, CROs, and strong universities. These hotbeds in the US include New York, Boston, New Jersey, Philadelphia, North Carolina, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego (but not so much here anymore), and I suppose there is a mid-west hotbed but I haven’t spent as much time in that part of the country to advise. My point is that entry-level positions can be most easily had in larger organizations and you find those biggie companies in the hotbed communities so geography matters.

Network to Become a CRA

Join a professional organization like ACRP, SOCRA, DIA, or similar and attend their regional/local events. Read their publications and scour their knowledge bases. By attending the meetings and participating in the forums you will make valuable contacts. Follow-up with the contacts and do some informational interviewing (no, not asking for a job! asking what their job is like and what their company is like, why is their job fun? interesting? frustrating? demanding?). You may be able to volunteer on small projects or tap into short term contract assignments through your network to build experience. Someone in your network may pass along old training materials or valuable tips to you so don’t discount the network and always keep it warm by following up with your contacts on a regular basis (no, don’t stalk or harass them, a quick note or call once every other quarter should be adequate or just connect with them on a networking site like LinkedIn.com).

Doing your Homework to Become a CRA

Read the internet and blogs like mine, know the CFR and ICH/GCP before you become a CRA. Read books about clinical research, read the sector news, know what’s happening in drug development with big companies in your area and use the information to connect with people at interviews or at networking events (I have linked to some recommended books/articles in the right hand column of my blog). My browser homepage has RSS feeds that scour Yahoo!News for recent articles that reference companies I am following (CROs, pharmaceuticals, biotechs, and other health industry players).

Willingness to learn

I’m sure this is self-explanatory. As stated above, demonstrate your willingness to learn by volunteering at your professional organization, taking classes at an extension college or night school, and asking people for their old CRA training materials or industry journals.

Personality/Communication Skills – As you’ve gathered, this job requires a good degree of high energy and commitment. It will serve you well to be meticulous, focused, and assertive. You must be able to negotiate and communicate effectively and concisely because you have to constantly work with sponsors, sites, vendors, and peers to reconcile everyone’s opposing agendas.

Patience to Become a CRA

Some companies are just going to be more able/willing to train to become a CRA than others; especially now when the American economy is suffering. Consider signing on as a contractor. Prove yourself in 3 months and maybe they will extend you 6 more. Maybe they would offer to bring you in-house as a member of their permanent staff. The great news about a contract is that you gain experience, walk away no strings attached, and when you start over somewhere else you’ll likely be compensated higher for that experience.

I believe it is easier to get an in-house CRA job than a traveling monitoring position as your first gig (traveling monitors at CROs are offered training programs that last several weeks to several months and this is a huge investment so it is easier to get these positions if you have had other relevant positions in the industry…or a great referral or networking contact). Consider building your credentials and industry experience as a CRA Assistant or even a Project Assistant (mostly making copies and taking meeting minutes – but a great way to learn the regulations and the industry). Don’t forget that there are different types of in-house positions that might appeal more to you than CRA. If you choose to specialize, you could become a legal or finance assistant (dealing with contracts and payments between study sites and sponsors) or a regulatory document specialist (I would hate this because it is mostly filing and paper-pushing but it is a great fit for the right personality). I got my start as a Data Manager so that is another avenue but making the switch from CDM to CRA is quite tricky. If you aren’t finding anything in Industry, you could even try to get a job at an MD office or study center assisting with subject processing and other study related tasks.

Good luck as you pursue the role of CRA. Please comment if I have overlooked other important factors or if you have questions.

You may also like…from The Lead CRA archives:

About The Author

The Lead CRA

Nadia started The Lead CRA blog in 2007. She is now lead author for ClinOps Toolkit. Nadia is currently working as a Clinical Program Manager at a small specialty pharmaceutical company in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach Nadia via email at leadcra@clinopstoolkit.com anytime.