How to land your first CRA interview?
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With the growth of the pharmaceutical industry in Bulgaria and the increasing popularity of the clinical research field in recent years, many people are wondering how they can transition from their current careers, or even within the industry, to become a Clinical Research Associate (CRA). But how can they do this? It's common to think that once you manage to land your first CRA interview, you can “charm” your way into the position and get hired. This is not too far from the truth - it's how I became a CRA without any prior monitoring experience. My first employer (the CEO of a small CRO) gave me a chance and believed in my skills and potential, and thanks to that, I built my clinical research career.
Back in the day, many of my fellow colleagues from the Medical University asked me about becoming a CRA, mostly while we were still in our final year (which was when I became a CRA). But this is still a hot topic even today, especially when I speak with other people from the clinical research space who are currently in different positions but would like to progress to a CRA position.
In this article, I will share the steps I took to land my first CRA interview, along with some lessons I learned along the way.

Gain industry knowledge

Let's begin by acquiring knowledge of the industry. Regardless of whether you are currently in the clinical research space or not, it is important to know as many details as possible about the type of job that CRAs do. This means that you will have to invest a significant amount of time in research. What is a CRO? Who is the "Sponsor"? What is the difference between being a CRA for the Sponsor or the CRO? What other departments are there (e.g. start-up, pharmacovigilance, regulatory, legal, etc.) and who is responsible for what? What does the job of the CRA consist of, and what are your daily responsibilities? Also, try to learn the industry lingo. What is the TMF, ICF, and ISF (yes, those stand for very different things), what is the IB, and what information can you find there? What are the different types of visits, and how often are the DSURs submitted?
All of these questions and topics will be discussed during your CRA interview.
With that being said, it is unlikely that you will be given a test to complete during the interview in an exam-like setting. However, these topics are important and will most likely come up, so it is better to be prepared and know what the conversation is about. It is almost guaranteed that, even if you have clearly stated that you have no previous monitoring experience, you are being interviewed for a CRA role (which is not an entry-level role in any case). Therefore, it only makes sense to be at least a little bit familiar with the space.
I am also planning to write a dedicated article about the five types of entry-level positions in the clinical research field that do not require experience, but could serve as a stepping stone to your career as a CRA. If you would like to receive a notification about it, please subscribe to my blog.
You can acquire knowledge about the industry by using the brilliant invention called Google. Even better, these days we have the option to ask ChatGPT any question that pops into our head. Just make sure to fact-check the provided answers.
You can also find several clinical research "influencers" online who talk about many topics in the research field. They can provide a lot of insights and specific examples that will aid you in your exploration.
Lastly, look around. There must be someone around you in your circle, who is already in the industry and whom you can ask everything there is to know in order to land your first CRA interview.
This brings me to my next precious advice:


I cannot stress enough how important it is, especially at the beginning of your career, to have a wide network of contacts and people who are willing to help you. This is particularly crucial when you need all the connections and help you can get, especially at the beginning of your career.
Many of the young people I talk to, including my mentees, tend to underestimate the importance of having a broad network of contacts who know and are willing to assist them on their road to success. Think about it: people in the industry know each other and are more likely to refer someone whom they know and have a high opinion of. That is why you need to know these people. If you are well-connected, you will have significantly better access to information about the clinical research world, job opportunities, news, accreditations, and even recruiters.
The harder question is: How can you create your own network?


The simplest possible way is to use social media to your advantage. In this case, I suggest using LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is a great platform that connects people. The algorithm is simple yet efficient, and all you need to do is understand how it works. Here are a few examples:

Set up your profile right!

First things first - you will need a kick ass profile! That means you will need a good professional profile picture (please refrain form uploading bikini pics, or selfies in front of your BMW form 2005 - this is not the right platform for such content and frankly probably no one wants to see them in any occasion).
Choosing the right profile picture for your LinkedIn profile is crucial, as it is often the first impression potential employers, clients, and colleagues will have of you. Here are some basic tips to help you choose the best LinkedIn profile picture:
  1. Professionalism: Your LinkedIn profile picture should be professional, and should align with the image you want to portray in a professional setting. Avoid using casual or overly informal photos, and choose an image that reflects your industry or the type of work you do.
  1. Quality: Your profile picture should be clear and of high quality. Avoid blurry or pixelated images, as they can make you appear unprofessional. Use a high-resolution photo that clearly shows your face and features.
  1. Approachability: Choose a photo that makes you look approachable and friendly. Smile naturally, and make sure your facial expression is warm and inviting. Avoid photos with a serious or stern expression, as it can create a negative impression.
  1. Professional Attire: Dress appropriately for your industry. Wear professional attire that is suitable for the Pharma field, and avoid clothing that is overly casual or distracting. Dress as you would when attending a professional event.
  1. Background: The background of your profile picture should be simple and uncluttered, and should not distract from your face. Avoid using busy or distracting backgrounds, and opt for a clean and neutral background that keeps the focus on you.
*The same strategy applies for your LinedIn cover as well - the main focus should always be on you. And no, not having a background is not an option, you will be looking like a bot.
  1. Authenticity: Choose a photo that represents you authentically. Avoid using heavily filtered or overly edited images that do not accurately represent your appearance. Be genuine in your profile picture to build trust and credibility with your LinkedIn connections.
  1. Consistency: If you use a profile picture across multiple professional platforms, such as LinkedIn, your website, and other social media profiles, consider using a consistent image to create a cohesive online presence. This can help you build brand recognition and create a professional image.
  1. Professional Headshot: this might be a little extensive, but you want to consider getting a professional headshot taken by a photographer who specializes in professional portraits. A high-quality headshot can make a significant difference in how you are perceived on LinkedIn and ultimately could be the “make it or break it” when recruiters are choosing between you and another candidate for an interview.
Remember, your LinkedIn profile picture is an important part of your professional online presence, and it's worth investing time and effort into choosing the right one. Use the tips above and select a profile picture that presents you in the best light and aligns with your professional brand.
Another thing is your professional experiences. I‘d suggest if you do not have any, list only your degree, along with a relevant course or certificate you have completed. For example, courses in design of clinical trials, project management, or risk-based monitoring would be relevant. I am saying relevant, because no amount of certifications in numerology or human design will get you any closer to that CRA (or any other) interview.
Furthermore, if you have any volunteering experience (e.g Mentor The Young), this is a good place to mention it as well.

Meet the industry

Now that you've glammed up your profile, it's time to start connecting with people.
When I was searching for a CRA position, I followed a simple rule: connect with people in the same position, that you would like to be on, or similar positions. For example, before I became a CRA, I searched for people in each pharmaceutical company or CRO and added every single CRA, Senior CRA, Clinical Trial Manager, Hiring Manager (these are actually people of high interest), Project Managers, etc. Once their connections saw that they knew me, they started connecting with me too, because I was part of their generic professional field and LinkedIn would suggest me as someone they knew. This is what I meant when I mentioned being aware of how the algorithm works.
This will lead to a lot more opportunities. You can directly contact people who are of interest to you. For example, you could politely introduce yourself, explain your goals in the industry, and ask for tips or if they know someone who is hiring and to whom they could introduce you. This will ultimately help you on your way to your first CRA interview.
Attending networking events is a great way to meet people in our field. Unfortunately, this practice is not yet very popular in Bulgaria, but you can always check the calendar for interesting Pharma events. One good example is the Forbes Healthcare Summit.
I would also like to introduce a series of networking events for clinical research professionals in Bulgaria that I am launching together with Maya Zlatanova - Trials Together: Clinical Research Professionals Networking.
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These events aim to help people in the clinical research space to start meeting regularly, exchange experiences, and mingle with other research experts in our field. I am very excited because there isn't anything like this in Bulgaria yet, and I believe it will provide great personal and career opportunities for all of us in the long run.
Networking events are a great way to meet potential employers and leave a lasting impression. You have the opportunity to showcase your skills, knowledge, and passion for the job, allowing the person you meet to better understand you and potentially want you to work on their team. This sets you apart from other candidates, who are just another piece of paper in a stack of resumes. It's much easier to make a good impression in person than on paper.

Prepare for the actual interview

This may seem like a no-brainer, however, I am always surprised by the number of people who put so much effort into landing their dream job interview, yet don't actually prepare for it and ultimately blow it off.
With that being said, here are some tips for a great first interview, regardless of it is in person or online:
  1. Research the Company: Thoroughly research the company you're interviewing with. Familiarize yourself with their mission, values, products or services, organizational structure, recent news, and any other relevant information. This will help you tailor your responses during the interview and demonstrate your genuine interest in the company.
  1. Review the Job Description (if you haven’t already): Carefully review the job description and make note of the key skills, qualifications, and responsibilities required for the CRA position. Be prepared to speak to how your skills and experience align with the job requirements.
  1. Practice answering common interview questions, such as "Tell me about yourself," "Why are you interested in this role?", "What are your strengths and weaknesses?", and "Tell me about a challenge you faced and how you resolved it." Rehearse your responses in a clear, concise, and confident manner. I suggest trying this in front of a mirror or recording yourself to improve your public speaking skills and identify areas to work on. Additionally, set a time limit and stay on topic to avoid lengthy and uninteresting explanations that shift the focus away from the question.
  1. Prepare Questions to Ask: Prepare thoughtful questions to ask the interviewer. This shows your genuine interest in the role and the company, and also gives you an opportunity to gather more information about the position and the company culture. Avoid asking questions that can easily be answered through basic research. Also, it may be obvious, but do not ask for the salary right away. If it is absolutely necessary, never use a precise number, but instead provide a salary range.
  1. Dress Professionally: Dress professionally for the interview, adhering to the company's dress code or industry norms. Dressing appropriately shows respect for the interview process and conveys a professional image.
  1. Prepare for Behavioural Interviews: Many interviews now include behavioural questions that assess how you've handled past situations. Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your responses and provide specific examples of your achievements and problem-solving skills.
  1. Practice Non-Verbal Communication: Remember that non-verbal communication matters, too. Practice maintaining eye contact, smiling, and using confident body language during the interview. This can convey confidence and professionalism.
  1. Research the Interviewer: If possible, research the interviewer(s) and their background. This can help you establish rapport during the interview and tailor your responses accordingly. Try connecting them on LinkedIn, in case they are not already in your network of connections, as they should be.
  1. Think about all possible scenarios that you could be asked about - Usually, all CRA interviews involve scenario questions, such as: How do you prepare for a routine visit? What would you do if you have a non-responding site/PI? What would you do if you discovered missing source documents just prior to an on-site audit? These questions help the interviewer evaluate your problem-solving skills, critical thinking, and experience. Therefore, they are of crucial importance. You can figure out how to answer them by doing your own research on the topic or asking a more experienced fellow CRA 😉
  1. Follow-Up: Don't forget to send a thank-you email or note after the interview, expressing your appreciation for the opportunity and reiterating your interest in the position. This is a really nice gesture that shows you value the time of others and, once again, sets you apart from most candidates.
Thoroughly preparing for an interview can demonstrate your qualifications, show your genuine interest in the position, and increase your chances of success. I believe that if you are able to land a CRA interview, you should be able to sell yourself well enough. Invest time in polishing your presentation skills, as they will come in handy in many work and life situations.

Try again

Overall, none of these steps are extremely difficult, and most of what I have told you is more or less common sense when searching for a CRA job. What makes a difference is dedication, invested time and effort, and consistency.
On your journey, you will face plenty of rejections. Plenty! In most cases, there is nothing personal behind it; there was just someone better than you for the position. This should not discourage you in any way, as long as you invest enough time and effort. Eventually, you will be able to get your dream job. The trick is to be persistent and constantly look for ways to improve yourself and learn from past mistakes. I know it all sounds scary and complicated, but "just keep swimming!"
Remember, it only has to work once!