Finding a clinical research associate entry-level job can be difficult. Most companies won’t hire people without prior “monitoring experience”, i.e. someone who has overlooked clinical trials before. However, some people do actually manage to get hired immediately as a CRA, me included.
This article is a summary of chats with colleagues, recruiters, head-hunters and others. Here I will outline exactly what you can do to increase your chances to find an entry-level CRA position, even without lots of prior experience.
Get to Know Clinical Research
Before I go on and tell you about which strategies to use, it’s very important that you actually understand why it’s often so important with some experience if you would like to work within Clinical Research.
Many people are frustrated because they keep on applying but often don’t get any response. Here’s a couple of samples from some of the mails I’ve received:
I’ve got a PhD in chemistry and drug development and 4 years of laboratory experience. Feels like companies hardly read my resume! How do I get qualified enough?
Feels like a “catch-22” to get into the business. No one is interested in people without monitoring experience, and no one wants to hire me so I can get that experience…
Well, I do agree that:
- Clinical research is not a very unique business. It is difficult finding to get your foot in the door in most businesses, not only as a clinical research professional. But yes, this field is a bit different – that’s for sure.
- Clinical trials has to be conducted in line with strict regulations. Companies that conduct clinical trials need to follow ICH-GCP. From day one all employers need proper documented knowledge in GCP, unless you are lucky enough to grab one of the very rare trainee positions out there. This doesn’t apply for most other businesses.
Why is it so important with prior experience to become a CRA?
All companies dealing with clinical research, pharma companies as well as contract research organizations, CRO’s, must keep CVs of all their employees. Sponsors will request to review the cv of any CRA that will monitor their study.
According to ICH-GCP section 5.18.2 “Selection and Qualifications of Monitors”:
- (a) Monitors should be appointed by the sponsor.
- (b) Monitors should be appropriately trained, and should have the scientific and/or clinical knowledge needed to monitor the trial adequately. A monitor’s qualifications should be documented.”
- (c) Monitors should be thoroughly familiar with the investigational product(s), the protocol, written informed consent form and any other written information to be provided to subjects, the sponsor’s SOPs, GCP, and the applicable regulatory requirement(s).
Sponsors, or their representatives, will perform so called “audits” of the companies that they work in collaboration with. This means that a sponsor may come and visit the company where you’re working to perform an “inspection”. This happens regularly and is quite common.
During an audit they will e.g. check:
- The companys’ SOPs (standard operating procedures)
- How storage and filing of data is handled
- CV of all the staff and they will especially look for documented skills to work with clinical research. No exceptions!
1. How to get prior experience (the traditional & long way)
The best way to get prior experience is to work as either:
- Clinical research coordinator (CRC)
- Clinical trial assistant (CTA)
It may also be a good idea to volunteer for any duties related to clinical trials, but it’s far from enough. If you have some spare time while you’re studying you may consider it. But if you’re already graduated I wouldn’t recommend to waste a lot of time volunteering. If you decide to do so, be sure to discuss the possibility to apply for a position as a CTC or CTA if they would find you suitable.
2. The Shortcuts
Apply for small or big companies?
You can work as a CRA for mainly two types of companies:
- Pharmaceutical company – sometimes referred to as “big pharma” with hundreds to thousands of employees, but you can also work for smaller companies with a single office.
- Clinical research organization (CRO)
Most people who are looking for CRA jobs start immediately by contacting the big companies. They send their CV and cover letter to the big pharmaceutical companies or the well known CRO’s. The reason for this is simply that people are more aware of big brands like e.g. Pfizer or Quintiles.
But what about the smaller companies?
If you start searching online, you will eventually find many small to mid-sized CRO’s. Most people never apply for these companies, which is a shame, because it’s actually easier to get employed by these.
The large companies usually have their own HR (human resources) department, that deals exclusively with recruitment. They usually apply very strict rules to sort applicants, e.g. that you must have at least two years of prior monitoring experience, before working as a CRA. Otherwise they would usually not even bother continuing reading your application in detail.
A smaller company however doesn’t have their own recruiters. Their budget is more limited, and sometimes they don’t even announce open positions. They rely more on ”word to mouth” when it comes to filling vacancies.
What is best for my future career – a small or a big company?
It depends on what your goals are. In the long run it’s best to get experience from both.
Early in your career a smaller company actually has some advantages.
- -You will get more responsibility quicker.
- -Your tasks will be more varying.
- It can be difficult to get promoted within the company.
Getting a CRA certificate – good investment or waste of money?
To put it short. It is only possible to get a “real” CRA certificate if you already have been working as a CRA.
Luckily, many people are now aware of these scams, and therefore many claim that all courses are totally useless.
Don’t confuse “scam certificate courses” with good courses in clinical research! Getting a certificate will take you nowhere, but taking relevant courses can be very valuable.
Study GCP and take relevant courses instead
If you don’t have any monitoring experience, you will increase your chances to get an entry-level CRA position if you take certain courses. If you have spent a couple of weeks, or preferably months, learning GCP you will meet the basic requirements to begin training as a CRA.
However, be sure not to overdo it.
It doesn’t matter how many courses you have been taking, if you’re up against several people with prior hands-on monitoring experience.
Won’t there always be someone else with prior experience seeking the same position?
Yes, there will be – if you only apply for official vacancies at big companies. Then you can be sure that there’s a whole bunch of people with years of experience that will also apply. And that’s why you should aim for the smaller companies.
Don’t only apply for advertised positions
Finding new employers is a time consuming and quite expensive task. A professional head hunter usually charges at least a months salary to find and sort out the perfect candidate.
Paying for ads and go through hundreds of applications is a full time task. That’s why smaller companies prefer to hire by “word to mouth” or pick their candidates from “spontaneous” applications.
- Be sure to send your CV and a Cover Letter to several companies that aren’t actively recruiting at the moment.
- Be sure to clearly state why you are interested in the company, and that you would be very happy if they contacted you should any open positions occur.
- It’s easier to find clinical research entry level positions in smaller companies
- Besides having a relevant education, some GCP training or a specific course in clinical research is essential
The long way
- Start as a CTA or CRC
- Gain 1-2 years of monitoring experience
The alternative way
- Get some documented knowledge in GCP and clinical research
- Apply for lots of smaller companies
For latest updates about available CRA Jobs click here!
Image courtesy of pat138241 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.