What Clinical Research Associates Should Know About Finding a Great Job

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It’s good to feel wanted, and Clinical Research Associates are definitely in high demand. CRAs have one of the lowest unemployment rates of any profession.

That’s because innovations in the medical field always have to be tested. New drugs, new equipment, new treatments — they all need to go through extensive testing before they hit the market and are put into widespread use.

All that testing explains why pharmaceutical and medical device companies are always seeking qualified CRAs to fly around the country and oversee all the clinical trials they’re doing.

But even though CRAs are in demand, there’s still heavy competition for the best jobs in this field.

If you’re a CRA, what do you need to know to get the best job possible? We asked Kate Keller, an Aerotek strategic delivery executive who has spent seven years recruiting thousands of CRAs for positions all over the U.S.

Looking to get your foot in the door? In our previous post, we talked to Keller about how to become a CRA in the first place.

For working CRAs, here are Keller’s tips:

Which CRAs are getting the best opportunities?

For starters, employers prefer job candidates who have a background in nursing or another medical field, since they’re already familiar with working with patient charts and clinical health records. “They understand the data. They understand what’s happening to the patient,” Keller said.

Aside from that, many companies prefer a CRA with good job tenure — perhaps three to six years of job experience at one or two companies.

“The reason they like CRAs with that kind of background is that they’re less likely to be burned out by the travel,” Keller said. “It’s an extremely high travel position. They’re going to different sites on a weekly basis. They may be in their home office just one day a week.”

Another benefit of having a steady work history is that it proves to an employer that you’re loyal and will not leave a project in the middle of the study, which would put their project team in a tight spot. Changing CRAs in the middle of a study can make an already challenging job almost impossible, as you would be basically starting from square one at each site.

Pharmaceutical and medical device companies hire clinical research organizations to test their new drugs and equipment. The testing organizations set up clinical trial sites at hospitals and doctors’ offices, and they hire CRAs to travel to each test site to review and monitor the data. The CRAs are experts in looking for trends, risks, problems or mistakes.

How should a CRA prepare for a job interview?

Aerotek can help with this.

“We use the STAR method to help you answer the more technical questions,” Keller said. “It’s a way to keep you on track when you’re giving a lengthy response.”

STAR stands for situation, task, action, result.

  • Describe the situation, the who-what-when-where-why-how.
  • Explain the task you had to complete.
  • Go over the specific actions you took to complete the task.
  • Sum up the result of your work.

In a job interview, a CRA might be asked, Tell us about a time you dealt with a difficult coordinator at a site.

“A CRA is visiting the site maybe once every other month. They’re going to check these coordinators’ work,” Keller said. “And if they find errors, they need to go to the coordinator and say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to change this right away.’

“You can imagine how difficult that is — to be a stranger coming in, getting in the weeds of all their business and telling them what they’re doing wrong,” Keller added. “The best CRAs will have really good examples of how they’ve dealt with very difficult situations with site personnel.”

Turning it around: What should CRAs ask in job interviews?

When it comes to job openings, here’s the most common question that Keller hears from CRAs: “Is travel paid door-to-door?”

CRAs know that these jobs require travel, and that they’ll be reimbursed for airfare, hotel stays and meals. But they want to know exactly how much travel each job will require, and whether they’ll be reimbursed for all of their travel expenses.

“From the minute they walk out their front door to the minute they get to where they’re staying — they want to be paid for all those hours,” Keller said.

What advice would she give to a CRA?

“I would recommend finding a recruiter who you click with, who you trust, who works with an agency that’s going to provide you with enough work,” Keller said. “I have had CRAs since 2011 who are literally still working with us now because of the relationships we built.”

There are so many companies recruiting clinical research associates that Keller knows CRAs who get 10 calls a day.

“If I were a CRA,” Keller said, “I’d find one or two solid, trustworthy recruiters in the industry that I felt like I could partner with — who had my best interests in mind.”

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