Hiring CRAs: Shifting the Research Industry’s Focus on Experience to Competency

April Schultz
November 1st, 2018

There are certainly benefits to hiring a seasoned professional for a position with significant responsibility. However, a stringent focus on level of experience has hindered clinical research organizations in recent years. The focus on experience has led hiring organizations to turn away capable individuals, particularly for the role of clinical research associate (CRA).

According to a paper published by the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP), there were over 10,000 CRA, positions open in the United States in 2015, indicating a significant work shortage for this position. It’s likely this shortage was caused by the seemingly arbitrary, but common practice of requiring two years of professional experience for entry-level CRAs. It’s unproven whether this required experience is really a significant indicator of a CRA or monitor’s ability to perform. This shortage resulted in heavier workloads for many employed CRAs and an increase in employee burnout for research organizations.¹

Evaluating core competencies

During her recent workshop at Forte’s 2018 Fall Onsemble Conference, Workforce Innovation Officer, Beth Harper, led discussions about the competencies necessary for individuals working in clinical research. Workshop attendees came to realize there are a number of key characteristics of a good clinical research employee that go beyond experience in the field, including attitude, teamwork, attention to detail, communication, and a willingness to learn. While these skills can be fostered through on-the-job experience, many of the competencies listed were implicit and not easily taught. 

Watch Beth’s free, on-demand webinar, to learn even more workshop takeaways and explore the theory and practice of competency-based approaches for hiring, retaining and helping staff advance.

Focusing on qualities not quantity

It’s evident the research industry could benefit from a shift in focus from required years in the field, to the competencies necessary to excel at the job. Some individuals possess desired qualities of an ideal CRA or monitor, regardless of experience level. Characteristics for the position can include:


In the CRA position, this is characterized as a strong drive to achieve efficiency and quality. A diligent CRA has a sharp focus on their work that helps them to overcome difficulties and succeed in their endeavors.²


The CRA position requires individuals to juggle multiple responsibilities throughout the day. Someone in this position should be able to prioritize and manage daily tasks to stay organized and ensure everything is done in a timely and efficient manner.


When charged with complex tasks and projects, CRAs need to focus not only on the larger picture, but also confirm all elements of the project are accurate. Attention to detail can improve quality and increase the validity of work conducted.²


A genuine interest in clinical research is important to reduce burnout and can help individuals be more productive in the CRA position. Employees that are passionate about specific, or all, aspects of research are often more driven to perform at their best.

Standardizing training practices

Adequate and standardized training is also a necessary step to meeting high industry expectations for CRAs. Individuals with the above qualities are often easy to train and aim to please. With effective training practices in place for new employees, organizations can focus less on an applicant’s experience and more on their potential.

Necessary training for a CRA

ACRP published a Training Guide & Course Catalog for clinical research professionals that outlines best practices for competency-based training. Currently, ACRP’s fundamental competencies include:

  • Clinical Trials Operations (GCPs)
  • Communication and Teamwork
  • Data Management & Informatics
  • Ethical & Participant Safety Considerations
  • Leadership & Professionalism
  • Medicines Development & Regulation
  • Scientific Concepts & Research Design
  • Study & Site Management

These eight competencies are the cornerstone of every well-rounded research professional. To ensure incoming CRAs understand the above competencies, organizations can develop a training plan, including both external courses and accreditation, as well as internal education from organization staff.

Great CRAs aren’t always the most experienced in the clinical research field. Shifting the industry focus from experience to competencies can influence the way CRAs are hired and trained for the better. 

*This blog post was originally published in February, 2017 and has been edited from it’s original version.


Learn more

Watch this free, on-demand webinar to learn even more best practices for finding and retaining capable clinical research staff members. During her presentation, our expert webinar presenter explored the theory and practice of competency-based approaches for hiring, retaining and helping staff advance through more systematic, structured and objective-based approaches.

webinar Webinar

Competency-Based Approaches to Staff Hiring, Management and Advancement

Watch online


4 thoughts on “Hiring CRAs: Shifting the Research Industry’s Focus on Experience to Competency

  1. I’m a manager in the medical field and I’ve tried and was denied many times for a CRA position. I’m very passionate about completing all tasks and very detail oriented to make sure the job is done correctly and accurately. If given the opportunity I’d be able to attend any amount of weeks or months of training to gain knowledge in this field. Can you please give me any direction to achieve my hope of getting a job In this field, thanks.

  2. There has been an exponential demand and growth in the clinical studies space in the past five or 10 years. We have a shortage not only of CRAs, but of Investigators, clinical coordinators and more. The entire industry is under stress with the amount of research that’s being conducted and the resources available.

  3. I am totally agree with your opinion. as the demand is of CRAs is very high we have to focus on qualities but along with that experience also matters so we have to find a unique blend of experience and quality to fulfill our needs

  4. The fact that regulators and officials allow drugs to come to market, based on data collected ( then verified) by an assorted cast of characters, given our climate of stringent consumer protection, is mind-boggling. It seems counterintuitive to NOT regulate the manner in which data is collected, or who is collecting it, while simultaneously applying strict regulations to that data. Would not the education and knowledge of those involved in the verification of that data be pretty important to the reliability of that data? Seems like a no-brainer.

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