September 29, 2021

Hiring Top Talent You Want Today and Need Tomorrow


Philip Gialenios, Former President and Chief Operating Officer

While biotech business leaders recognize the need to stay apprised of the most recent advances in scientific innovation and technology, they also need to stay abreast of hiring trends in our industry. The competition for top talent is fierce as the Life Sciences market continues to outpace all industries in growth. I have found that the key to success is  hiring top talent who can transition to engaged and competent employees and I have a few suggested steps for hiring the right employee.

Life Science companies, both Biopharma and Precision Medicine, are the catalyst of innovation today improving medical outcomes, and, ultimately, the health of people around the world. With a rapidly aging population and the rising demand for new drugs driving growth, Life Science organizations are experiencing both significant opportunities and difficult challenges. A company’s ability to quickly scale its business to meet market demands hinges on finding the right top talent or facing a future where they are left behind by the competition.

To do this, Life Science business leaders must truly understand what they are trying to accomplish with recruitment. What defines top talent when you are hiring in an industry where innovation and technological advances wipe the slate clean every few years? This conundrum has been facing leaders for the past decades. So how do we qualify and hire individuals with the right “science skills,” and will a strong scientific baseline predict success for these people; and our companies?

Let’s start with a few critical questions.

  1. Have you calculated and confirmed the bottom-line cost of your “bad hires?”
  2. Are you aware of the latest hiring trends impacting the Life Sciences sector?
  3. What is your hiring strategy to ensure you attract and retain top talent?
  4. What are the prioritized skill sets you look for and how do you ensure you’ve found them?
  5. Have you considered workplace changes and generational issues impacting your attraction and retention?

If positive ROI is the differentiator in business, then the cost of a bad hire to the bottom line becomes a significant factor. In surveys, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the average cost of a bad hire equals at a minimum 130% of that individual’s annual earnings. For example, when you hire a business development manager earning $150,000, the real cost to your organization can exceed $195,000; and most likely will be higher.

Some costs of a bad hire are easily quantifiable while others are debatable depending on the company. Here are a few examples from Northwestern University’s HR department and a few of my own that you might consider:

  • HR Job Creation: Resources spent on justifying a role, developing a job description, and determining compensation
  • Recruitment: Cost and hours spent on recruitment, advertising fees, reviewing resumes, and interviewing candidates
  • Onboarding: Time and expenses associated with onboarding & training new employees
  • Management: Time and energy managing poor performance
  • Lost productivity: Both the lack of results of the individual and their impact on others
  • Project Delays: Due to lack of initiative and problem-solving
  • Customer Dissatisfaction and Lost business: due to lack of skill or communication techniques ➢ Negative Influences: impact on your desired company culture

In the next ten years employment in the Life Sciences is projected to grow 7%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, faster than the average for all other markets. Why is this statistic important? It would seem an aggressive hiring strategy is required to maintain a competitive edge in this environment. Which is why having a well-thought-out hiring strategy to attract top talent and retain future star employees that create long-term value is critical. When CEOs were asked in a survey to rank their biggest internal challenges, three factors emerged: mergers and acquisitions (22%), new product launches (22%), and scaling for profitable growth (22%). The common thread cited for all of these internal challenges was the role that talent will play in whether they achieve their goals. Access to talent, and how well companies attract and retain top performers, will be the make-or-break factor in the years ahead.

Historically, Life Sciences relied heavily on traditional hiring practices with an emphasis on validated scientific and technical education and confirmed direct role experience. This led to negating the underlying differentiating skills necessary to create a workforce that can embrace and adapt to fast-paced change, work with others to drive innovation, and ultimately deliver desired and sustainable growth. But true visionary leaders, the disruptive change agents of Life Sciences and biotech, understand the traditional hiring approach will not provide the talent they need to create and sustain the competitive edge they seek. These transformative leaders understand the need to reconsider how they approach hiring and use a less-technical and more nuanced approach to help their hiring managers understand the value of candidates who have a balance of scientific and technical knowledge supported by creative and problem-solving capacity, behavioral and leadership skills, and higher level strategic thinking. The result is a stronger, more adaptable, and high-quality hire and avoidance of myopic hiring events that just fill a current role; which is common in this industry.

How do you prioritize the skills and traits of the employee who will positively impact the company while thriving in its culture? Should we focus on education and experience, or should we focus on confirming the presence of soft behavioral and leadership skills? Of course, hard skills are the table stakes necessary to fill the position, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that in Life Sciences, developing and implementing “soft skills,” such as those related to relationship building, communication, and leadership are crucial to driving a company’s vision, clarifying intent, and gaining buy-in, both with internal employees and external customers (Life Science Leader). Finding balance is the challenge most leaders face.

Soft skills have been the focus of management and organizational science for many decades. So why the recent renaissance of soft skills focus? First, hard skills, the technical qualifications confirmed by formal credentials “Employees Will Be This Decades’ Disruptive Change Agents” are necessary. The mismatch often occurs between what universities teach and what employers expect. Second, a substantial body of scientific evidence shows that soft skills are the critical determinant for people’s training, learning, and coaching potential. This evidence highlights the power and accuracy of soft skills as better predictors of long-term job performance.

Recently a project team, sponsored by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Foundation, “whose mission is to grow a talented workforce to sustain a world-class Life Sciences industry,” developed an interesting infographic to define soft skills utilized in the relationship between employee “self” and team “others.” Unanimously, the 52 Life Science business leaders interviewed agreed that these skills are essential for “individual career success and perhaps more crucially – can make or break a team, a project and even a company.”

Once you have decided on the personality traits and soft skills you desire for your company, below are some suggested techniques to attract and find the “right employee.”

Communication is key!  Clearly define a:

  1. Job description – Confirm you are providing an impactful Performance-based job description to communicate what success looks like in the role, including what soft skills are necessary to succeed in the role. Statistics – 72% of hiring managers say they provide clear job descriptions describing “success;” only 36% of candidates say they are provided clear job descriptions. NOTE: With your job description address flexibility regarding workplace requirements (virtual office opportunities) and available flexible schedules aligned to performance expectations “Employees Will Be This Decades’ Disruptive Change Agents”.
  2. Employer brand – An employer brand answers questions often about the “Why” like: “Why do we do what you do?” “Why do other people work here?” “What kind of impact are you making in the world and on customers and why does it matter?” “What kind of a culture do you promise and why is it important?” “Will and why will they be proud to tell people where they work and share their role?” “Will their position impact others and how?” According to Linkedin Business 72 % of recruiting leaders worldwide agreed that employer brand has a significant impact on hiring. Let’s remember we are hiring Millennials and Generation Z where 70% of Millennials do not feel engaged in their jobs and desire careers where they find work meaningful beyond compensation “Employees Will Be This Decades’ Disruptive Change Agents”
  3. Talent brand – In “Building Company Culture – 7 Steps for Every Small Business “ talent brand is defined as what your employees think, feel, and share about your company. Interview your top employees and together develop a list of core values integral to your company culture. Communicate and reinforce these values across multiple channels. Align these values with the soft skills that will reinforce and enhance them. In the world of social media, investing in building your talent brand online allows potential employees a way to discover and engage with your company in advance of meeting you.
  4. Culture Fit – Last, but not least – Peter Drucker’s quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” applies to hiring employees who fit your culture. Once you understand the values that define your company you can more easily identify candidates that will fit. For example, if “creative collaboration” is both a desired core value and a soft skill, you might ask a job candidate “Describe a project you worked on with a team and the creation – development – execution process?” Many successful companies have more traditional cultures; others have more progressive cultures. Neither culture is wrong but maybe a wrong fit for a new hire if not considered during the interview process. In August 2019 nearly 200 influential CEO’s at the Business Roundtable argued that companies should not only please shareholders; employee culture is also essential. Remember, we are searching for employees who will positively impact your company and thrive in your company culture.

In summary, the ability of Life Science and biotech leadership to translate ongoing market-driven demand into potential company growth hinges on your ability to scale your company by hiring top talent who can transition to engaged and competent employees. To do this, business leaders must truly understand what they are trying to accomplish while recruiting, which includes an understanding of what defines, and satisfies, top talent when hiring. “Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them; they hire already motivated people and inspire them.” “If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.” Simon Sinek Start With Why.