Recruiting talented biopharma leaders in today’s super-charged life sciences economy is no easy task. Venture capital dollars continue to pour into the sector, fueling expansion and incubating cutting-edge startups. At the same time, however, the talent shortage in the industry is reaching unprecedented levels and the “Great Resignation” is only making matters more complicated as millions of people are quitting their jobs after reevaluating their work lives during the pandemic. Biopharma recruitment is more challenging than ever amid these new realities.
Overcoming these challenges over the long term will require systemic changes that will take time. Over the short term, however, companies and recruiters can do more to enhance their current biopharma recruitment efforts. Let’s begin with four basic ideas that could make a substantial and positive impact for biopharma recruitment.
Support STEM Educational Initiatives
A STEM education is the most logical starting point for increasing the numbers of talented and inspired young people who will become the next generation of leaders in biopharma and the life sciences, forming the pipeline for successful biopharma recruitment. A recent U.S. Defense Department report found that the United States lags behind many countries, including Russia and China, when it comes to STEM education, contributing to a “severe shortage of technical talent in the U.S. workplace.”
According to the report, “Today’s education pipeline is not providing the necessary software engineering resources to fully meet the demand from commercial and defense sectors, and resources required to meet future demands continue to grow.”
The future of biopharma recruitment is therefore dependent on the formation of new STEM education initiatives, like the recent launch of the Jefferson Institute for Bioprocessing, the first and only education and training institute for biopharmaceutical processing in North America. Programs like this one will make STEM careers most accessible for people who may not have pursued those career paths in the past. Biopharma recruitment will be enhanced by the continued development of programs like this – both at the high school and college levels.
Expand the Search for Talent
Biopharma recruitment strategies need to shed the conventional mindsets that necessarily minimize the scope of potential leadership candidates. In the past it may have been sufficient to keep a search focused exclusively on leaders at competing companies. That is NOT sufficient in today’s market. Recruiters must expand the scope of their searches to include established leaders and rising stars in related sectors and even other industries as well as consider internal candidates who would shine in leadership roles if given the opportunity.
Going outside traditional networks and silos is absolutely essential to building a diverse and robust pool of candidates that will result in a successful leadership search. Biopharma recruitment is more of an art than a science, requiring recruiters to expand their field of vision in ways they haven’t done in the past.
Pharmaceutical Executive Senior Editor Elaine Quilici stresses the importance of building and maintaining robust talent pipelines, which can help overcome the challenges of biopharma recruitment in a highly competitive market.
“This ongoing task can be helped by using three tactics: re-engaging silver medalists, creating campaigns to build awareness and attract talent, and employing direct sourcing. Runners-up for previous positions can make great options for new positions; plus, they’ve already been vetted, saving you time. Creating opportunities, such as meet-and-greets, provides potential candidates and companies a valuable platform to share information about themselves. Conveying the fabric of the company in a 30-minute interview is difficult to accomplish; it can be more effective to demonstrate and reiterate company culture and values over time. Finally, slow sourcing allows companies to personalize messages and deliver targeted information to prospects,” she writes in a recent article.
Effective biopharma recruitment also requires patience and planning. As Slone Partners CEO Leslie Loveless has expressed, “If I was giving a recommendation to a venture firm, or to a CEO at a start-up, I would say, ‘Don’t wait until you need the person tomorrow. Plan for it – plan for the hire that you need six months from now,’ and encourage them to be forward-thinking.” A forward-thinking recruiting strategy goes far beyond LinkedIn, tapping sources and connections that can provide inputs and referrals for leadership positions in biopharma and other life sciences sectors.
Make the Industry More Inclusive
One critical priority for improving biopharma and life sciences recruitment will be enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the rank-and-file and top leadership positions. Thoughtful and deliberate pro-active measures will help attract more people of color into an industry where they have historically been underrepresented. As Slone Partners CEO Leslie Loveless recently wrote in the California Business Journal, “In the life sciences, we have historically struggled with building a diverse workforce as recruiting strategies have been trapped in an antiquated paradigm in which traditional mindsets, policies, and networks have limited the breadth and depth of candidate searches.”
A recent article published by the MIT Sloan School of Management stated that “The life sciences industry can be insular and hive-like: Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts; California’s Silicon Valley. Forward-thinking employers will mine talent beyond their neighborhoods. One idea is to consider building plants and factories in underrepresented areas with cheaper real estate and overlooked workers…Training opportunities should meet people where they live, because commuting isn’t feasible for people who might juggle multiple jobs or lack access to transportation.”
By enhancing their DEI efforts and making the industry more inclusive, companies and the recruiters with whom they work can assemble deeper pools of candidates for leadership searches, making the biopharma recruitment process that much better. That said, companies must commit to building pipelines to recruit and develop minority employees up and down the corporate ladder so they become internal leadership candidates in due time.
Lead with Culture
Biopharma recruitment is that much easier for organizations that build and sustain a healthy, thriving, dynamic company culture. This cannot be accomplished through a top-down approach, but rather through an everyone on board approach where each member of the team feels valued, respected, and heard. Culture can be a dealmaker or a dealbreaker when trying to recruit top talent! Eric Schurke, the CEO North America of the Moneypenny Group, writes in Fast Company that “An open and honest culture, backed with clear leadership and empathy, creates an environment where employees and business can flourish.” Those are the types of organizations where talented leaders want to migrate.
“Company culture has grown in importance, thanks to recent high-profile culture crises such as those at Uber and Wells Fargo, the intensified push for DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), and the continuing battle for talent. Culture has become a strategic priority with impact on the bottom line,” writes brand leadership expert Denise Lee Yohn in Harvard Business Review. “At many organizations there is a gap between the existing culture and the ‘desired’ culture — the culture needed to support and advance the company’s goals and strategies. In a new culture-building model, everyone is responsible for cultivating the desired culture.”
Venture capital partner Nina Kjellson at Canaan Partners talks about the importance of communication in an organizational culture, arguing that the next generation of leaders may epitomize a shift away from the control-and-command management style to one that values more open communication.
“That’s a really encouraging sign for the industry and for the cultures and the organizations that they’re building,” Kjellson is quoted in a June 2021 article focused on improving biopharma recruitment. “That to me, more than anything, will be their superpower in terms of recruiting the best talent, because they are making companies that are going to be awesome to work for.”
The challenges that make biopharma recruitment so interesting and complex can be overcome with thoughtful, deliberate, and consistent planning and execution. Slone Partners is attuned to the challenges and prepared to help biopharma and other life sciences companies recruit and secure the top leaders they need to succeed. Our biopharma recruitment specialists at Slone Partners are busier than ever working with our client partners who have a pent-up demand for securing talented and visionary C-suite leaders.
We work closely with our client partners throughout the biopharma recruitment process to ensure that top quality candidates are engaged at the right moment and properly vetted, and the process moves swiftly enough to preclude the possibility of top candidates accepting an offer from a competing firm.
Securing the most talented leaders for your life sciences organization can be daunting, but biopharma recruitment specialists like Slone Partners can provide your team with the strategies, guidance, and support needed to ensure a smooth and successful executive leadership search.