Pharmaceutical recruiters face myriad challenges in the COVID-19 era. With researchers and drug makers working around the clock to develop new vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics aligned with Operation Warp Speed, visionary and inspired leadership is absolutely essential to guide companies forward as they negotiate unchartered waters.

In general, the industry is stronger than ever. Sector employment continues to rise and venture capital funding for investments in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, drug discovery and development, and disease diagnosis hit a record $17.8 billion for the year ending Q2 2020, according to the most recent CBRE US Life Sciences Report. Companies like Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Roche, Novartis, and Merck & Co. are leading the pack, but even many smaller firms, like Atea, based in Boston, are collaborating with larger companies to respond to the pandemic. Pharmaceutical recruiters like Slone Partners are paying close attention to the latest business trends to enhance their understanding of the fast-changing market and place the right candidates into top leadership positions at those companies where they can make the greatest impact.

Pharmaceutical recruiters are particularly mindful of the challenges of recruiting and hiring in a primarily virtual environment. A recent survey showed that 75% of senior managers reported conducting remote interviews and onboarding sessions, and 60% reported expanding their searches geographically to access wider candidate pools since the COVID-19 outbreak began. With little or no face time, particularly early in the process, pharmaceutical recruiters, working with their client partners, are having to leverage technologies like Zoom and Microsoft Teams while also utilizing other evaluation tools more than ever to screen candidates.

As one of the leading pharmaceutical recruiters in the country, Slone Partners understands both the benefits and limitations of this new landscape. Company CEO Leslie Loveless has commented that, “Virtual recruiting and hiring may have some advantages in terms of convenience and cost, but it cannot completely replicate the experience of face-to-face contact and onsite company visits. That said, we are learning a lot during this crisis, and some of the lessons learned through virtual recruitment, interviewing, and hiring will be applied to our functional models once the COVID-19 crisis has passed.”

Another challenge for pharmaceutical recruiters at this moment is the extremely intense competition for top talent across all of the life sciences.

“This rapid recovery in employment for life sciences companies [in fall 2020] will restart the race for talent that characterizes hiring in this industry. In the biotech hub of Boston, competition for talent between firms is the primary challenge to hiring, according to industry nonprofit group MassBioEd,” reports industry analysts at RSMUS, the U.S. member firm of RSM International, a global network of independent audit, tax, and consulting firms.

“Both life sciences and tech companies are also competing with financial institutions, business and professional services firms, and nearly every other industry as they work to redefine their businesses using data sciences, machine learning and artificial intelligence,” analysts write in their 2020 Life sciences Industry outlook. “Without increased access to skilled talent through either increasing science, technology, engineering and mathematics education domestically or allowing skilled immigration, life sciences companies should expect an increasingly competitive landscape for talent in the coming years.”

With such an intense battle for talent throughout the industry, pharmaceutical recruiters are expanding their searches to tap into networks and candidates outside of the traditional core. They are screening candidates to find the right mix of experience, scientific knowledge, and leadership capacity, but also right now pharmaceutical recruiters are especially cognizant of the need to find those with a strong track record in regulatory affairs and compliance.

“During the pandemic, most of the companies interviewed have felt the support of the authorities more than ever. Companies have been able to contact regulators, especially in emergencies, to get advice on reducing problems with supply chain, safety, regulatory issues, and much more,” write a group of life sciences and business experts in Pharmacy Times. “As a result of this agile approach from the regulators, pharmaceutical companies are wondering how this collaboration will continue post-COVID-19.”

As they work in collaboration with their client partners, pharmaceutical recruiters are seeking out candidates with the acumen and vision needed to negotiate regulatory hurdles after the pandemic ends, and to establish new ways of thinking around product development, testing, marketing, and distribution.

National politics and the results of the 2020 election will also have ripple effects on the biopharma industry that pharmaceutical recruiters and their client partners are mindful of. In a recent article in Life Science Leader, Emily Hill, CFO of PTC Therapeutics, argues that “the presidential election will be very impactful on drug pricing, as well as patient access to innovative drugs.”

But others, including John Hamill, CFO at Windtree Therapeutics, claim that any policy changes brought on by lawmakers in Washington will be relatively slow and moderate in scope. “The differences in policy that people expect from each party don’t end up being all that different…While there are obvious differences in how each party sees drug pricing reform, what ends up being implemented, by nature of the lawmaking process, generally ends up being a compromised mix of both platforms, and is unlikely to be a major paradigm shift,” he argues in the article in Life Science Leader.

While there are many challenges facing pharmaceutical recruiters right now, Slone Partners is responding by working closely with its client partners to ensure that candidate pools are rich, virtual screening and interview tools are optimized, and new executive hires are fully supported throughout the onboarding process to maximize their chances for success.

As a service to its client partners throughout the U.S., Slone Partners has partnered with Fortify Leadership Group to offer transition coaching to each of its newly-placed executive leaders, an extremely valuable service that many other pharmaceutical recruiters do not offer.