Let’s face it, regardless of the industry or sectors you operate in, recruiting senior executives is a complex task that requires a big investment of time, money and energy equal to the stakes at play. Every sector faces its own challenges: if you speak to anyone working within the turbulent sphere of recruitment they will stress “it’s as hard as it’s ever been”, that there’s a “war for the talent” and I am inclined to agree with them.
However, there are several factors which make this hiring process particularly difficult for organisations operating in the life science and biotechnology industries. Applying my trade as a senior search professional in the aforementioned sectors, I have observed a number of these factors but two seem especially prevalent… hear me out.
1. Knowhow and experience come at a price (and it’s not cheap)
Start-ups or smaller organisations looking to grow and take the next step to biotech domination will pursue top executive-level candidates with experience of operating at a level they aspire to, who are typically employed by large, successful multi-nationals. This means that, frustratingly, matching compensation requirements quickly poses an issue.
Start-ups combat this by offering more intangible benefits as well as offering executives’ compensation paid as stock options, meaning that joining a successful start-up at just the right time can prove extremely lucrative and generate bonuses above and beyond those offered by well-established organisations. But inevitably with higher reward comes higher risk, and since the base salary is usually much lower, many candidates prefer to take the safe option and decline an offer that does not meet their salary expectations.
2. Expert executives required – Apply within
The activities of companies operating in the biotech or life science industries are often extremely niche, as are the skills and experience needed to work within them, meaning that new executives cannot simply be cherry picked from other industries or sectors. Potential candidates must already possess an in-depth knowledge of the recruiting company’s specific field of specialism or service offering.
This problem will become more prevalent as the global biotechnology market alone is expected to be valued at $727.1 billion by 2025, supporting in excess of 4.7 million jobs. As the life sciences and biotech industries continue to grow, so does the need for specialised executives, increasing pressure on an already limited pool of individuals.
So, you are a small growing biotech or life science business looking to attract great senior talent to support you on your continued path to success. How can you overcome these challenges?
Think outside of the biotech box
Although many of the challenges faced by companies recruiting in this competitive space are out of their control, biotech companies do have several tricks up their sleeve to attract and retain talented executives. Whilst competing with sizeable pharmaceutical giants to offer the best salaries may not be an option for smaller start-ups, other benefits can be added to the overall package making these appear more lucrative. Ingenuity is the key in these instances: this is a chance for smaller organisations to think outside of the purely financially motivated box and offer appealing alternatives. These could be generous PTO allowances or more intangible benefits, like the ability to build something they are passionate about without experiencing the bloated hierarchy and red tape of a large multinational.
Cultivation culture – build it and they will come
Whilst North America may not be able to compete with Asia on the financing front, their workplaces can boast thriving corporate cultures where flexibility, connection, engagement and personalised recognition are king. Elevating the power of employer branding and marketing can do wonders in terms of helping to resolve attraction issues. Several executives who make the decision to leave well-established firms to join “riskier” business ventures do so because they feel aligned with and motivated by the company’s mission and vision and share its morals. Making these aspects known to potential candidates is crucial to attract like-minded individuals who will significantly contribute to the company’s future.
Engage a great recruitment partner
Last but by no means least, working with a recruitment partner who has built an extensive network in the sector is key to sourcing and engaging those specialised executives who are not on the active market. Working with a trusted and experienced partner guarantees access to the best talent whilst sifting out the others. Good recruitment partners will have a structured interview and assessment process and they will take the time to build relationships with passive candidates, thus gaining an understanding of what is important to them when considering their next career change. Having a similar understanding of the type of culture and organisation dynamic a start-up is trying to cultivate means that making the connection between both parties is much more likely to be successful.
The future for the global biotech and life science sectors looks enormously promising. As more opportunities are created and more companies join the already competitive search for talent, it’s the organisations that can adapt to the ever-changing candidate landscape and ultimately attract the right experience that will more than likely succeed.