In the first part of this series, we said that if a company builds a good culture up front, they won’t be forced to give a hard sell to potential candidates later. This doesn’t mean a remarkable corporate culture is a substitute for marketing and branding. A comprehensive employer branding strategy complements an engaging culture.
BioSpace’s Katie Roth describes employer branding as “ensuring your company or organization is represented in the best possible way to attract candidates. It’s about connecting with candidates to ensure appropriate cultural fit” in her October 2019 article entitled 7 Tips for Branding in the Life Sciences.
For startups in survival mode this feels like the last thing on the list; resources need to go towards the research. Yet, if a company skips the legwork up front to attract the right people, they risk wasting valuable time and money bringing on the wrong people.
“Employers who don’t invest in their reputations pay up to $4,723 more per employee hired, and half of candidates won’t even consider working for a company with a bad employer brand, no matter how high the salary offer.” – Employer Branding Essentials, LinkedIn
Even for companies with limited resources, there are still branding techniques that incur minimal costs and provide big value. For example, employees can be brand ambassadors by sharing the company story to their networks in-person and online. They can also make full use of their LinkedIn profiles. Another inexpensive way to kickstart a branding strategy is by maximizing the company and careers pages on the website and on LinkedIn. In TalentLyft’s May 2019 article How to Hire for Cultural Fit and retain 86% of Employee the folks at Zety encourage employers to “over-communicate” what their company stands for on these pages; it helps “screen the candidate pool” and attract the right candidates.
Two other inexpensive yet impactful ways to establish a good brand are enhancing job descriptions and utilizing social media. We cannot stress the importance of a good job description. We often see clients send us job descriptions that require an unreasonable list of qualifications, yet the description offers no personality of the company. This tactic scares potential candidates away, especially those that don’t meet every requirement but could be a good overall fit. When consulting with a client, we help them carve out a job posting that does not describe a unicorn candidate but does paint a good picture of the company. We also help clients maximize their social media coverage through their platforms and ours.
Roth’s Biospace article makes an important point about creating a diversified recruitment strategy. Rather than casting a wide net, utilize niche sites and be thoughtful about targeting your outreach so you attract the right people. Biospace, MassBio, and Sci.bio’s career page are all great examples of niche sites to consider.
Once you have attracted the right candidates and created a team of employees that will represent your culture, the next step is making sure you live up to that culture. In the next part of this series, we’ll talk about the employee experience.
In the super competitive world of life science employment, culture ranks top of the list of reasons people decide to join a company. While a nice paycheck and great benefits are important, the type of work and the people at a company are the top priority for most employees. According to Biospace’s 2019 Ideal Employer Report “interesting and meaningful work” is the #1 quality in an ideal employer. In a survey of 2,700 life science professionals, 74% of respondents said team dynamics was important.
The trend is not unique to the life sciences industry. Glassdoor conducted a Mission and Culture Survey last year across four countries (including the U.S.), and the main takeaways from the survey all highlight the cruciality of company culture.
Over 77% of adults take into consideration a company’s culture and 79% weigh a company’s mission and purpose prior to applying.
A little over 50% of adults stated that company culture is more important than salary in terms of job satisfaction.
73% of adults will not even apply to a company unless its values align with their own.
In order of greatest to least importance for employee satisfaction, adults listed culture and values, senior leadership, career opportunities, business outlook, work-life balance, and compensation and benefits.
Culture matters so much now that the fine people at MIT Sloan created a Culture 500 Index–an interactive tool that measures how major companies rank across nine different values that they have identified as being a critical part of corporate culture. The data is based on a sample of companies on Glassdoor, representing 33 industries with an average of 18 companies per industry. Each of the companies in the sample had at least 2,000 reviews. The Culture 500 is a benchmark for company culture, celebrating success and encouraging improvement.
According to MIT’s introductory report on the Culture 500: “A healthy company culture can turbocharge corporate performance.”
In fact, the report states that there is research showing “a good corporate culture is correlated to higher profitability and returns to shareholders.”
So, what makes a good culture? According to the Culture 500, the nine values to consider include: agility, collaboration, customer, diversity, execution, innovation, integrity, performance, and respect. The biotech and pharma industry did the best in the customer category, which makes sense given most people join this industry to help others. The industry also did well in the integrity and respect categories, while some categories were a mixed bag like innovation and diversity. Agility was the industry’s weakest category, meaning biopharmas do not “move quickly and effectively to changes in the marketplace and seize new opportunities,” which makes sense given the amount of resources and time it takes to make a drug.
Larger companies may seem like the clear front-runner in the culture department, since they have the financial resources to create a positive culture or improve a not-so-great one. But size is both the advantage and their disadvantage. In a large, well-established company, it can be really hard to combat a bad culture and the ramifications can be detrimental (i.e. Wells Fargo).
That’s where the startups have an advantage. They can create an appealing work environment from the ground up, and in the hot life sciences job market that’s important. As we’ve stated before, smaller companies need to sell their culture and mission because they cannot compete with the larger biopharmas in the salary and benefits department.
MIT’s Culture 500 is a great tool to help companies who are starting out and for companies who wish to improve. Companies can also delve deeper into Culture 500’s data source—Glassdoor. With over 49 million reviews on the site, there’s bound to be some helpful nuggets of information from companies not used on the Index.
Now that we understand culture a little better, we can talk about how to go about executing a good culture. In our second part of this five-part series, we tackle the execution of culture.
We’ve all heard variations of Thumper’s Rule, courtesy of Disney’s Bambi, from family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers: “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say nothing at all.”
Meant to caution against unsolicited incivility, the ‘moral’ principle has been accepted as a societal norm for not just personal relationships but professional ones, as well. We’ve even given the act a catchy name: ghosting. Rather than being direct, one party opts to just not say anything at all via any form of communication to the other person.
The transition from ambiguity to radio silence is meant to serve as a formal rejection. Therefore, the burden of discontinuing the personal or professional relationship falls not on the person who is providing the rejection, but rather on the person receiving it.
Why We Ghost
In 2013, CareerBuilder released the results of a nationwide survey concluding that 75 percent of job applicants did not receive responses regarding their candidacies from employers. Ironically, Randstad US released a 2019 report stating that 66 percent of managers have had workers either accept an offer and fail to show up or disappear without notice before their start date. Simply put, ghosting occurs because someone in the process feels that the other party is not a good technical and/or culture fit.
If an employer wants you as their final candidate, you have a lot more leniency: you do not need to send a thank you note, follow up regularly, or worry about being lost in a pile of resumes. It does, however, serve well to ask the Human Resources or Hiring Manager for a timeline. If they tell you to hang tight and wait two weeks, set a reminder to follow-up in three weeks with a courteous email. Even though it may not be common, a poor application (including small typos on your resume), passive or overzealous behavior, disengagement with follow-ups, and red flag responses to interviewquestions can streamline you into the “ghosted” category.
That’s not to say that ghosting is predetermined by application weakness, though this is a strong contributor. Candidates and hiring managers alike can exacerbate relationships and situations, turning a potential ‘yes’ into a certain ‘no.’
Employers’ reasons for ghosting hover around the following fears: telling someone that they are underqualified, getting sued for providing honest feedback, or losing a possible back-up candidate while moving their top candidate through the hiring process. Sometimes, employers accidentally ghost when their hiring process is littered with process or information gaps (for example, when they do not have an organized applicant tracking system, ATS).
On the other hand, candidates ghost mainly due to a poor pre-onboarding process (no communication between date of hire and start date) or fear of missing out when more enticing opportunities arise. Candidates not only have the power to choose due to the record low unemployment rate, but they can also take advantage of their plentiful opportunities, given the job market’s crucial emphasis on previous relevant experience.
What We Can Do About It
With that being said, it seems inevitable that ghosting is the new norm. But just because applicants and employers both engage in this practice does not mean that it’s acceptable. Ghosting deteriorates reputations.
Candidates develop opinions on a company from the minute they view a job posting, and they can share those perspectives with other potential hires.
Employers hold a network of other managers who value their take on a potential hire – sometimes more so than what the interview process reveals about that person.
In an age where branding strongly impacts candidate flow, social media strength, candidate or company competitiveness, and perception of culture or personality, it is ever so more pertinent to not derail a well-built personal or corporate persona.
As Bambi’s Owl wisely pointed out, “It could happen to anybody. So you’d better be careful. It can happen to you.” Today’s applicant can be tomorrow’s manager and today’s manager may be tomorrow’s applicant. If you would rather hear direct, honest feedback – as most polls indicate people would, personally and professionally – then, also consider being that change you want to see. At the end of the day, ghosting may be the easiest choice, but it’s not the one we want for ourselves.
Unlike job descriptions, interview questions are much less straightforward in terms of revealing an employer’s expectations. Interviewers are trying to assess if you have the experience, skills, and talent to succeed in the role and if your personality and desired career trajectory complement their company. The most common pitfall is walking into an interview with the mindset that the employer is trying to get to know you. They are most certainly not. Every question interviewers ask is a mostly subtle, sometimes obvious method of getting to know you only in relation to the position at hand. So, make sure you adapt your answers based on the role and company. Below are 7 Tips for Answering Interview Questions, focusing on common interview questions, translated for clarity, and tips on answering them accordingly to help you ace your next interview.
Tips for Answering Interview Questions
1. Tell me about yourself. This may seem like a friendly conversation starter, but its purpose is far more profound. Remember that an interviewer only cares about you when in relation to the open position that they want to fill. By asking this questions, they are really asking you why you are the person they should hire for this role. Demonstrate your dual fit: describe your relevant experience and accomplishments along with your personality in relation to professional ability and personal career ambitions. This is your opportunity to provide a soundbite to employers of why they should choose you for the job. Don’t try to cover too many points or you risk losing the interviewer’s attention. Keep the message simple and clear.
2. Why are you interested in this role? Many people approach this question as a way to compliment the position’s potential, the employer(s), and the company. But, this is already information the interviewer knows. They understand what they are offering, and they know you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t also value the role and company. What they really want to know is how much you understand the role and its responsibilities and the company and its mission. Show them your genuine passion and well-researched knowledge. You know what it is you are getting into, and exactly why you want to pursue this role at this company.
3. Where do you see yourself in five years? Employers want to know if your career trajectory aligns with what they have to offer as a company. If you want to branch off in a different direction, then you are not likely to stay in this position. This makes you, by default, a bad potential hire. If the position you are interviewing for continues you down the path you hope to go, then explain your goal and how this company is a great fit for you. Be sure to also demonstrate your knowledge of the company through your answer. If this position isn’t as obviously situated with your career trajectory, or you are unsure of your career goals, then explain to the employer what skills and knowledge you hope to gain through this role that ultimately lays foundational groundwork for your future. Incorporate the idea that this company is a contributor to your future, not a stepping stone for your success.
4. What is/are your weakness(es)? Interviewers already know what skills or experiences you are lacking or missing. What they are doing is giving you the chance to appease their concern of potential obstacles you may face in this position. They are expecting you to be self-aware and value self-improvement. Prior to the interview, go through the job description and your resume. Then, after identifying potential weaknesses, prepare responses that either explain how you will compensate or demonstrate how you have already overcome similar problems in the past. A common mistake that I hear through this question is, “I’m a quick learner.” Show them you are a quick learner with an example – one that has a successful result or accomplishment – rather than tell them. Unsupported claims do not travel far in terms of reliability.
5. Tell me about a situation or accomplishment you are most proud of. This is often misconstrued as a personality-only question. Remember: the employer only cares about you in relation to this job. So, pick an example that is most relevant to the current position and demonstrate why you can serve and, better yet, further the company’s needs. In order to deliver this answer in a clear manner, use the STAR method: explain the situation, walk the interviewer through your thought process, narrate your action steps, and describe the results.
6. How would co-workers and/or supervisors describe you? When answering this question, keep in mind that employers will have access to previous co-workers and/or supervisors through your references. They are assessing if your self-description, which displays your self-awareness, matches the descriptions provided by those who have already worked with you. Yes, they are definitely looking for the classic hallmarks of a good hire: team-oriented, ability to take initiative and problem-solve effectively, and motivated to learn/grow through a position. The trick is to make sure your answer will align with potential answers provided by your references.
7. Do you have any questions? Not only are interviewers assessing what is important to you through your inquiries, but they are also trying to see if you have been engaged with them throughout the interview process. Prepared questions are definitely recommended, especially questions aimed at the interviewer’s personal experiences at the company. They are also very common. Stand out by asking the interviewers about crucial topics they perhaps did not cover during the interview: company culture, potential challenges, potential for growth and so on. With these types of questions, you are essentially filling in the blanks information-wise and demonstrating to the interviewers that you have been paying attention and you want to fully understand the candidate profile they are seeking.
Before every interview, place yourself in the position of the recruiter, human resources professional, or hiring manager and prepare answers that highlight your specific fit for their role and for their company. Get feedback from family, friends, colleagues, and even from prior interviewers. Similar to your resume, interviews are not only about who you are and what you have done or can do but also about how you present your personality, skills, and experiences.
Setting goals, whether short or long term, is an ongoing and effortful process. Many people tend to set personal and professional goals with a to-do list mindset and superficial consideration. Goal-setting is adeptly illustrated by Aesop’s “The Tortoise and The Hare” fable. When we rush to set goals and consistently compare our progress against others, we become the hare who eventually loses the race. So, let’s take a look at the tortoise’s strategy. And find out how you can begin to set smart goals.
The hare ran the race to ridicule and beat the tortoise. The tortoise ran the race to prove he could run. They both ran for the specific reason why, a reason that reiterated or added to their self-image. Similarly, start with why you want to set goals in the first place. By understanding the origins of your ambitions, you can discern in which ways your goals will set you up to succeed. When goals tie back into your long-term vision, even if they are short-term in nature, you are much more likely to adhere to them. By framing the why behind the what, you can better define what your goals are and develop strategies to maintain your commitment to them.
The extract above from the fable dually serves as a reminder of how to effectively define our goals. For the hare to be successful, it mattered solely on the tortoise’s progress – not his own. He is not the main character in his definition of success. But, the tortoise established a firm, self-relying reason why he proposed the race. After creating a list of goals, evaluate if how you define success relies on you or others. When you define success in relation to your ability only, you are more readily accepting of difficulties as challenges you can overcome rather than setbacks you cannot surmount.
The tortoise set an extremely effective goal following the SMART framework: run one marked distance (specific), timed by a judge (measurable), a task he knows he can accomplish (achievable), to prove he can run (relevant), starting as soon as possible (timely). When you adhere to the SMART framework of goal-setting, you provide an effective way to measure your progress towards a goal you know is both doable and supportive of your vision. The more ambiguous you are when defining your goals, the less likely you are in maintaining your drive to achieve them.
As extensive as the process is in setting your goals, the journey to fulfilling them is equally as intensive. Unlike the hare, do not get complacent and procrastinate! The tortoise was able to achieve his goal because he remained steadfast in his pacing and his focus. Be sure to keep your goals in a visible area. In this way, you will be frequently reminded of your potential destination. Schedule reminders to check on the progress of your goals weekly or biweekly so you can evaluate if your current strategy is effective enough. Goals should not be viewed as something to achieve in the future. They should be seen as daily tasks. If the process of achieving your goal is embedded within your daily routine, then you will be that much more likely to stick to it.
With the holiday season around the corner, we all have the opportunity to get an early start on our goal-setting for the upcoming year!