In the ultra-competitive life sciences industry, there is a lot of pressure to avoid making a bad hire. A bad hire is a costly mistake that can slow down the research and damage the ever-important team dynamics. A bad hire also means a missed opportunity with the right candidate, who has likely gone on to another company by the time the bad apple is weeded out. And with the waning life sciences talent pool, companies can’t afford those missed opportunities.
So how do hiring managers, recruiters, and HR teams avoid a bad hire?
Research shows that a multi-pronged recruitment approach is the best way to avoid a bad hire. Instead of just relying on resumes and interviews alone, companies should include other components such as pre-employment testing. The general idea is that these tests can help employers predict how well a candidate will perform in a role and/or if the person is a good fit for the organization. There are quite a few types of pre-employment tests. The most common type is psychometric testing, which can provide information on behavioral traits and personality that are hard to capture from more conventional screening techniques. A skills test measures a candidate’s present level of job knowledge.
In the groundbreaking paper, “The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology,” Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter analyzed decades worth of talent selection data and proved the validity of these tests. The paper was first released in 1998, then updated in 2016. Their research shows the best predictor of job performance is general mental ability, which is measured through testing. Other predictors include work sample tests, personality tests, and structured interviews. Combining several of these methods only increases predictability of job performance. On the other hand, the research shows that a resume is a very low predictor of job success.
According to Joanna Bondin, director of a market research firm in Malta, psychometric testing is “an affordable and effective way for companies to ensure maximum ROI.” Bondin says that studies have also shown that psychometric analysis can improve outcomes by up to 24%. No wonder more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies use some sort of pre-employment assessment. This trend has led to the rise of third-party talent acquisition technology providers, a market that’s estimated to reach $113.9 billion in 2021.
Yet, there is still some concern about using testing in the recruitment process.
In Emma Goldberg’s New York Times article “Personality Tests Are the Astrology of the Office,” Darshana Narayanan, a neuroscientist, explained her skepticism of psychometric testing. “My impression of these kinds of tests is that they don’t work,” Dr. Narayanan said. “Human behavior is multifaceted and complex and dependent on your environment and biological state, whether you’re depressive, manic, caffeinated. I’m skeptical of what you can learn from answering ten questions or observing someone’s behavior for just 30 minutes.” She says this after having worked for a company that designs psychometric tests for human resource purposes.
Goldberg points out that Dr. Narayanan is a scientist, therefore she is trained to draw conclusions only after ample testing has taken place. This is quite the opposite to psychometric testing, in which a onetime test dictates the results. A onetime test that is often not monitored, which leads to another commonly cited pitfall of testing. There’s no way to know if a candidate has cheated if the test is administered ahead of time. Other articles have questioned the fairness of these tests, and whether they favor certain ethnic groups. Not to mention, many of these tests have scaled at rapid pace, leaving little opportunity for reassessment.
This rapid scale has led to what Ithaka S+R researchers call a “wild west” scenario in pre-employment testing, where regulation is minimal and validity and legality are in question. Schmidt and Hunter’s research was grounded in decades of scientific data reported on psychometric testing, but that’s not the case with many of these newer assessment tools. In their paper “Mapping the Wild West of Pre-Hire Assessment: A Landscape View of the Uncharted Technology-Facilitated Ecosystem,” the Ithaka S+R team explains that these new tests “have not yet demonstrated the validity of traditional assessment methods, and, even more problematically, they seem to eschew the grounded theory backing analog tests.” The team goes on to explain that “there is little to no peer-reviewed evidence for the predictive powers of many of these new tools.”
Despite the skeptics and the concerns, the use of pre-employment testing is not going anywhere. As the trend continues, experts will focus on creating and improving guidelines. In the meantime, there’s a few things to remember about pre-employment tests:
1. Use the tests in combination with other evaluation tools. The biggest mistake companies make is using these tests in isolation. Testing alone cannot measure every relevant aspect of a candidate. Schmidt and Hunter’s research proved that the best predictor of employment is a multi-faceted approach, such as using both testing and interviewing. The most important takeaway is that testing should be just one tactic of a comprehensive hiring campaign. The most common use is automating the initial screening process to filter out unsuitable candidates.
2. Do your research. There are thousands of tests out there, so it’s important to do your research before implementing any pre-employment testing. Decide what you’re looking for and consider how a test might help you achieve your goals. And, make sure you understand what the results mean. Human resources professionals are not usually trained in statistics and data analytics, which poses a challenge for optimizing the use of predictive and psychometric methods. Before pulling the trigger it’s important to make sure you know why you’re using the tests and how the data will help your business.
3. Track your success and adjust accordingly. As you use these tests in your hiring process, you should also evaluate how well they are working. When you are assessing job performance, consider how well that performance matches your predictions. Use that information to determine the effectiveness of the testing and decide what improvements could be made.
4. Leverage the data. Psychometric tests are commonly used for employee training and development purposes, yet there is much debate around this application of the test. Experts question if some of these loosely scientific tests should really be used to understand individuals. They also raise concerns about unintended consequences such as alienating or typecasting employees. However, the data could be useful when used in conjunction with other training and development measures.
In the fast-paced, highly volatile life sciences industry, there’s no time for bad hires. Pre-employment, predictive, and psychometric testing can be an efficient and effective way to alleviate such concerns. However, it’s important to remember that they do raise a host of their own concerns. So, know the limitations of these tools, but don’t let those scare you from implementation because pre-employment testing can be a worthwhile investment.
As you well know by now, the World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency in response to the rapidly evolving outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19). The CDC has requested that companies implement temporary preventive measures. In light of this request, companies have reached out to find out how others are implementing these measures. After talking with several companies and our onsite recruiters, we have pulled together 9 steps that companies are taking to protect themselves from the threat.
Most life sciences companies won’t face the same hurdles as customer-facing businesses but given the complexities of the industry they will face serious challenges of their own. For example, what happens if an entire team of bench scientists is quarantined? They can’t exactly bring their work home. The CDC provides a list of suggestions for labs, but it’s more directed at labs that might be handling specimens related to the virus. So, for research labs or manufacturing facilities, the best course of action is to follow the guidelines below and consult a safety professional. The important takeaway is to be flexible and have plans in place. If you need assistance with temporary workers, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
- Modify Travel Plans
Suspend business-related travel to countries with widespread outbreak (Level 2 and 3 Travel Warnings). Discourage non-critical business travel to international and domestic areas with low threat. Require approval from Executive Team for critical travel. Encourage the use of video conferencing technology in place of travel. If employees have traveled or are travelling for leisure, they should notify their supervisor.
- Update Visitor Policy
Employees need to touch base with all visitors (vendors, candidates, clients) prior to any onsite meetings. They should inquire if the visitor has been to any countries with widespread outbreak, if they’ve been sick, or if their family has been sick. If the visitor’s answer is yes, then the employee should cancel the meeting and/or change to remote.
- Emphasize Preventative Measures
Remind people to stay home when sick, get a flu shot, wash their hands, use tissues, cover their mouth, use hand sanitizer, wipe down surfaces, avoid touching their eyes/nose/mouth, and avoid shaking hands. Make sure employees know to self-report and self-quarantine if they’ve been to impacted areas or have concerns.
- Be Flexible with Sick Time and Offer Remote Work
Employers should be flexible with their absence/sick policies. Do not require medical notes, as healthcare facilities may be too busy. Employers should provide employees with remote access when possible. Employees may need to stay home to care for a sick family member or may not have their regular childcare so being flexible is key.
- Clean and Disinfect Regularly
Wash door handles 2-3 times/day. Wipe down tables, chairs, phones, and computers in conference rooms 2-3 times/day. Encourage employees to regularly clean their work surfaces, phones, and computers. Work with facilities or the cleaning company to perform regular disinfectant cleaning for all common surfaces. Make sure you’re stocked on tissues, disinfecting wipes, and hand sanitizer.
- Keep in Constant Communication
Place posters throughout the office to remind employees about precautions and updated policies. Send out a companywide email as soon as there is a policy change. Inform employees about CDC updates; acknowledge you are in compliance with the recommendations. Make sure managers are prepared to answer questions and know how to assist employees that self-report or self-quarantine. Remind staff about sick time, short-term disability, and time-off policies.
- Implement a Task Force
Create a task force of team-members from different departments/teams/locations. The group should come up with a plan in the event the CDC determines the severity of the threat has increased. Employers should be prepared to refine their business response plans as needed.
- Consult a Safety Professional
Some companies, like those with a research lab, may want to take extra precaution and consult a safety professional. You may also consider bringing on a temporary worker to manage the process.
- Use Common Sense and Don’t Panic
This list is based off information found on CDC.gov and input from several Massachusetts life sciences companies.
In January of 2018, I was prospecting potential recruiting clients in Minnesota and I saw one company already in our system that looked interesting. I revisited previous messages between my company and the client, and I noticed the hiring manager was not only very defensive but also had declined recruiting assistance in the summer of 2017. Plenty of time had passed since then, so I figured that it could not hurt to check in and see how things were going with the client. Months later, I had successfully filled all four of the openings on the hiring manager’s team.
It is easy to give up all hope when the word “no” resonates as a sense of failure. Admittedly, I have been there before and left potential business on the table because I walked away. This was an insidious mindset that I had developed early on in my career. It wasn’t until January 2018, that I realized “no” is temporary when it comes to recruiting new clients. Just because someone tells you a working relationship cannot be developed does not mean that it will not. As my current manager often says to me, “a no is a yes waiting to happen” in the context of contingent business development. Over time, I have learned how to navigate a “no” in a way that still proves my value as a recruiter.
Objection: “We are all set for right now and don’t need any recruiting services.”
Overcome By: Monitoring company activity and checking back in one to two months later.
This is the most common form of “no” in the hiring process. Just because a hiring manager mentions they are all set, it does not mean the hiring process is complete. Give the hiring manager some time, but circle back soon to see how things went with their hiring. Even if they completed the search, you’ve now initiated a professional dialogue between another professional in the field by actively building a relationship. Checking in goes a long way because the next open role could very well be at the front of their mind and here you are, readily available to lend a hand. To maintain that relationship, I strongly advise making consistent small gestures such as wishing happy a holiday or congratulating company successes. It may seem unusual at first, but I can promise you that the small effect may ripple into larger ones in the future. If you care for your prospect, then you will receive care as well.
Objection: “We already work with another firm/agency/recruiter.”
Overcome By: Proving your value
It is a rarely straightforward process to become an approved vendor with a prospective client when you factor in agreement negotiation and the process of signing documents. In a similar vein, it is easy to feel like the cards are stacked against you as a prospecting business. But, don’t give up!
For recruiters that focus in specialized niches, this is your time to shine. Allow time for the hiring process to continue, and if the position remains unfilled, go to your best prospect who is available and looking, and showcase highlights from the candidate’s resume to the hiring manager. Loyalty can be a double-edged sword in business. For hiring managers, it is a great feeling to know that you can rely on someone to get the job done. However, some roles are not linear, and even the strongest recruiters can overlook an unturned stone. This is a frequent dilemma. So, hiring managers who are not finding success must turn to alternative solutions – you.
Not only are you coming to the rescue, but you are also proving your value by walking the walk. Hesitant hiring managers are only hesitant because all-day solicitation from multiple recruiters can seed doubt into any other new recruiter approaching them. If that is the case, then do not tell them what you can do. DO WHAT YOU CAN DO. Be respectful and thoughtful, and do not send over unwarranted candidates. Maintain professionalism by explaining you are associated with active candidates who possess the hard-to-find skills that they’re so vehemently pursuing. Take small iotas from a resume only with a candidate’s consent and highlight why you think that candidate’s background can solve the hiring manager’s dilemma. If you can persist through the objection, not only will you be rewarded for filling the difficult role, but you will also be considered for future opportunities with the same company. So, do you still wish that you just walked away….?
Objection: “We’d rather not pay a fee for this role.”
Overcome By: Explaining your practice.
Most recruiters will hear this objection and think that it is the end of the road. Although it can seem like a roadblock, many hiring managers are simply not familiar with agency recruiting structure and its benefits. For a contingent recruiter, this is the perfect opportunity to explain your plan on filling a role through various sourcing methods. Once the hiring manager understands, you can then describe how contingent recruiting works. Personally, I clarify to hiring managers that they can review as many resumes and hold as many interviews as they want at absolutely no cost. For hiring managers who have only worked with retained searches, this exposure to another creative options serves as a huge benefit. By offering more flexibility with a payable or a guarantee can turn the initial rejection from a hiring manger into a long-term opportunity. Without jumping to assumptions, understand your client’s dilemma and then offer a flexible option. You will start to see more work come your way.
Ultimately, always keep in mind that a “no” is beneficial to you. Maybe it is not of benefit right now, and maybe it will not be a benefit for more than a year, but people and situations do change. Do not let objections get you down! Ask questions and understand why someone is in the hiring predicament they are in. You’ll quickly realize that doing all the little things makes you stand out from the rest of the competition.
Authors: Allison Ellsworth and Lauren Perna
We’ve talked a lot about why culture is important, how to institute it, and how to get the word out, but what good is all that if candidates don’t believe it when they come in the door? It takes candidates milliseconds to obtain a dominant impression of the company culture during an interview. Even companies on the top of the culture charts have been the center of candidate horror stories–interviews that sent someone running from the company, despite the incredible reviews.
How does a company ensure that a candidate leaves with a positive yet accurate impression of your company culture? We’ll conclude this series with a few ways to make sure a dynamic culture is translated throughout the interview experience:
- Provide examples of what makes the culture so great. They may have read about it online (yay, branding!), but in the interview share examples of the benefits, perks, health/wellness initiatives, or team building events. This lets the candidate know that the branding initiatives are not just lip service–the company truly cares about its employees and invests in their long-term well-being.
- Don’t bring the whole team. At many smaller companies, it is common for most of the team to interview each candidate. This can be a great opportunity for potential new team members to get a real sense of the organization and how they might fit in. Unfortunately, what more often happens is that each meeting blends together with the last in a haze of unoriginal (or, worst case, illegal or antagonistic) interview questions. When team members are not assigned specific behavioral competencies or talking points, a valuable opportunity for mutual discovery is squandered. The candidate can feel as though the company doesn’t have their act together. Identify the key decision makers who must interview a candidate and fight the urge to include everyone on the interview schedule.
- Be punctual and respectful of the candidate’s time. Often people are taking time off to interview, and we’ve seen many candidates be left waiting when interviewers run late or fail to communicate a schedule change. This leaves a bad taste in the candidate’s mouth and reflects poorly on the company.
- Follow-up. While most candidates know they should send a thank you email following a phone screen or in person interview, most employers are guilty of ghosting. Offering feedback and sharing the timeline for next steps once again confirms your company really does care.
Even if a candidate doesn’t end up being the right fit for the job or company, the goal is to leave them with a positive impression. That way they can spread the word to the right candidates, either through their own network or through a candidate review on a site, like Glassdoor.
Authors: Sahana Nazeer and Lauren Perna
In the first three parts of this series we talked about the importance of culture, how to institute it, and how to brand it. The next step in this journey is to believe it and live it. In other words, the employee experience. This is a critical part of the journey because if the culture fades as a company grows, retention will suffer when the need is the greatest, i.e. preparing to go public, beginning clinical trials, going commercial.
An important part of the employee experience is onboarding. When an employee feels welcome during their first few days, they will feel good about their new employer. But it shouldn’t end there—proper training is also critical. An employee that feels as if they’ve been thrown into the fire is bound to become frustrated and resentful, leading to a quick turnover. Companies will save time and money in the long run if they provide ample support in the beginning. But the support shouldn’t end once an employee is fully trained. Regular check-in’s and feedback will help both the employee and the manager be effective.
Camaraderie and collaboration are also central to the employee experience. We explained earlier in this series that collaboration is one of nine key values on the Culture 500, MIT’s index for corporate culture. MIT has proven that the most successful companies make sure that everyone feels part of the team. Not every company needs to be a big, happy family but every company does need to be as inclusive as possible. For some companies this means regular Thirsty Thursdays and group 5Ks, but for others it might simply be company lunches and scheduled team meetings. No one likes to feel left out, and this is certainly true at work, where people spend as much as 50% of their total waking hours during any given working day.
We work with a lot of growing biotech companies, and another factor in the employee experience is senior leadership. In the first part of this series we said that senior leadership can make or break a good culture, and we see this firsthand. Senior leaders that are engaged and interested in their staff will see better retention rates than those that are disconnected and unavailable.
Sci.bio recruiting associate Allison Ellsworth looks back fondly on her time at Moderna because “everyone knew the origin story of the company since the founders were happy to share it.” She explains that factor really made working there a special experience and helped to build camaraderie and loyalty even among later hires.
Companies will also benefit from looping in the patient community. That could be participating in a fundraiser for a relevant disease foundation, encouraging employees to attend patient forums, or simply having a patient advocate come in to share their story. Life science employees work long, hard hours and risk getting burned out quickly. But if they feel connected to the mission and the vision, they will likely stick around.
The last part of this series focuses on the candidate experience because none of the previous information will matter if you don’t treat your candidates right.
Authors: Sahana Nazeer and Lauren Perna
In the first part, we talked about what culture is and how MIT has managed to quantify it through an interactive tool called the Culture 500. Now that we understand it, we need to know how a company institutes a vibrant culture. It all starts with, ironically, hiring. The first 20 to 50 employees serve as the poster image for future team-members; therefore, they should have strong leadership skills and the ability to adapt as the company scales. The initial team should also be a diverse group with complementary skill sets. Culture is bound to suffer if every on staff thinks the same way. The hiring team should assess what strengths are already present and target people with skills that will offer a good balance.
This may mean requiring that initial hires undergo a more involved interview process, i.e. behavioral-based questions with a range of employees, especially senior leadership. If a company invests in the first 20 people coming through the door, then they will not have to sell the company to the next 20 people who choose to follow them.
Paula Cloghessy, chief human resources officer at Translate Bio, echoes this sentiment. She was one of those “next 20 people” who did not need a hard sell to join the company. Cloghessy came onboard when there between 30 and 40 employees; she joined because of CEO Ron Renaud’s people first mentality. “In a biotech you are constantly in survival mode, but Ron saw the importance of building people and bringing them together early on.” Renaud’s “people first” focus is still a vital part of the company’s culture and is made evident through their branding initiatives–something we’ll talk about in the next part.
So, what about those companies who have a reputation for a toxic company culture? Is there any hope? Certainly. There are many resources online offering advice on how to turn a toxic culture around without firing the whole staff, although that is one way to go about it. Some common tactics: implementing a culture team, analyzing employee demographics, and surveying current and former employees. An important takeaway is that culture starts from the top, so if the Board or Senior Leadership team are part of the problem then that’s where to start.
Whether a company is establishing a new culture or revamping an existing one, they should make sure that the culture aligns with company goals. Once a company has established (or re-established) a good corporate culture, what’s next? Promoting it, believing it, and showing it. In the next part, we’ll talk about promoting it.