To deliver the results you expect, your recruiter needs your support
Working with a recruiter differs significantly from doing business with, say, a laboratory equipment supplier. You’re not just trading a product for some cash, but joining forces to produce a result. Think of a recruiter as a partner—and all good partnerships operate along two-way streets. Consider these tips to help you get the most from the alliance.
Spell out your requirements: It’s not enough to tell the recruiter you’re looking for a good communicator with experience in precision oncology and industry contacts. Specify the must-have and nice-to-have criteria1 – and spell out your reasoning. For example: “Diversity is always a consideration, but never at the expense of finding the best person for a job.” Or conversely: “We’ve been called out for our lack of diversity, so we’ve made diversity our top hiring priority for the next year.” Discuss deal-breakers (such as unwillingness to work extra hours) as well.
Pass along the intel: Keep your recruiter abreast of R&D news in your organization. Has your flagship drug entered phase 2 trials? Is one of your assays being tested in a medical laboratory chain? Such updates can alert your recruiter to consider a candidate they may have otherwise overlooked—perhaps the assay developer with two patents to her name. Same goes for new business developments:2 if the company is gearing up to reorganize, having the information can help the recruiter adapt their search to the new company structure.
Share insights from top performers: Help your recruiter understand what a top performer looks like in your organization. Start by getting the info from the horse’s mouth: the superstars themselves. Ask them questions to uncover common themes:3 What skills have enabled you to be successful? What training was most useful to you? What motivates you in new roles? How do you keep things fresh after a long time on the job? Catalogue these insights and share them with the recruiter, who can look for similar qualities in the search for your new superstar.
Transmit the passion: Tell your recruiter what gets you excited about the company. Passion is contagious, and communicating what gets you jazzed up—whether it’s the travel opportunities, mentorship programs, or partnerships with patient advocacy groups—will help the recruiter find candidates who bring a similar energy and vision to the table.
Keep talking: A two-way street doesn’t serve much purpose if nobody uses it. If you pass on a candidate, tell your recruiter exactly why. For example, “They ticked all the boxes but seemed to lack energy and passion” tells your recruiter that you’re looking for more than a collection of skills. And don’t leave such exchanges to chance: a scheduled feedback process will keep you and the recruiter on the same page.
Supporting your recruiter helps them conduct a targeted and productive search. It goes both ways, of course: your recruiter also has a responsibility to ask clarifying questions and to provide feedback. At Sci.bio, we understand that successful recruitment depends on such two-way communication. It’s the magic that makes successful recruiting happen. We also live and breathe science, and it’s not by accident that most of our recruiters have degrees in the life sciences. We invite you to find out more.
1. McLaren S. How to keep your best recruiters from leaving. LinkedIn Business. January 15, 2020.
2. Beuns-Morgan M. Five ways recruiters and HRPBs can be better partners to each other. LinkedIn Pulse. November 19, 2010.
3. Hiring managers: how to build a strategic partnership with your recruiter. Social Hire.
If you need specialized service, it makes sense to use specialized expertise
Garbage in, garbage out. We’ve all heard this motto and we’ve all lived it. Perhaps we slapped together a grant application at the last minute and ended up with a form rejection. Or maybe we bought a vehicle without doing due diligence and got stuck with a lemon. Life is a game of effort, and low effort yields predictably low results.
It’s no different with hiring. If you don’t put in the work, you’ll end up with middling talent. And that’s not good enough, especially in a highly specialized and competitive field such as pharma and biotech. The stakes are high: whether you’re looking a scientist who can test a game-changing drug or a liaison who can forge relationships with rock-star clinicians, your company’s entire future may depend on hiring the right person. And that takes time, techniques, and tools.
That’s where a specialized recruiter comes in.
But does your company really need one? Here are some questions to consider.
How specialized is the skillset you need? If you need an entry-level lab technician to bridge a parental leave, you may be able to manage the search on your own. But if you seek expertise in aseptic processing or international regulatory requirements, a recruiter can ensure your treasure hunt doesn’t turn into a wild goose chase.
Recruiters can likewise help you zero in on “cross-functional” candidates—people who combine disparate skill sets such as assaying experience and a flair for the podium. If, like so many other life sciences companies, you operate with a thinned-out workforce, you’ll probably need many of your science hires to wear more than one hat.1
How much real-world experience do you require? If you’re looking for a data scientist to complete a team, a recent graduate may meet your requirements. A recruiter matters most when previous experience tops your must-have list—for example, if you need to hire someone who has worked with top physicians.
How competitive is the playing field? The best candidates tend to work with recruiters. According to recruitment consultant Beverly Savage, “Top candidates are reluctant to apply directly to a company’s job posting [and] prefer to use recruiters to represent them in order to protect confidentiality.”2 If you’re vying for a limited number of candidates in a competitive arena, it makes sense to tap into a recruiter’s database and network.
Are you pressed for time? A biotech recruiter can help you shorten the recruiting process without sacrificing quality.3 The less time you waste on reviewing CVs and interviewing almost-but-not-quite candidates, the more your workforce can use its core skills to support the company’s mission.
Questions to ask a life sciences recruiter
● What is your experience across the life cycle of a medical product?
● What is your placement rate and the attrition rate of the people you place?
● Do you have access to international candidates?
● How do you customize your approach?
● What happens if you recommend a candidate who doesn’t work out?
Not to be discounted: peace of mind
When you work with a specialized biotech recruiter, you can relax in the knowledge that you’re in expert hands. They speak your language. If you ask them to find you a “medical science liaison in precision oncology,” they’ll know to look for that elusive mix of tumor-profiling experience and people skills. Finally, reputable recruiters offer a guarantee period to protect you against the unlikely event that a candidate leaves prematurely.2
At Sci.bio, we pride ourselves on our experience, expertise and integrity. We know we can deliver what we promise—including peace of mind. Feel free to ask us all the questions you want, including the hard ones.
1. Leask H. Recruitment problems for pharma? There’s no pill for that. Xtalks. Dec. 2, 2019.
2. Savage BH. The benefits of using a recruiter. LinkedIn. June 9, 2020.
3. Wilson K. Why your biotech company needs a specialized recruiter. Insight Recruitment. Jan. 29, 2020.
AI can assist in the search for science talent, but doesn’t substitute for human judgment
Hiring in biotech is not for the faint of heart. You’re looking for a set of highly specialized skills—but so are your competitors. You may get a mountain of applications, but only a fraction of them will match your needs. With so much at stake, pharma and biotech companies are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to help streamline the interview process and find the diamonds in the pile. In the destabilized job market resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, companies offering this technology are reporting a surge in demand.1
A branch of computer science, AI involves programming computers to perform tasks that mimic the human mind, such as problem solving and decision making.2 AI has the ability to process much larger volumes of data than a human could handle, uncover meaningful patterns, and translate them into actionable information.
A tool in the shed
The use of AI in recruitment ranges from algorithms that scan resumes for key words to sophisticated video software that serves as a high-tech bouncer, screening candidates at the front door. During video interviews, AI technology can analyze a candidate’s facial expressions, vocal intonation, and choice of words to help assess job fit.3 The candidate may have no idea that, in effect, a robot is assessing her suitability for a position.
One Australian AI company offers a chatbot that poses open-ended questions to candidates and analyzes their responses to assess personality traits like drive, initiative, and resilience.4 The company is even developing a machine-learning model to predict the likelihood of changing jobs frequently—a propensity that employers naturally seek to avoid in their candidates.4
In theory, AI can also reduce hiring biases that a human interviewer would almost always bring to the table, even if subconsciously. For example, you can configure AI to ignore age, race, gender, and other variables when assessing candidate profiles. AI can also increase candidate engagement through automated chats, assessment questionnaires, and next steps.5
Not a panacea
As it turns out, AI’s alleged objectivity doesn’t always play out in the real world. AI relies on patterns—and these patterns can cause AI to fall prey to bias, just like humans. As explained by Prasanna Tambe, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, “AI systems learn to make predictions based on data, and so predictions are generally more accurate for groups which have more data available.”3 If data on certain groups are scarce, the system won’t have the evidence to put forward candidates from these groups, creating a catch-22 of “no data, no deal.”
Equity concerns aside, some employment experts fear that AI could drive down wages. For example, some AI-based personality tests weed out candidates inclined to press for higher wages or support unionization.4 It also bears noting that candidates prepared to job hop—a red flag for many AI programs—may have more to offer: they know their own worth and have confidence that a competitor will recognize it. An AI algorithm that filters out such candidates may cause employers to lose out on the most creative and dynamic employees, in a case of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”
As shown in the graph below, all but 11% of respondents to a 2019 HR Research Institute survey had reservations about using AI for talent acquisition.6 Of note, 30% lacked confidence in the ROI of the technology, maintaining that it delivers too little value for the cost.6
What are the potential drawbacks of using AI for talent acquisition?
Bottom line: while AI can supplement human intuition and judgment, it cannot fully replace these qualities. When you work with an experienced biotech recruiter, you benefit from a wealth of human intuition, experience and expertise—and you can still use AI if it serves your purposes. Reach out to Sci.bio to learn how we can steer you toward the right talent at the right time.
1. Wall S, Schellmann H. MIT Technology Review, July 7, 2021.
2. IBM Cloud Education. June 3, 2020.
3. Bishop K. The Observer, March 1, 2021.
4. Hao K. MIT Technology Review, July 24, 2020.
5. Dawson J. Ideal, July 3, 2020.
6. The 2019 state of AI in talent acquisition. HR.com, 2019.
Authors: Jennifer Payne & Eric Celidonio
If you’ve worked in human resources for any amount of time, it’s likely you’ve heard the term “gig economy.” With the growing popularity of companies such as Uber and Lyft whose business model centers on using independent contractors rather than full-time employees, this concept of using “gig workers” has not only piqued the interest of business and HR executives across industries but has even gained traction as a viable staffing strategy in many.
Here in the biotech industry, we’re certainly no strangers to the independent contractor or 1099 employee; not only have we been using them, we often do so at a larger percentage of the company workforce compared to other industries. According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May of 2017 6.9% of the total working population, or 10.9 million people were considered independent contractors. In comparison, according to a 2018 Life Sciences Trend Report, the use of contractors in biotech and life sciences ranges from 8% to 27% of a company’s workforce, depending on company size, with the smallest and largest ones tending to use them more.
There are advantages to using independent contractors, and certain benefits for those who choose to become them as well. For companies, they can help to meet the needs of very specific scenarios, in particular when a specialized type of expertise is needed, as is often the case in biotech and life sciences. By tapping into a pool of on-demand talent, they can gain access to knowledge and skills that may be required for a defined period of time that they may not otherwise be able to utilize, or may not be able to commit to beyond the scope of the immediate need. And access to that on-demand talent could be pivotal to success, especially for companies in startup or growth phases. Eric Celidonio, Founder and Managing Partner of Sci.Bio notes, “For many biotech companies in the start-up phase, consultants offer access to a specialized area of expertise without requiring a long-term commitment that newer companies may be unable to make. As companies grow quickly, their needs and priorities change, and 1099 relationships can provide much-needed experience and guidance at pivotal moments in a company’s growth.” So essentially, they get the talent they need, when they need it, without an expectation of permanence.
For those who choose to become independent contractors, they are often afforded more flexibility around what kind of work they do, how to best utilize their knowledge and strengths, and how and when to complete their work. They may also have the opportunity to gain varied experience from multiple projects and employers quickly, building a portfolio of experiences faster than working for one employer longer term. The perception of more control by working for yourself, the variety of the work, and even the possibility of higher pay can make a career as an independent contractor seem very attractive.
So with benefits on both sides of the equation, it seems like a natural choice, right? Why not staff large percentages of your workforce with contractors so you can easily flex as projects, priorities, and even economic conditions change? That’s where things become a little more complicated. Along with the advantages come scrutiny and risks, and a careful evaluation of your company’s particular circumstances is necessary to make an informed decision.
The Right Choice?
In situations when budget, easier access to otherwise unavailable or difficult to find talent, and flexibility are all key considerations, the independent contractor may be the way to go.
Because they are not generally eligible for overtime pay, health or retirement benefits, or other perks offered to traditional employees (i.e. bonuses, PTO, commuter benefits), independent contractors can be a cost-effective way to meet staffing needs. Particularly in highly competitive markets like the ones in which many biotech companies compete, or for start-ups who may not yet have the resources to compete with larger and well-established companies, eliminating the cost of those elements may allow a company to offer a higher base pay than they might otherwise be able to afford and therefore attract talent that might otherwise overlook the opportunity.
Flexibility and Agile Access to Talent
Assuming a percentage of the workforce is open to, and maybe even prefer being in an independent/self-employed arrangement, the available talent pool widens beyond what may be available with strictly traditional workers. When it comes to project-based work or pivotal growth phases where a very specialized skill-set may be needed for a finite period of time, independent contractors can be quicker and easier to both onboard and offboard as priorities change, shift and evolve. And should a company find themselves in a period of economic hardship (as many did over the past year), the absence of long-term commitment that comes with the independent contractor allows companies the ability to more easily flex their workforce to address changing economic conditions.
But What About the Risks?
However, the benefits of using independent contractors don’t come without some risks which can be grouped into a couple of different categories.
Legal Risks – Does the Work Even Qualify?
Although it may be a tempting option, legally independent contractors can’t automatically be used for any and all situations; there are requirements that must be met to classify a worker as one. Some states like California already have tests in place to determine whether or not workers qualify for W2 employment, and the US Department of Labor has also laid out specific parameters to test whether or not an arrangement legally fits the definition of independent contractor. In fact, the DOL recently updated “economic reality” guidance on the definition of independent contractors, and although the future of this guidance is uncertain with the new administration, that it’s even been recently evaluated further demonstrates how the top of mind the subject is for many.
Broadly speaking, these requirements essentially come down to is who controls the work and how much autonomy exits, and what consistency and permanence of the work exists. If the employee can mostly dictate what they do, where they do it, and how they accomplish it, they likely qualify. If conditions of work are largely dictated by the employer – what needs to be done, where it can be done and when – it may be a slippery slope that puts the employee closer to a traditional contingent or temporary employee rather than an independent contractor. There are other parameters as well related to the skills required for the work and how dependent the employee is on the employer for work, but control over the work is a large part of the determination. With that, it’s also important to keep in mind that the autonomy required often strips away a company’s ability to shift work between team members if needed, perhaps offsetting some of the flexibility contractors offer in other aspects of the work.
Morale Risks – A Recipe for Disengagement?
Legal risks are often the first to come to mind regarding independent contractors, but just as important are the impacts of morale. Consider the potential effects of having employees working side by side; one group enjoying the benefits of permanent employment while the others don’t. And further, imagine the impact if those independent workers don’t really want to be independent.
Although the freedom of being independent could be attractive, and anecdotally it’s said that more and more workers – Millennials in particular – embrace the idea, research seems to show otherwise. In a recent PwC study it’s noted that although 53% of those surveyed said that expected to be a gig worker at some point, 39% of those don’t necessarily desire it. Furthermore, anywhere from 49% to 65% of workers surveyed (depending on age) noted that job security is “very important” to them. Since often there’s no guarantee of ongoing employment in a 1099 arrangement, that very important aspect is one of the first benefits given up.
Also coming into play is the difference between an “independent contractor” and “contingent worker.” For the truly independent, self-employed contractor, the control, flexibility, and ability to work for multiple companies and gain experience quickly may outweigh the benefits of permanent employment. However, if the independent contractor is functioning more like a contingent or temporary worker, working much like W2 employees (same schedules, same work requirements, aren’t allowed to take on work with other companies at the same time), then besides potentially being legally at risk, there are now two groups of people who do similar work being treated in many different ways. Both have similar work expectations while one group is afforded benefits and perks and the other is denied. What impact might that have on company culture? How might it erode commitment and engagement in the workforce? Could it put you at risk of losing valuable skills and knowledge if a better offer comes along? Because just as 1099 arrangements allow for quick pivots from a company staffing perspective, they also allow for quick pivots from an employee perspective too. If an employee feels “temporary,” will they not hesitate to leave and take their knowledge and skills with them?
To 1099 or To Not 1099, That Is the Question
When it comes to determining whether or not a 1099 arrangement is the right decision, it’s important to evaluate it from all sides. It could be a quick, easy, and cost-effective way to get the in-demand skills needed, but consider the longer-term needs. Are the legal requirements for classification as an independent contractor being met? Is there truly a need for a highly specialized skill set on a short term basis, or might the work and need for the skills continue on beyond the scope of the current project? Is the short-term payoff of lower costs worth the potential flight risk? And could compensation challenges potentially be offset by providing more stability, ensuring the talent and skills needed continue to be available? These are all important questions to consider when making this critical, strategic staffing decision.
This one-stop overview covers the basics and connects you to the fine points of hiring in biotech
Talent. In biotech, it’s everything. From startups to powerhouses, biotech companies depend on talent to make their mark. Their fortunes rise and fall on the backs of the talent they attract and hire. There’s lot at stake in getting it right.
This broad-strokes overview will help you put the pieces together. It gathers all the key considerations in one place and provides links to deeper dives into specific topics. Approach it as you would a maze or a network of trails, exploring the paths that spark your interest. And any time you need further information or guidance, Sci.bio is here to help.
LAWS OF ATTRACTION
Attracting the right talent
Top-tier PhDs are unlikely to find you via scattershot job posts on LinkedIn. They’re being courted by recruiters. They know they have a lot to offer and expect their value to be recognized. The best and brightest also seek advancement pathways that go beyond cost-of-living increases or flex-time.
To recruit the right PhDs you need to play in their ballpark. A high-quality recruiter can help you differentiate your offering, match candidates with requirements, and develop personalized invitations that bring the best candidates to the interview room. Recruiters specializing in biotech also have the network to jumpstart the hiring process. With an ear to the ground at the right job fairs and networking events, they give you a direct pipeline to the talent that matches your needs.
Company culture & branding
A growing body of research suggests that a healthy company culture boosts profitability and return to shareholders. Not just that, but over 77% of job candidates consider company culture when applying for a position. Defined as the attitudes and behaviors of a company and its employees, Company culture encompasses such values as agility, diversity, and integrity. Here’s where it gets tricky: executives and employees may have very different perceptions of their workplace culture. A 2020 Accenture report notes that, while 68% of leaders believe they create empowering environments, only 36% of employers agree.
The question then becomes: how do you create a culture that attracts high quality? Part of the answer, as detailed in this company culture series, lies in the people you hire, especially the first 20 to 25 people in your organization. It also helps to put words to the culture you envision, much as you would write out a mission statement. No less importantly, you need to broadcast your company culture to the world. That’s where company branding comes in. Effective branding strategies include tweaking your careers page and profiling your culture on your Facebook or LinkedIn profile, among several others.
Compelling job descriptions
Start with the right lingo: to attract serious professionals, your job description should “speak biotech.” If the terms “CRO” or “post-market surveillance” trip up the person reading the description, she’s not the right candidate. The job description should also align with your organizational culture, giving top biotech candidates a sense of the workplace atmosphere and values. If you value straight talk, for example, use clear everyday language. Does attention to detail top your list? Make sure your grammar goes through a zero-tolerance sieve.
A good job description follows a logical sequence that includes transparent information about roles, responsibilities, and benefits. (Specifics are always your friend.) To generate interest among top-tier candidates, start with the job requirements unique to this group. You’ll find more details on crafting a clear, concise, and attention-getting job description in this piece on attracting biotech talent.
See our post Writing Job Descriptions to Attract Biotech Talent for a deeper dive.
No longer an optional or add-on strategy, social media lies at the heart of contemporary recruiting. Its numerous advantages include low cost (or no cost), ability to convey the face of your brand, and strong potential to attract a good cultural match.
Social media appeals to the fundamental human desire to see and be seen. If those glamour shots could talk, they would all say the same thing: “Look at me.” Just like individuals, businesses use social media to put their best foot forward. Don’t be afraid to show off your accomplishments and employees on social media (though there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it).12
Of course, you need to match the medium to the message. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube—each of these powerhouses has its own rules of engagement. From job search hashtags to visual success stories, platform-specific social media strategies can help you connect with the right people.
Don’t forget to post jobs on your own website, of course. If your site isn’t mobile-friendly yet, it’s time to change that. The millennials and gen-Z candidates in the talent pool expect nothing less.
The employee referral engine
Employee referrals yield wins on several fronts. The referring employee experiences the pride of growing the company and receives a commission. The employer saves time and money by engaging the existing workforce in the search. The new hire steps into an environment where he already feels connected, increasing the odds he’ll commit to the job and stick around. Better fit, improved engagement… the list goes on.
In terms of ROI, employee referrals top the list of recruitment strategies. They reduce the time to hire and the cost of hiring. All told, they generate more profit for their organizations than people hired through other strategies.15
Some employers create structured employee referral programs, while others prefer to keep things looser. An experienced biotech recruiter can help you set up a program that meets your needs and makes sense for your organization.
When to work with a recruiter
Why would you outsource talent acquisition search to a recruiter when you have an experienced HR department that can handle hiring directly? The short answer: Results. Experienced biotech recruiters know the industry inside out, have a deep talent pool to draw from, and know which hard and soft skills matter most for the positions you seek to fill. They know not just which candidates to approach, but how to approach them, as explained in this post on the recruiting experience. They can also act as advisors, updating you on industry standards for salaries and benefit packages so you don’t miss opportunities to attract the best people. Bottom line: a good recruiter costs money, but saves you more.
A word of caution: while sometimes confused with “recruiter,” the term “headhunter” means something different. A headhunter finds potential candidates for the position(s) that a company is looking to fill and pass the information to the company. That’s it. A recruiter doesn’t just “hunt heads” but gets involved in the hiring process itself, posting job openings and prescreening candidates. Needless to say, these extra services yield an especially high ROI if you plan to hire more than one employee.
The RPO model
What used to be called staffing or recruiting is now called talent acquisition. This shift makes sense when you consider the increasing complexity of specialized recruiting. Confidentiality agreements, diversity requirements, professional development… today’s biotech employers have to juggle all these factors when making a hire.
Faced with this complexity, some companies divvy up functions among several external providers, though this approach carries the risk of service overlap and cost creep. A Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) model—one of the options offered by Sci.bio—sidesteps these risks by consolidating services in a cost-effective package.16 For large or recurring recruitment needs, RPOs can even provide their own employees or HR-management services. Other advantages of the RPO model include multiple candidate channels and an overarching recruitment strategy to fill the Biotech talent void as discussed in our article.
Selecting your recruiter
The same qualities that distinguish top candidates set top recruiters apart – qualities like ability, persistence, and integrity. This means the search for a recruiter requires as much discernment as the biotech hiring process itself. Before anything else, evaluate a recruiter’s expertise in your niche. “Specializing in biotech” on a business card hardly guarantees a good match, so don’t hesitate to ask a recruiter about their recent placements and the depth of their talent pool.
High-quality recruiters use logical methods and can walk you through their processes, while also zeroing in on your individual needs and discarding strategies that don’t serve them. A series of targeted questions can help you select a recruiter who has the muscle to track down the best medical liaison in rare neurologic diseases—and can continue to deliver the goods as new vacancies open up in your organization.
Recruiting technology trends
Technology never sleeps. To attract bright lights in biotech, many of whom belong to the millennial or post-millennial generations, you need to enter the tech world they inhabit. Recent years have seen tablets and smartphones replace computers as the preferred mode of communication for this demographic, so “go mobile or go home.” Once you’ve filled your candidate pool, artificial intelligence (AI) software can help you zero in on suitable candidates more quickly and effectively. It does without saying that the best biotech recruiters don’t rely blindly on such technology. Intuition and experience will never become obsolete.
How to support your recruiters
In an ideal world, recruiters and hiring managers would work harmoniously toward the common goal of hiring the best person for the job. In practice, the relationship can easily get tense. For example, the hiring manager may feel dissatisfied about the shortlist of candidates, while the recruiter may chafe under what feels like unreasonable expectations. Or the two parties may hold different views on strategy.
Delineating roles and responsibilities at the outset can nip such problems in the bud. Establish metrics to gauge the recruiter’s progress and performance, such as the number of people interviewed and reasons for rejecting candidates. During the candidate search and selection process, a policy of regular and transparent communication between HR and the recruiter can help avoid misunderstandings and mutual resentment.
SCREENING AND INTERVIEWING
Using AI screening tools
Over the past decade, AI has come into its own in the talent acquisition field. Defined as the simulation of human intelligence by programmed machines, AI can process large volumes of data and turn it into actionable information. Within a biotech talent search, AI screening tools can help ensure diversity in the applicant pool, facilitate the assessment of applicants in remote locations, and gather meaningful applicant data. Used judiciously, these tools can save time and cut costs. Indeed, two-thirds of recruiters and hiring managers who responded to a 2018 LinkedIn survey reported that AI had saved them time.
On the flip side, AI tools can easily step into gimmicky territory, and critics have argued they can introduce an element of discrimination to the hiring process. Competent biotech recruiters avoid such traps and use AI to zero in on relevant aptitudes and cultural fit. And alarmists can relax: no matter how sophisticated AI becomes, it will never fully replace human perception.
Preparing for the interview
No less important for employers than for job seekers, interview preparation paves the way for a well-run interview that covers the important ground in the allotted time. Before meeting a candidate, take the time to read their resumé so you’ll know what questions to ask and avoid requesting information they’ve already provided. Jot down your interview questions in advance, focusing on open-ended questions that invite meaningful discussion and allow the candidate’s personality to come through. If several people will be interviewing a candidate, assign different roles or angles (e.g. background, presentation skills, problem-solving skills) to each interviewer to avoid duplication of effort.
The interview also offers employers a chance to broadcast their culture without saying a word about it. A caveat: be sure to walk the talk. If you have described your company culture as relaxed, but the interviewers all show up in starched shirts with cufflinks, discerning candidates will perceive the mismatch.
Avoiding common interview mistakes
When evaluating candidates, interviewers often run through a laundry list of job skills, such as writing or public speaking, but this approach could backfire if you look for skills the candidate won’t actually need on the job as we discuss in our article, YOU’RE (PROBABLY) DOING IT ALL WRONG: Identifying and avoiding hiring mistakes in the life sciences. An insistence on career ambition could lead you to bypass the brilliant microbiologist who wants nothing more than to mess around in the lab. The idea is to match the applicant’s skill set to the job requirements, rather than a prefab asset list. The same caveat applies to relying on first impressions, which may reflect our own biases as much as the interviewee’s relevant skillset.
Finally, remember that the conversational interview gives you just one angle on a candidate. To get the full picture, you’ll need to supplement it with other techniques and tools. A recruiter with experience in specialized talent acquisition can offer guidance in this regard.
Behavioral interviewing falls under the umbrella of “structured interview”—an approach designed to home in on relevant skills and minimize interviewer bias. Regarded by many as the most effective interviewing technique, behavioral interviewing focuses on eliciting information about a candidate’s knowledge, skills, abilities, and behaviors.
A good behavioral interview question seeks not only to gather information but to gain insight into a candidate’s personality. Here’s an example: “Describe a situation in which you convinced someone to see things your way.” In addition to demonstrating problem-solving skills, the answer to the question can reveal how a candidate balances assertiveness and sensitivity. Such questions have the added advantage of giving candidates a glimpse of the organization’s expectations and working style.
THE SELECTION AND BEYOND
Choosing among qualified candidates
Start by collecting and reviewing the feedback from the people on the interview team. They may well notice red flags that escaped you, such as a hesitation to pitch in on last-minute projects that require a few extra hours.
How much weight to give to job experience? While a good track record counts for a lot, a slavish insistence on job experience could work against you, as detailed in this list of hiring mistakes to avoid. Another natural temptation to resist: offering the job to the candidate who resembles you the most and thus feels safe and familiar. Focus instead on the fit between the candidate and the workplace culture.
Finally, remember that exact matches only happen on computer screens. A candidate who ticks off the important boxes and shows a genuine interest in growing with your organization should jump to the top of your list.
An offer they can’t refuse
Strong candidates have choices: if they don’t like what you’re offering, they’ll take their talent elsewhere. This means your offer needs to match their must-have list. For starters, lose the nine-to-five mindset. Already falling into disuse before Covid-19, the fixed-hours-on-site model lost its remaining luster during the pandemic. Even if a job can’t be moved to the home, you can build flexibility into their workdays—for instance, by allowing them to show up any time before 11 am.
A high salary will never go out of style. That said, when faced with the choice between bottom line and a balanced life, many candidates—especially millennials or gen-Zers—will opt for the latter. Think of work-life balance as the cake and the salary as the icing.
Effective onboarding practices
Onboarding, meaning the process of welcoming and orienting new employees to the workplace, doesn’t just help the new hire: satisfied employees tend to stick around, reducing the costs and frustrations of employee turnover.
The traditional group orientation is just the beginning: effective onboarding extends for weeks or even months after the hire. It includes a mix of training and social activities, with an eye to immersing and including the new employee in the company culture. If you have an internal online portal, for example, giving new hires quick access to this vehicle will help them feel like they belong. Rather than handing a thick policies & procedures manual to a new recruit, spend a few minutes sharing the document’s highlights, such as diversity policies or special health benefits. Check out this article on creative onboarding practices for further ideas.
Protecting your company
Most job seekers operate in good faith, and there is no reason to run your business through a lens of suspicion. That said, corporate espionage does exist, and awareness of the remote possibility can help you lower the risk still further.
Which employees are most likely to reveal company secrets to a competitor? You guessed it: unhappy ones. To avoid this outcome, ensure employees feel valued both during and after the onboarding period. Demonstrating employee appreciation can be as simple as praising them for a job well done, focusing on specific accomplishments. When you consider that 65% of respondents to a Harris poll received no recognition for good work in the past year, supervisors would do well to remember that a sincere “thanks” goes a long way toward employee satisfaction.
Of course, legitimate grievances can arise even at the best workplaces. Straightforward and non-punitive grievance policies can prevent the grievances from turning into resentment—and disloyalty.
The Covid-conscious workplace
The cultural changes brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic will likely persist long after the pandemic itself winds down. Having discovered the possibilities of working from home, many organizations will continue to offer this as an option whenever possible. Laboratory-based scientists will not have this luxury, of course. In such cases, you can put new hires at ease by making Covid safety a priority.
Start with the basics: a thorough cleaning and disinfecting routine, coupled with education on hygienic practices. Inform employees about CDC updates or internal policy changes. Consider creating a Covid safety committee, with members culled from different departments. See this article on protecting your workplace from coronavirus for further detail.
Hiring science talent is not for the faint of heart. All too often, that rare bird you rescued from the candidate slush pile turns out to be a common pigeon—or flies the coop well before your investment pays off. If you’re having trouble bringing in and holding onto the best people, these common hiring mistakes could be standing in your way.
Getting mired in generalities:
If you registered with a dating service and requested a “sincere person who likes long walks, good food, and travel,” you wouldn’t get very far. It’s too broad a filter to sort the wheat from the chaff. Similarly, terms such as “dynamic,” “hard-working,” and “flexible” won’t help you find the medical science liaison of your dreams. Specifics are your ally.
Prioritizing qualities that don’t matter:
Is a typo in a resume a good reason to disqualify a candidate? If you’re hiring a science writer, it may well be. If you need someone who knows her way around Petri dishes, however, insisting on a flawless resume could lead you to miss the perfect hire. Asking all interviewees to prepare presentations falls in the same category: not all positions call for this skill. The same goes for the much-valued skill of performing well in front of an audience—a common interview filter that, according to a new study by the University of South Carolina, could end up eliminating many well-qualified candidates.1
Relying on surface impressions:
Who doesn’t love a smiling candidate with a relaxed posture? The interview process tends to tilt the scales toward people who make a good impression, rather than those best suited to the job. It pays to remember that first impressions reflect not only an interviewee’s qualities but our own biases.1 Besides, a warm personality won’t help a biochemist develop a killer assay.
The appetite to “move up in an organization” may seem an obvious asset, but an ambitious person may well decide to move away from the organization when greener pastures beckon. The scientist with an undivided passion for the lab bench, meanwhile, may offer a far greater ROI for your organization. As noted in a Science Magazine article about hiring PhDs, “hiring managers should appreciate that obsessing over a single topic can be a hugely positive quality, especially if you can hire the [candidate] to obsess over your company’s topic.”2
Making the interviewee feel uncomfortable:
Interviewers often seek to catch candidates off-guard with “gotcha” questions such as “Can you describe a situation you didn’t handle perfectly?” Or an employer may adopt a stiff and distant tone to send the message that “we’re interested in working hard around here, not in making friends.” Here’s the problem: the best candidates—meaning those you want to hire—tend to have options. If you make your organization sound like a distasteful place to work, a top-notch candidate may run with a competitor’s offer.
Relying on tired and inefficient interview formats:
The conversational interview remains a staple of hiring, but science hasn’t found much evidence for its effectiveness.3 To identify the best person for a job, you need to observe candidates through various lenses. Depending on the position you seek to fill, strategies could include behavioral interviews, psychometrics, or direct demonstrations of skills. Along similar lines, subjecting a candidate to a barrage of serial interviews, each covering the same ground, wastes valuable staff time without much additional yield. Sequential interviews with independent themes—overcoming challenges, teamwork, and long-term goals, for example—generate a much better ROI. By the same token, there’s no reason to include every member of a department in the interview team.
Arguably your most important hiring decision is your choice of recruiting partner. According to a Harvard Business Review article on outsourcing, about 40% of US companies rely on “recruitment process outsourcers” for their hiring needs.4 These intermediaries often subcontract people from distant countries to sift through candidates using key words—a blunt and impersonal instrument that can let superstars slip through the cracks. It’s exactly to avoid this outcome that Sci.bio hires recruiters with a scientific background, giving them a leg up in identifying the brightest lights. As the saying goes, “it takes one to know one.”
While neither your gut nor a software program will guarantee the best science hire, a systematic, multifaceted approach will work to your advantage. With a deep understanding of the science, psychology, and strategy of hiring, Sci.bio offers the layered intelligence that leads to outstanding hires. As Louis Pasteur once noted about science itself, fortune favors the well prepared.