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: Lauren Perna and Sahana Nazeer
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.
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.
Authors: Sahana Nazeer and Lauren Perna
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.