Developing and promoting your personal brand isn’t only an activity for job seekers. It’s an important tool to distinguish yourself after finding employment: even if you’re happy in your current role, a strong personal brand will help make your job more fulfilling.
As a biotech recruiter, clients and job seekers want to work with someone who understands the biotech job market landscape. Biotech job candidates trust recruiters who are familiar with and appreciate their existing technical skills; biotech clients don’t want to explain what they see as the fundamentals of any technical role to a new recruiter, or have the recruiter bring them ill-suited job candidates. Therefore, a recruiter with a strong personal brand will find it easy to attract the right clients and job seekers, and convince both parties of their ability to close the deal between job candidate and company.
When you start out as a recruiter, you won’t necessarily have a strong or compelling personal brand. It takes several months to figure your personal brand out, and longer to strengthen and promote it to the point where it pays dividends.
Here are some questions for recruiters to think about as they develop their personal brand:
What kind of positions do you most enjoy recruiting for?
What kind of candidates are you most successful in finding and connecting with?
What kind of roles have you accumulated the most experience on?
What kind of projects and subject matters fit best with your education and previous work experience to date?
Ideally, all your answers will overlap – and that’s your recruiter’s personal brand! Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers yet, or if your experience, successes and enjoyment don’t seem to have a common theme. Come back to these questions later, or ask your mentor for guidance.
Once you have the initial outline of your personal brand, hone it into 1–2 sentences that will become your elevator pitch at networking events. For example: “I’m an executive recruiter who specializes in placing mid-level leadership candidates into agile biotech companies.”
Now you have a personal brand, your LinkedIn and other social media posts should tie into your brand. For instance, if you specialize in recruiting Medical Science Liaisons to large pharma, you should state in your posts and bio that you help connect MSLs with jobs, and share the latest news from big pharma companies. This helps establish credibility in your niche, and attracts potential clients.
If you’re worried that a focused personal brand will scare away too many potential clients and job candidates, remember that you’re going to enjoy a higher success rate with the opportunities that do seek you out because they appreciate the specific value that you offer. The people that connect with you already know how you can help them, and if they approach you, it’s because they already see themselves as a good fit for your services.
Are you a scientist looking to get away from the bench? Have you considered becoming a biotech recruiter? We are always looking for great talent! Sci.bio would love to meet you.
In the second of our Meet the Recruiter series of blog posts, we’d like to introduce Mike Cordaro and Sandra Tramontozzi, two seasoned Recruiting Partners who have played a large role in building out Sci.bio’s business development and contingency recruiting team.
Mike handles medical affairs recruiting and business development for Sci.bio. Sandra also works on the business development side, and specializes in filling HR and talent acquisition roles for biotech companies.
Journey to Sci.bio
Mike graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a degree in Biology, but, though he enjoyed science, he didn’t see himself working in a laboratory. After several years as a recruiter with other staffing agencies, he joined Sci.bio in 2019.
Sandra has been with Sci.bio since 2020, having spent many years in business sales and recruitment at other staffing firms. She has a M.S. in Administrative Studies from Boston College. After taking a career break to focus on her family, she decided to re-enter the workforce during the pandemic as the risk of an economic downturn loomed. Sandra knew Sci.bio founder Eric Celidonio from her previous role, and knew his company was entering the pandemic in a strong position.
Building meaningful and productive client relationships
Mike and Sandra both work in business development, reaching out to and building relationships with potential biotech clients. They stress establishing rapport with clients is vital to their business, even though it’s a process that takes time. Sci.bio has always focused on relationships first, knowing that clients become candidates and candidates become clients, so building connections with people is supported from the top down.
In Sandra’s experience, business relationships are difficult to build by email, so it’s important to get on the phone with clients. “In a pandemic world where we’re not meeting face to face, a Zoom meeting with clients is even more powerful, because they’re also getting a sense of your presence and professional demeanor.”
Mike and Sandra agree that for a client-recruiter relationship to be successful over the long term, there has to be a personal connection. “Not every conversation and not every single message has to be sales focused,” Mike explains. Sandra notes that not every client is comfortable sharing a lot of personal information, so the recruiter should avoid prying or oversharing themselves. However, she cautions, “if you’re strictly transactional with clients — even if you deliver great results — you’re not building a professional friendship with them, you’re just a vendor,” and the partnership is unlikely to last.
Advice from recruiters to their clients
On the other side of the equation, Sandra’s advice for clients looking to build productive relationships with a recruiting partner is to always give the recruiters feedback on the candidates presented, especially when they weren’t quite what the company was looking for. “Even though it must be very time consuming, just sending one line in an email that says, ‘hey, none of these candidates have XYZ,’” can help recruiters refocus their sourcing to better meet client’s needs.
The Sci.bio advantage
Having worked at Sci.bio for several years, Mike and Sandra know clients appreciate working with an agile, specialised biotech recruiting firm. “Sci.bio offers a lot of service at a small scale,” says Sandra. “We can really be a partner and a total staffing solution for our client. And we can scale with them as they grow, which is beautiful.” Many of Sci.bio’s clients are biotech companies in the preclinical or early clinical stage of development and only need a contract recruiter in the beginning. As the company expands, Sci.bio can help them scale their in-house team by sourcing senior and executive hires.
Mike sees Sci.bio’s roster of recruiters with science degrees as crucial to the firm’s success. “The biotech industry is very different from any other industries. Biotech roles require the cream of the crop.” However, many suitable job candidates lack detailed LinkedIn profiles — or aren’t on LinkedIn at all — so it’s harder for recruiters without science backgrounds to find them and identify key technical skills. Sourcing candidates to match the client’s needs requires a good grasp of scientific concepts, something Sci.bio is able to provide that larger, less specialized agencies struggle with. “Maybe I’m not producing 10 resumes 24 hours after receiving a requisition,” says Sandra, “but I’m producing three resumes that are very specifically tailored to the client’s needs. And that’s a better use of his time.”
COVID-19 and the changing biotech recruitment landscape
The pandemic has had an impact on recruitment and hiring patterns within the biotech sector. Some of those changes may shift as COVID-19 abates, others could last longer. For instance, Sandra has noticed candidates balancing family care and homeschooling with remote work are requesting part-time roles at the moment, leading to a lack of candidates for full-time roles.
Mike finds potential candidates becoming more risk-averse and less willing to consider moving out of their current jobs. “I’ve even spoken with a lot of candidates who — when I was in contact with them before — were open to a conversation about new opportunities. Now if they have job security, they’re not letting go of that.”
Although COVID-19 hasn’t stopped hiring in the biotech sector, uncertainties about clinical trial results and future revenue means biotech companies are hiring more contract than permanent staff right now, and leaving in-house HR and talent acquisition roles unfilled. Sandra predicts there will be an uptick in permanent HR and talent acquisition roles available next year when the pandemic recedes and a sense of stability returns. Mike notes that clients are much more open to offering remote positions, and are not just recruiting biotech candidates from within the Boston area.
Despite the changes COVID-19 has wrought on the biotech sector, both Mike and Sandra feel Sci.bio has adapted well to remote and flexible working, and that the future looks bright for biotech recruiters.
”I want to be a recruiter when I grow up!”
Okay, chances are you never uttered those words as a child. As Allison Ellsworth, Sr. Recruiting Partner and Director HR at Sci.bio, says “The vast majority of people don’t go to school to become a recruiter. You kind of fall into it through different choices you make on your career path, as you follow and develop your skill set.”
So let’s assume that over the years as you either considered options for starting your career or have contemplated a career shift, you decided that recruiting might just be the job for you. After all, you like interacting with people and think you’re a good judge of them; you can see yourself enjoying the prospect of conducting interviews on a daily basis and think you might even be pretty good at it.
But there’s more to being a great recruiter than just an affinity for talking to talk to people. Of course, that’s a necessary trait; if you don’t like interacting with people recruiting is likely not the job for you. But there’s also much more involved than the interview alone; a number of different types of skills and attributes are necessary to truly stand apart as a great recruiter.
3 Types of Skills/Attributes
The skills and attributes required can be grouped into three categories: Interpersonal Skills, Personal Attributes, and Business Skills. Let’s take a look at what falls into each of these categories.
Interpersonal skills could be considered the ante just to get into the game; any great recruiter has mastered them. When your job centers around interacting with and assessing people on a daily basis, things like communication skills and the ability to build and develop relationships are a must.
Great Communication Skills
The ability to verbally articulate is certainly important, but good communication skills go beyond speaking, or even writing. The ability to read body language to ascertain the real meanings, feelings, and emotions behind the words a candidate is saying, as well as the ability to use your own body language to put others at ease are just as important. And being able to actively listen to the nuances of what a candidate says – again, going beyond the simple words – can go a long way in making a thorough and accurate assessment.
Some may say that recruiting truly is an art of relationship building. And this means not only building and nurturing relationships with current and potential candidates, but also doing the same with hiring managers and even fellow recruiters. Finding and placing that perfect candidate in the perfect role is a team sport and requires trust, reliability, and a strong connection with all parties involved.
If interpersonal skills are the ante, certain personal attributes are the things that refine your ability to be a great recruiter even further. The tricky thing here is that some of these attributes tend to be inherent in a person and might be tough to learn if you don’t already have them. That’s not to say that can’t be learned, but if they come naturally to you, it may make being a great recruiter a little easier for you to attain. Some of the most important include:
Resilience/ Adaptability – when you’re dealing with various people, numerous variables can come into play, some that can even be beyond your control. People can be unpredictable, schedules can change last minute, and priorities and needs of both people and organizations can shift without much warning. When things don’t go as planned, the ability to bounce back and/or change your approach is key.
Patience/ Professional Persistence – sometimes it might take multiple tries to find and recruit the perfect candidate; the ability to play the “long game” and not give up after a first seemingly failed attempt can serve you well.
Results driven – recruiting can be a competitive profession, especially in industries that are in high growth mode where demand for talent may outpace supply. The best recruiters know how to set goals, keep focused on those goals, and work tirelessly towards them until they’re achieved.
Integrity – having a reputation for operating ethically and with honesty, and with the best interests of all involved always front and center can really set you apart from those who might use more questionable tactics to achieve their goals.
In a profession that is hyper-focused on people skills and relationship building, this final group of skills can sometimes be overlooked, but can truly level you up and make you stand apart from the rest.
Industry/Job Knowledge – having strong working knowledge of both the industry in which you are recruiting and the specific jobs you are trying to fill will make you more effective in assessing a candidate’s fit for an opportunity. Knowing the job intimately isn’t necessarily required, but having a working understanding of some of the key responsibilities and skills/experience needed to accomplish them will help you dig a little deeper in your interviews. Additionally, different industries often have their own unique attributes, needs, and nuances, and having a solid understanding of those will make finding the right talent that much easier.
Sales/Marketing skills – part of your job as a recruiter is to “sell” your ability to fill the role to the hiring manager, then “sell” the opportunity to potential candidates and the candidates’ abilities back to the hiring manager. Having natural sales abilities or being able to develop them can take your recruiting skills to the next level.
Problem solving & technical skills – some roles can be much harder to fill than others; roles that are highly competitive or require difficult to find skill sets may require out of the box thinking to successfully find and recruit candidates. In addition, knowing not only which technologies are available, but how to use them to find those hard to come by candidates can set you apart as well.
Time Management/Multitasking – this may go without saying, but being a recruiter means juggling multiple schedules, interviews, and job requisitions at the same time. Without strong organizational/time management skills and the ability to multitask, there’s no way you’ll be able to stay on top of everything you need to manage.
Want to hear what actual recruiters have to say? Stay tuned for an interview series with some of Sci.bio’s recruiters: learn what makes them tick, what it takes to be successful, and discover if recruiting is a career path that is a good fit for you!
In the first of our Meet the Recruiters series of blog posts, we’d like to introduce Kay Chow, Madison Giunta, and Carla Yacoub. They are all recent science graduates who joined Sci.bio within the past year as Scientific Recruiting Associates.
Madison is a contingency recruiter and focuses on business development. Kay handles RPO roles and ad hoc recruiting projects. As the most recent addition, Carla is completing her training and jumping in on various sourcing and recruiting projects as she hones her skills.
The Pathway Into Recruitment
All three had a passion for science and valued their STEM education, but realized more traditional STEM career pathways — academia, research, working in a lab — weren’t for them.
Madison graduated in 2020 with a BS in Nutrition Science from Merrimack College. Although she was passionate about the subject, she didn’t want to stay in school to pursue professional qualification. As part of her job search, she shadowed at a recruitment agency and fell in love with the career.
Kay graduated in 2020 with a BS in Behavioral Neuroscience from Northeastern University. She joined a research lab as an undergraduate, but realized “spending five plus years of my life on one thing was really not enticing to me.” However, she found she really enjoyed recruiting volunteers for her lab’s clinical studies, and decided to look for STEM recruiting jobs.
Carla graduated in 2019 with a BS in Environmental Biology from Smith College. She didn’t like academia and wasn’t interested in research careers, but knew she liked working with people and doing scientific outreach. “I really liked bringing new forms of education to communities that may not have been included in that previously,” she explains.
STEM recruitment wasn’t a career they’d considered before graduating, but after applying to Sci.bio and going through the interview process, they all saw how scientific recruitment would be a good fit for their personal strengths and career needs.
Working as a Recruiter at Sci.bio
Although recruiting scientific professionals is a non-traditional STEM career, Carla, Kay and Madison enjoy learning about new areas of research through conversations with clients. Madison finds her STEM background helps her quickly understand new concepts and terminology.
At Sci Bio the first few months as a recruiter are spent in training, before they transition to their own projects. Most of their time is spent sourcing candidates and building relationships with their clients. Carla, who joined Sci.bio the most recently, enjoys working among a group of people who share the same values as her.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the working patterns of many people, including Sci Bio recruiters, who currently spend most of their time working from home, and go into the office once or twice per week. Madison enjoys the flexibility of remote working and structuring her day how she chooses.
On the flip side, Carla, Kay, and Madison found it easier to get distracted when working from home, or end up spending too much time on work at the detriment to their personal life. Kay has a “commute” to help her focus: she takes time after waking up to make herself a mocha latte and go for a short walk before starting work. These are the details we like to share in Meet the Recruiters.
Combatting Stereotypes and Growing as a Biotech Recruiter
All three enjoy recruitment, but encountered pushback from acquaintances who held negative or uninformed stereotypes about recruiters and alternate STEM careers. Some of Kay’s friends and family wondered, “Why did you get a degree in neuroscience if you’re just going to be talking to people all day?” not appreciating that her degree informs a lot of what she does.
Since Carla’s mother worked as a life insurance recruiter, she thought she knew what recruiting agencies and recruiters did, but she realized many of those preconceptions didn’t apply to Sci.bio: “It’s not about meeting goals, or sending a certain number of emails each day — it’s more like match-making.”
All three look forward to developing as recruiters and finding their niches, becoming the ‘go to’ sourcing expert for their specialty. Madison intends “make my brand” as a recruiter. Kay hopes to gain insight into international recruitment.
Fun Facts: Hobbies Outside of Sci.bio
Madison was a competitive cheerleader in college, and recently resumed competitive cheerleading in the post-collegiate leagues. She also coaches her high school team. In her free time, Carla does environmental videography and candid photography. She also enjoys coding and video games. Kay likes taking dancing classes.
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.