Want job satisfaction? Look for a company that matches your size preferences
Do you belong in a sprawling corporate campus or in a small loft with a dog snoozing on the rug? Or maybe the open-plan wing of a tech hub?
Science grads searching for jobs in industry often focus on the salary and nature of the work, but ignoring the size (and thus style) of your prospective employer can thwart job satisfaction just as surely as an antiquated laboratory or paltry paycheck. Whether large, small, or somewhere in between, an organization that matches your “size profile” is a place where you’ll be happier, work more productively, and stay longer.
|● Big pharma: household names with a large, multinational workforce
● Small pharma: mid-size companies (fewer than 500 employees) with a leaner operational model
● Biotech/medtech startup: Companies with small teams and (typically) small portfolios
Many people feel a sense of pride at being attached to a large, well-respected organization. Statements like “I work at Vertex” or “I run a lab at Biogen” connote stability and competence, irrespective of your specific role. If you value status—and there’s nothing wrong with that—a large, well-respected organization will satisfy this craving.
It’s not just about dazzle, of course. A large pharma or biotech company gives you the greatest protection against changing market conditions—an important consideration if financial stability ranks high on your must-have list. Decades of experience means that processes have been worked out and standardized. Perhaps most important of all, a large employer offers multiple opportunities for vertical or lateral career changes. If you don’t click with one team, there’s every chance you’ll feel more at home in another department. Or country.
Some people thrive under pressure, while others do their best work in a stable environment. If you fall into the second camp, the stability of a larger organization can bring out your most productive and creative side.
And then there’s the water cooler. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the social side of work into stark relief: some people don’t miss it at all, while others ache for the human contact. If you’re a people person, a larger organization guarantees a baseline of social interactions and may provide more structured opportunities for connecting with co-workers.
While lacking the status of a big name, a small company nurtures your self-confidence in different ways. Chances are that nobody else in the group has your expertise, so your opinions and suggestions carry more weight. Moving quickly as part of a small team gives you more opportunities to take chances and get recognized for your efforts. In brief, you can be a big fish in a small pond.
Smaller companies also tend to have more fluid boundaries. You’ll likely have more responsibility than outlined in your formal job description—an appealing prospect if you thrive on change. If asked to take on a project that falls outside your area of expertise or comfort zone—perhaps researching new suppliers or designing a patient registry—“that’s not part of my job description” won’t get you off the hook. Additionally, you stand a better chance of convincing a superior to let you run with an original idea and you’ll have less bureaucracy standing in your way when you take action.
On the downside, it is possible to outgrow a small company; the next career rung you seek may simply not exist yet, or the organization may lack the funds or structure to deliver the training you need to get to the next level. Also, some people find a fast-paced environment with an ever-shifting landscape more stressful than inspiring.
Sizing up the benefits
Have a look at the table below.1 Don’t worry about what you “should” value—just pay attention to your instinctive reaction to each list. Which list speaks to you more? If you’re equally drawn to both, a mid-sized company may best meet your needs.
|● Opportunity to progress more quickly
● Greater autonomy and responsibility
● Exposure to a greater variety of tasks
● Often a less formal atmosphere
● Increased interaction with senior staff
● Greater agility in decision making
|● Less unpredictability in job requirements
● Better training resources
● Usually better job security and benefits
● Better networking opportunities
● More prospects for global mobility
● Greater investment budgets
Want to gain still more insight into your own size profile? Take this 9-question quiz to figure out if you would feel most comfortable in a large, small, or mid-sized organization. https://www.monster.com/career-advice/article/what-size-employer-best-fit-quiz
A caveat: such tools are a great start, but cannot substitute for an in-depth consultation with an experienced recruiter. As a biotech recruiting agency dealing with employers of all sizes, Sci.bio will be happy to walk you through the finer points as you weigh your next career move.
1. Smyrnov A. Which size pharma company is the best fit for you? Pharmfield. Sept. 2, 2019. https://pharmafield.co.uk/careers/which-size-of-pharma-company-is-the-best-fit-for-you/
2. Dottie C. What size company is the right fit for you? LinkedIn. Aug. 16, 2015. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-size-company-right-fit-you-christopher-dottie/
You’ve landed the biotech job of your dreams: ideal location, great compensation package, the perfect match between your qualifications and the job description. What’s the catch?
Well, reporting to a bad boss can turn a dream job into a nightmare you dread each morning. And on the flip side, a job that looks dissatisfying on paper could – with the right boss – be something that brings you years of happiness and fulfilment.
The hidden costs of a bad boss
A bad boss can – literally – suck the life out of you. A 2009 study of 31,000 Swedish workers found that employees who worked for bosses they perceived as unfair, inconsiderate and mercurial were more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease and heart attacks, despite differences in employee education level, social class, and how often they exercised. Even more concerning, the longer an employee worked for a bad boss, the greater their risk of a heart attack.
A bad boss can stifle worker productivity, slow your ascent up the career ladder, and drive you from a job that is otherwise ideal. Have you ever heard the expression “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers”? Yes, a manager can make or break your experience at a company!
How to recognize a bad boss
Your supervisor or line manager doesn’t have to be a villain to count as a bad boss. A bad boss may be a poor communicator who gives unclear directions on a project before changing their mind, or admitting after the fact they wanted you to do something else.
A bad boss could be too hands-on, interfering in your work and tripping you up every step of the way, or swing to the other extreme and be inaccessible and vague with their instructions.
A bad boss could lack emotional intelligence and struggle to admit their mistakes, or seem constantly negative and critical of everyone. You may find it hard getting constructive feedback from them, or feel constantly stressed and fearful of triggering their displeasure.
The point is, “bad bosses” are subjective and one person’s ideal supervisor could be another person’s nightmare. Even a boss with good intentions and many positive qualities could still be the reason you dread getting out of bed on Monday.
It might be possible to adjust and work around a bad boss – in the best-case scenario you’ll be able to have a discussion with them about working styles and setting expectations, and they’ll make adjustments. However, you should never assume your supervisor will change. When faced with a bad boss, your options are most likely going to be transferring to another team within the company (which might not be possible) or finding a new job.
How to screen future bosses
Yes, it’s another thing to worry about as you’re interviewing for biotech positions…but it is possible to identify good and bad bosses during the recruitment process before you receive a job offer. After the initial interview, many biotech companies will set up interviews with prospective supervisors or team leads who can shed more light on the team culture.
Recruiters who have worked for several years with a particular biotech company often have great insight into the personalities of the hiring team and department culture, which they will be happy to share with job candidates beforehand. They may also have feedback on what personality traits or soft skills would help someone be successful in a particular team. Allison Ellsworth, Sr. Recruiting Partner and Director of HR at Sci.bio, explains that “it is easy to overlook whether a role is a good personality match, especially if the job and company seem perfect on paper. But taking the time to think critically about what you personally need to be successful can help avoid disappointment and a repeat job search in 6 months”.
When the interviewers ask “do you have any questions for us?” this is the perfect time to ask potential supervisors about their leadership style and the qualities they value in their direct reports. You’ll get a sense of whether these supervisors are a good match for you, and the general workplace culture. Potential colleagues are another great resource to learn more about the culture and how leadership interacts with team members. It is also important to ask why the position is open; this can give you insight into what sort of attributes are valued or a red flag if there is high turnover.
Interviewing for a new job is a good time to get to know yourself better too! Think about your own communication styles and the type of supervision you benefit most from. Be honest: nobody likes to be micromanaged, but do you truly work well 100% independently or is more frequent feedback and clear guidance important to you? How do you like to structure your workload? All relationships are two-way streets; it can be challenging or stressful learning how to “manage up”, but knowing what works for you personally and what you need to be successful is helpful knowledge to bring to the table.
At the bare minimum, you want to look for a line manager who doesn’t take their stress out on others. Basic respect goes a long way. What other factors and managerial skills are most important to you?
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.