If you’re new to the biotech job market you may hold the following common misconceptions about recruiters (put your hand up if you’ve believed either of these things): recruiters are indiscriminate in who they reach out to, and they only care about meeting hiring quota.
In reality, biotech recruiters are often very familiar with the industry, because they have long standing relationships with pharma clients, and are trained as scientists themselves. Many recruiters are STEM graduates like yourself, and love talking about science with jobseekers and clients.
If you’re overwhelmed by the post-graduation hunt for a job, working with a boutique biotech recruiter will make your life easier. But if you’ve not worked with specialized recruiters before, you might not know how to build a relationship with one, or let them know you’re job-hunting.
If a biotech recruiter hasn’t reached out to you, here are proactive ways to reach out:
Attend mixers or networking events at events in your field (e.g. a Working in Biotech career panel, a young professionals mixer) – it’s likely you’ll find one or two recruiters among the attendees
After introducing yourself: your current role, when you expect to graduate or begin job-hunting, and the job positions you’re interested in – the recruiter will likely ask for an opportunity to chat with you on the phone to learn more.
What to expect in initial phone conversations with recruiters:
Don’t be shy – recruiters speak to a lot of people like yourself, and are familiar with conducting these types of conversations and putting you at ease.
Practice a brief couple of sentences’ introduction. E.g. I’m an Immunology PhD candidate at X university. Give the other person space to ask follow-up questions.
Think about when you are looking for a job and what skills you have. What analytical instruments do you work with? What laboratory techniques do you regularly perform (e.g. PCR, western blot)? Decide what you are looking for in a role, and if you don’t know, think broadly: do you want to work with people, are you interested in being a bench scientist? Would you like to work in a fast-paced start-up, or a more traditional large pharmaceutical company? These answers will help the recruiter decide which roles to put your name towards.
After your initial phone call and emails, don’t be afraid to follow up if you haven’t heard back within an agreed upon timeframe. Recruiters are busy, and clients can experience delays in their hiring process, so recruiters are unlikely to be ignoring you! Checking in regularly demonstrates your continued interest in the roles discussed, as well as your good organization skills.
At Sci.Bio, we’ve helped hundreds of STEM graduates get into their first biotech job. Get in touch to schedule a chat with one of our friendly, knowledgeable recruiters today.
Do you know who to hire for which role? Gone are the days of the lab-only scientist. Nowadays, positions in STEM fields can call for a variety of communications skills, whether that be writing, management, design, or something else. These science communications positions are all the rage nowadays, but because they require at least two skill sets, they can be difficult to fill.
When hiring for a science communicator role, there’s no one-size-fits-all background to look for – so screening applicants can be tricky. What keywords do you search for? Who do you rule out? Many qualified applicants won’t have had a separate career to match every skill required for a role. So, you’ll need to find other ways of assessing their potential to succeed.
Types of multi-skilled roles in the sciences
As careers in science communications become more and more well-known, interest in the field is burgeoning. Examples of positions in science communications include scientific communications specialist, medical writer, and research analyst. Some positions will skew more communications-based, and some more science-based. The trick for who to hire for which role is to discern which skillset comes first for a particular job. Then, you can comb through the applicant pool with that information top of mind.
Positions that are often more science-based can include roles in technical editing, data management, and curriculum development. Such roles absolutely still require communications skills – just perhaps not the same kind of verbal acuity that might be required of a presenter or writer. There are no hard and fast rules, though! Always use your judgment about the skill set that would work best for a particular position.
Who to Hire for Which Role
A role that primarily involves research or leadership, but seldom calls for in-depth or on-the-spot scientific knowledge, is often well-suited to a communications professional. If you’re on the lookout for a Director of Communications for a life science business, for example, don’t hesitate to choose someone who’s well-versed in leadership and project management, and less experienced (but highly trainable) in research analysis.
For roles that hinge on a deeper STEM knowledge base, consider hiring scientists – albeit that they boast some natural writing acumen. For instance, you may be on the hunt for a data science consultant who can not only solve problems, but effectively communicate their solutions. Because data science is not usually a skill that people pick up “on the fly”, you’ll probably want to first gather a pool of candidates with experience in the field. Then, to form your “top tier” of potential hires, you can identify the strongest communicators within that pool.
Some positions get especially tricky, though. Let’s say, for example, that you’re on a mission to find the perfect technical editor to fill an opening. In this case, you might actually be better off hiring a trained scientist. That’s because editing, while communications-based, is very detail-oriented and factual. Of course, any editor should have a good handle on grammar and paragraph structure, too – but in this case, finding someone who knows the ins and outs of the subject matter may prove to be the most important factor.
What to screen for
For science positions that involve preparing presentations, articles, or other written materials, ask your shortlist of candidates to show you a couple of relevant samples. A candidate’s portfolio may include brochures, slide decks, even emails – as long as it gives you a sense of their writing style, it should offer valuable insights into their suitability for a communications role.
Ultimately, when you’re hiring for a multi-skilled position, the most important thing to screen for is ability to learn. If a candidate sounds terrified, or perhaps just bored, by the thought of becoming well-versed in a subject that’s new to them – this may not be a recruitment match made in heaven. But if their eyes light up when you tell them more, and they can describe times they’ve used a similar skillset somewhere else – you may just have a winner on your hands.
The most important skill – who to hire for which role
Figuring out which candidate is likely to make the best hire can be a tricky balancing act – especially when it comes to science communications roles. As you search for suitable candidates, keep an eye out for those who are sharp, enthusiastic, and above all ready to learn – even if they don’t have the perfect resume.
And remember: people can always surprise you. Just because a writer hasn’t researched scientific topics before doesn’t mean they aren’t cut out to learn some new ropes. If your new science news editor has advanced technical degrees in their subject matter but little to no writing experience, you can assess their language skills another way. Keep a critical but open mind, and you’ll find a candidate who brings to the table an impressive skillset – and a willingness to keep learning more.
The collapse of the SVB on March 10, 2023 made national headlines, and prompted fear of a looming financial crisis and a return to government bailouts. For biotech investors and employees, the collapse of the tech-focused bank raises additional concerns about the stability of the biotech sector.
What is the Silicon Valley Bank?
The Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was the 16th largest bank in the USA. Founded in 1983, it catered almost exclusively to technology companies by providing the venture capital funds necessary for biotech start-ups to grow. Prior to the events of early March, the bank was worth $212 billion.
Why did it collapse?
In early March 2023 the SVB announced it needed to raise more money, citing rising interest rates and inflation. This announcement caused panic, and customers and investors rushed to withdraw their money, leading to the collapse of the bank’s value. Within 48 hours the damage was done, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) took over the emergency operation of the bank.
The FDIC is currently trying to sell SVB as part of its break-up plan.
Is this a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis?
Following the collapse of the SVB, Silvergate Bank and Signature Bank fell in quick succession a few days later. Although the successive liquidation of US banks is alarming, and the overall likelihood of a recession in the next few years has risen, the fallout from the SVB collapse is mostly contained to the biotech sector and other medium-sized banks who cater to a narrow selection of industries (both Silvergate and Signature focused on cryptocurrencies).
Some issues appear unique to SVB’s downfall, such as the role of a chief risk officer being unfilled last year. The bank also stored its money in long-dated Treasury deposits, which give modest returns on investments. When inflation rose, the bonds no longer yielded satisfactory returns.
How does the Silicon Valley Bank affect the biotech industry?
Silicon Valley Bank was seen as the bank of choice for young biotech companies, because they tailored their services to venture-backed start-ups and agile biotechs looking to grow. Unlike commercial banks, most of SVB clients deposited amounts greater than $250,000, which is the maximum amount of savings protected by the FDIC in the event of a financial collapse. It’s estimated that 85% of SVB’s bank deposits were uninsured. It’s therefore not clear how much damage has been wrought on the biotech sector, and it will take a time for companies to disclose any losses. It’s possible the US government will bail out companies who lost uninsured deposits if the crisis deepens, but that’s not happened yet.
In early 2023, biotech start-ups are already struggling thanks to rising interest rates and a hiring slowdown. Established companies have the diversified portfolio necessary to withstand economic shocks better than start-ups with only one or two pipeline products.
However, the failure of Silicon Valley Bank may see a slowdown in the biotech sector as venture capitalists become more cautious about investing in biotechs, or the regulations around life sciences investment increase. What this does for the biotech sector as a whole remains to be seen.
In the ultra-competitive life sciences industry, there is a lot of pressure to avoid making a bad hire. A bad hire is a costly mistake that can slow down the research and damage the ever-important team dynamics. A bad hire also means a missed opportunity with the right candidate, who has likely gone on to another company by the time the bad apple is weeded out. And with the waning life sciences talent pool, companies can’t afford those missed opportunities.
So how do hiring managers, recruiters, and HR teams avoid a bad hire?
Research shows that a multi-pronged recruitment approach is the best way to avoid a bad hire. Instead of just relying on resumes and interviews alone, companies should include other components such as pre-employment testing. The general idea is that these tests can help employers predict how well a candidate will perform in a role and/or if the person is a good fit for the organization. There are quite a few types of pre-employment tests. The most common type is psychometric testing, which can provide information on behavioral traits and personality that are hard to capture from more conventional screening techniques. A skills test measures a candidate’s present level of job knowledge.
In the groundbreaking paper, “The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology,” Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter analyzed decades worth of talent selection data and proved the validity of these tests. The paper was first released in 1998, then updated in 2016. Their research shows the best predictor of job performance is general mental ability, which is measured through testing. Other predictors include work sample tests, personality tests, and structured interviews. Combining several of these methods only increases predictability of job performance. On the other hand, the research shows that a resume is a very low predictor of job success.
According to Joanna Bondin, director of a market research firm in Malta, psychometric testing is “an affordable and effective way for companies to ensure maximum ROI.” Bondin says that studies have also shown that psychometric analysis can improve outcomes by up to 24%. No wonder more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies use some sort of pre-employment assessment. This trend has led to the rise of third-party talent acquisition technology providers, a market that’s estimated to reach $113.9 billion in 2021.
Yet, there is still some concern about using testing in the recruitment process.
In Emma Goldberg’s New York Times article “Personality Tests Are the Astrology of the Office,” Darshana Narayanan, a neuroscientist, explained her skepticism of psychometric testing. “My impression of these kinds of tests is that they don’t work,” Dr. Narayanan said. “Human behavior is multifaceted and complex and dependent on your environment and biological state, whether you’re depressive, manic, caffeinated. I’m skeptical of what you can learn from answering ten questions or observing someone’s behavior for just 30 minutes.” She says this after having worked for a company that designs psychometric tests for human resource purposes.
Goldberg points out that Dr. Narayanan is a scientist, therefore she is trained to draw conclusions only after ample testing has taken place. This is quite the opposite to psychometric testing, in which a onetime test dictates the results. A onetime test that is often not monitored, which leads to another commonly cited pitfall of testing. There’s no way to know if a candidate has cheated if the test is administered ahead of time. Other articles have questioned the fairness of these tests, and whether they favor certain ethnic groups. Not to mention, many of these tests have scaled at rapid pace, leaving little opportunity for reassessment.
This rapid scale has led to what Ithaka S+R researchers call a “wild west” scenario in pre-employment testing, where regulation is minimal and validity and legality are in question. Schmidt and Hunter’s research was grounded in decades of scientific data reported on psychometric testing, but that’s not the case with many of these newer assessment tools. In their paper “Mapping the Wild West of Pre-Hire Assessment: A Landscape View of the Uncharted Technology-Facilitated Ecosystem,” the Ithaka S+R team explains that these new tests “have not yet demonstrated the validity of traditional assessment methods, and, even more problematically, they seem to eschew the grounded theory backing analog tests.” The team goes on to explain that “there is little to no peer-reviewed evidence for the predictive powers of many of these new tools.”
Despite the skeptics and the concerns, the use of pre-employment testing is not going anywhere. As the trend continues, experts will focus on creating and improving guidelines. In the meantime, there’s a few things to remember about pre-employment tests:
1. Use the tests in combination with other evaluation tools. The biggest mistake companies make is using these tests in isolation. Testing alone cannot measure every relevant aspect of a candidate. Schmidt and Hunter’s research proved that the best predictor of employment is a multi-faceted approach, such as using both testing and interviewing. The most important takeaway is that testing should be just one tactic of a comprehensive hiring campaign. The most common use is automating the initial screening process to filter out unsuitable candidates.
2. Do your research. There are thousands of tests out there, so it’s important to do your research before implementing any pre-employment testing. Decide what you’re looking for and consider how a test might help you achieve your goals. And, make sure you understand what the results mean. Human resources professionals are not usually trained in statistics and data analytics, which poses a challenge for optimizing the use of predictive and psychometric methods. Before pulling the trigger it’s important to make sure you know why you’re using the tests and how the data will help your business.
3. Track your success and adjust accordingly. As you use these tests in your hiring process, you should also evaluate how well they are working. When you are assessing job performance, consider how well that performance matches your predictions. Use that information to determine the effectiveness of the testing and decide what improvements could be made.
4. Leverage the data. Psychometric tests are commonly used for employee training and development purposes, yet there is much debate around this application of the test. Experts question if some of these loosely scientific tests should really be used to understand individuals. They also raise concerns about unintended consequences such as alienating or typecasting employees. However, the data could be useful when used in conjunction with other training and development measures.
In the fast-paced, highly volatile life sciences industry, there’s no time for bad hires. Pre-employment, predictive, and psychometric testing can be an efficient and effective way to alleviate such concerns. However, it’s important to remember that they do raise a host of their own concerns. So, know the limitations of these tools, but don’t let those scare you from implementation because pre-employment testing can be a worthwhile investment.
As you well know by now, the World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency in response to the rapidly evolving outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19). The CDC has requested that companies implement temporary preventive measures. In light of this request, companies have reached out to find out how others are implementing these measures. After talking with several companies and our onsite recruiters, we have pulled together 9 steps that companies are taking to protect themselves from the threat.
Most life sciences companies won’t face the same hurdles as customer-facing businesses but given the complexities of the industry they will face serious challenges of their own. For example, what happens if an entire team of bench scientists is quarantined? They can’t exactly bring their work home. The CDC provides a list of suggestions for labs, but it’s more directed at labs that might be handling specimens related to the virus. So, for research labs or manufacturing facilities, the best course of action is to follow the guidelines below and consult a safety professional. The important takeaway is to be flexible and have plans in place. If you need assistance with temporary workers, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
Modify Travel Plans
Suspend business-related travel to countries with widespread outbreak (Level 2 and 3 Travel Warnings). Discourage non-critical business travel to international and domestic areas with low threat. Require approval from Executive Team for critical travel. Encourage the use of video conferencing technology in place of travel. If employees have traveled or are travelling for leisure, they should notify their supervisor.
Update Visitor Policy
Employees need to touch base with all visitors (vendors, candidates, clients) prior to any onsite meetings. They should inquire if the visitor has been to any countries with widespread outbreak, if they’ve been sick, or if their family has been sick. If the visitor’s answer is yes, then the employee should cancel the meeting and/or change to remote.
Emphasize Preventative Measures
Remind people to stay home when sick, get a flu shot, wash their hands, use tissues, cover their mouth, use hand sanitizer, wipe down surfaces, avoid touching their eyes/nose/mouth, and avoid shaking hands. Make sure employees know to self-report and self-quarantine if they’ve been to impacted areas or have concerns.
Be Flexible with Sick Time and Offer Remote Work
Employers should be flexible with their absence/sick policies. Do not require medical notes, as healthcare facilities may be too busy. Employers should provide employees with remote access when possible. Employees may need to stay home to care for a sick family member or may not have their regular childcare so being flexible is key.
Clean and Disinfect Regularly
Wash door handles 2-3 times/day. Wipe down tables, chairs, phones, and computers in conference rooms 2-3 times/day. Encourage employees to regularly clean their work surfaces, phones, and computers. Work with facilities or the cleaning company to perform regular disinfectant cleaning for all common surfaces. Make sure you’re stocked on tissues, disinfecting wipes, and hand sanitizer.
Keep in Constant Communication
Place posters throughout the office to remind employees about precautions and updated policies. Send out a companywide email as soon as there is a policy change. Inform employees about CDC updates; acknowledge you are in compliance with the recommendations. Make sure managers are prepared to answer questions and know how to assist employees that self-report or self-quarantine. Remind staff about sick time, short-term disability, and time-off policies.
Implement a Task Force
Create a task force of team-members from different departments/teams/locations. The group should come up with a plan in the event the CDC determines the severity of the threat has increased. Employers should be prepared to refine their business response plans as needed.
Consult a Safety Professional
Some companies, like those with a research lab, may want to take extra precaution and consult a safety professional. You may also consider bringing on a temporary worker to manage the process.
Use Common Sense and Don’t Panic
This list is based off information found on CDC.gov and input from several Massachusetts life sciences companies.