AI can assist in the search for science talent, but doesn’t substitute for human judgment
Hiring in biotech is not for the faint of heart. You’re looking for a set of highly specialized skills—but so are your competitors. You may get a mountain of applications, but only a fraction of them will match your needs. With so much at stake, pharma and biotech companies are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to help streamline the interview process and find the diamonds in the pile. In the destabilized job market resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, companies offering this technology are reporting a surge in demand.1
A branch of computer science, AI involves programming computers to perform tasks that mimic the human mind, such as problem solving and decision making.2 AI has the ability to process much larger volumes of data than a human could handle, uncover meaningful patterns, and translate them into actionable information.
A tool in the shed
The use of AI in recruitment ranges from algorithms that scan resumes for key words to sophisticated video software that serves as a high-tech bouncer, screening candidates at the front door. During video interviews, AI technology can analyze a candidate’s facial expressions, vocal intonation, and choice of words to help assess job fit.3 The candidate may have no idea that, in effect, a robot is assessing her suitability for a position.
One Australian AI company offers a chatbot that poses open-ended questions to candidates and analyzes their responses to assess personality traits like drive, initiative, and resilience.4 The company is even developing a machine-learning model to predict the likelihood of changing jobs frequently—a propensity that employers naturally seek to avoid in their candidates.4
In theory, AI can also reduce hiring biases that a human interviewer would almost always bring to the table, even if subconsciously. For example, you can configure AI to ignore age, race, gender, and other variables when assessing candidate profiles. AI can also increase candidate engagement through automated chats, assessment questionnaires, and next steps.5
Not a panacea
As it turns out, AI’s alleged objectivity doesn’t always play out in the real world. AI relies on patterns—and these patterns can cause AI to fall prey to bias, just like humans. As explained by Prasanna Tambe, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, “AI systems learn to make predictions based on data, and so predictions are generally more accurate for groups which have more data available.”3 If data on certain groups are scarce, the system won’t have the evidence to put forward candidates from these groups, creating a catch-22 of “no data, no deal.”
Equity concerns aside, some employment experts fear that AI could drive down wages. For example, some AI-based personality tests weed out candidates inclined to press for higher wages or support unionization.4 It also bears noting that candidates prepared to job hop—a red flag for many AI programs—may have more to offer: they know their own worth and have confidence that a competitor will recognize it. An AI algorithm that filters out such candidates may cause employers to lose out on the most creative and dynamic employees, in a case of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”
As shown in the graph below, all but 11% of respondents to a 2019 HR Research Institute survey had reservations about using AI for talent acquisition.6 Of note, 30% lacked confidence in the ROI of the technology, maintaining that it delivers too little value for the cost.6
What are the potential drawbacks of using AI for talent acquisition?
Bottom line: while AI can supplement human intuition and judgment, it cannot fully replace these qualities. When you work with an experienced biotech recruiter, you benefit from a wealth of human intuition, experience and expertise—and you can still use AI if it serves your purposes. Reach out to Sci.bio to learn how we can steer you toward the right talent at the right time.
1. Wall S, Schellmann H. MIT Technology Review, July 7, 2021.
2. IBM Cloud Education. June 3, 2020.
3. Bishop K. The Observer, March 1, 2021.
4. Hao K. MIT Technology Review, July 24, 2020.
5. Dawson J. Ideal, July 3, 2020.
6. The 2019 state of AI in talent acquisition. HR.com, 2019.
As the number of COVID-19 cases drop and social distancing measurements relax, in-person networking events will start returning. For many scientists and science students, their understanding of ‘networking’ is at best a foreign concept with no applicability to their career path, and at worst they think there’s something almost underhanded about schmoozing your way into a job.
Unfortunately for those scientists, networking is critical to securing jobs inside and outside academia. For STEM students and postdocs who are uncertain about their future career path, networking can provide opportunities and insight that academic mentors are unavailable to provide. But the good news is networking doesn’t have to be awkward or embarrassing. In fact, it can be informative and fun.
Here are some tips and tricks that any scientist – or introverted person – can use to help network more effectively.
What is networking?
A common misconception about networking is that it’s all about trying to get a job. Networking is a conversation. It’s about forming a mutually-beneficial professional connection. When defined like that, you can see networking takes place all the time on a large and small scale. A 5 minute conversation with a visiting lecturer is networking, but a 5 minute conversation at a family BBQ can be networking, too! Presenting a poster at an international conference is definitely a networking situation. Research collaborators and colleagues within your department are network contacts, but any people you meet and interact with have the potential to be network contacts as well–you never know who other people know.
Networking rarely yields immediate results: it can take months (or years) for the benefits of networking efforts to show. Recruiters at the mixer you attend may not know of suitable job openings right then, but several weeks later when a job opportunity arises they may – if you networked successfully – remember your name.
Because of this, it’s helpful to begin networking 6-12 months before you finish your PhD or postdoc, the earlier the better. It takes time to build connections and become comfortable networking with others.
Getting the most out of networking events
While a lot of networking can happen organically, dedicated networking events are a great opportunity to meet new people you wouldn’t otherwise encounter within an academic research setting. These events might take place in conjunction with symposia and conferences, or be organized by professional societies.
Before arriving at a networking event, think about your career goals and how other attendees could help you. Are you actively looking for a job? Or still trying to figure out what you want to do? Distill your objectives into a couple of sentences and get comfortable explaining them.
“During my first networking event at a career fair, I was nervous and not quite sure what to expect or talk about. After a few interactions I realized that all I had to do was introduce myself, have a candid conversation, exchange contacts, and then I had a networking connection.” Carter Lewis, Sci.bio Recruiting Associate
Despite the fact you need a game plan, it helps to go into networking events with an open mind. Everyone in the room has the potential to help you meet your career goals, or introduce you to new opportunities you hadn’t considered. Show the same level of interest and courtesy to everyone you meet, and find out what you can about their job. What do they enjoy about their work? How did they get into the field? What advice would they give to someone looking to break into the field? While you may not be interested in biotech consultancy, perhaps a labmate is considering such roles and would benefit from any insights you can relay.
As scientists, we tend to be very detail-orientated and thorough when talking about our work. In networking situations, people may not be familiar with your field and could be pressed for time, meaning you must be concise. Develop a ‘high-level’ elevator pitch that describes your work quickly in broad strokes. If the other person wants to learn more, they’ll ask follow-up questions.
When talking to someone new, avoid monopolizing the conversation. Pause and ask questions. It doesn’t sound like much, but simply seeming interested in other people is one of the best ways to leave a good impression. Don’t forget to think about what YOU may be able to offer THEM; networking and building connections goes both ways.
The great thing about networking events is that everybody who attends wants to have a conversation with you! Even if you’re naturally more reserved, there are many people in the room, such as recruiters, who enjoy meeting new people and are experienced at navigating these kinds of social interactions.
Business card and follow-up
“Thanks, it’s been great talking to you – here’s my contact information.” You don’t have to devote a lot of time to any one person at the networking event. If it seems like you don’t have much to say to each other, it’s fine to politely bow out of the conversation and look for someone else to talk to. Be sure to collect the other person’s contact information and share yours. Business cards are the traditional hallmark of networking, but some people generate QR codes that link to their LinkedIn profile or online CV. At virtual events all you need to do is drop your contact info in the chat. Most people who attend networking events are open to connecting electronically afterwards. You can also send a short email the next day thanking them again for their time and re-emphasizing how much you enjoyed talking to them.
“Even if [recruiters or my new connections] didn’t have an immediate job opportunity for me, I still had someone that I could reach out to in the future.” Carter Lewis, Sci.bio Recruiting Associate
As mentioned above, networking doesn’t immediately bear fruit. You want to cultivate your network over several months; interacting with new connections on LinkedIn (e.g. commenting on their posts) and keeping your name fresh in their minds without becoming a nuisance or spamming them. Maybe this new contact knows one of their contacts has a job vacancy, or perhaps they can help you with something unrelated to your job search? Either way, you won’t know until you’ve made the connection!
Networking can appear daunting, but recruiters at Sci.bio are happy to help you expand your circle of contacts and take your career to the next level. Get in touch with us today.