Careers in Biotech 2010 - What Are Hiring Managers Looking for These Days?
By Diana Bartlett
Director of Corporate Partnerships, Keck Graduate Institute
“If you are going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
In the last dozen months or so, the life science industry has righted itself – somewhat. This means that hiring is back on track – somewhat. Job seekers will need to continue to “keep going” in their quest for careers with pharmaceutical, biotech, medical device, diagnostic, and ag/industrial biotech firms.
What are hiring managers looking for these days?
Science, science, science
Ross Grossman, Vice President, Human Resources, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (JOBS), stated that his company “is looking for candidates with really strong scientific talent and knowledge…even in non-science roles, we seek people who love science.”
Creativity and flexibility
Life science companies want smart, creative professionals who are adaptable. The bio/pharma/device world changes rapidly, and success demands that people change with it.
“Candidates who seek comfort quickly become uncomfortable,” Grossman continued. “Companies can’t use ‘comfort’ – we want people who can thrive on instability and constant change.”
Biotech career hunters must be motivated to push their ideas and to do “whatever it takes” to deliver results.
How can candidates best prepare themselves to compete in this marketplace?
Marco Rosa, Vice President, Human Resources, MAP Pharmaceuticals (JOBS), suggests four focus areas:
a) research & target,
b) FITD (Foot in the Door),
c) networking is a key ingredient, and
d) “purposeful” differentiation.
Research & target:
• Research life science companies and become an expert in their technology platforms and business models
• Be selective and lead with specific skills and experiences germane to the technology and business models of the targeted firm
• Be patient; don’t just press the “send” to apply because you think you are the “perfect” candidate!
• There’s an old saying in fund-raising that applies to job seeking: it takes nine encounters to yield one nibble. So be prepared to use FITD at least nine times with every targeted company and learn to change your traffic pattern to reach your destination.
• FITD is best when action oriented. A FITD could be an informational interview, volunteering for your favorite foundation or charity, or showing up to seminars and events sponsored by the company. The critical thing is to ensure that each FITD yields corporate intelligence that can help build a pathway to employment.
• Networking generates the volume that is needed to yield results. Another applicable old chestnut is that each of us is connected to everyone else by just six degrees of separation.
• How will the candidate map the degrees connecting him/her to the CEO of Desired Company? By networking with former managers and colleagues, friends and family, professional organizations, alumni groups…by attending industry events with a polished 30 second elevator pitch…by volunteering to help in any relevant organization…and much more.
• A good technique to broaden your network? At every professional encounter, ask: “Is there anyone else whose opinion you respect whom you suggest I meet --and may I use your name?” Then speak with those people and ask them the same question. Eventually this will likely lead to the contact who surfaces the job you want.
• Tried and true it may be, but network referrals will pique the attention of the hiring manager – naked online submissions will not. This key strategy is far more powerful than merely pressing the “send” button and becoming a number.
• Networking sites and opportunities abound: LinkedIn.com, BioSpace.com (complete with numerous regional Career Fairs), academic seminars (KGI, for instance, has Breakfast Briefings that are free and open to the public), professional group meetings (AWIS, RAPS, ISPE, and other biotech-oriented entities have regular meetings and social events).
• The shock waves to the life science industry have jolted job seekers two ways: first, as companies reduce headcount, they eliminate openings (and most jobs are not returning, so the smaller universe is here to stay); second, those RIF’d staffers heat up the competition in the hunter pool.
• To compete with more people – most of whom are terrifically qualified and experienced – for a smaller set of posts, the candidate must differentiate himself/herself.
How? Well, networking to obtain personal referrals to hiring managers is one way.
Another approach is to answer the question “How can I help Company X become more competitive?” That may seem like a tall order, but, essentially, every hiring manager must implicitly answer that question anyway. So, do the manager a favor: provide an answer and place that answer prominently on your cover letter.
Demonstration of a strategic grasp of the industry – especially the specific competitive environment of your DreamCo -- is yet another differentiation method.
Sure, life science companies want science, science, science. But if 99% of candidates top the charts on science, science, science, what will separate the wheat from the chaff? A demonstration of how one’s scientific acumen translates into business results is an excellent start.
“Companies can’t afford to go up the learning curve with candidates,” noted Regeneron’s Grossman. They want individuals who are experts in their area and can immediately link that expertise to the demands of the business.
Obtaining careers in biotech these days may be more like a stay in purgatory than in hell, but Churchill’s advice to keep going still applies.
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