8/25/2014 3:19:23 AM
August 25, 2014
By Josh Baxt, BioSpace.com Exclusive Story
Everyone remembers the bad old days of 2009. Stock markets crashed, venture capital evaporated, large companies drew in and small startups disappeared. Unemployment spiked in most industries, but biotech was hit particularly hard.
Five years later, the biotech economy has recovered significantly. However, economic Armageddon tends to leave a scar, and today’s job seekers should be mindful of the changes. Hard times have generated a new, leaner mentality, and life science professionals must adapt.
Early 2000s vs. Now: A Leaner Business Model
As founder and president of The Leadership Edge, a life science training and consulting company, Gaylene Xanthopoulos keeps close tabs on employment. Pointing to a recent Radford Trends Report, she is optimistic on the re-emerging biomedical economy.
“According to Radford, 20 percent of companies plan to increase their hiring by five percent,” says Xanthopoulos. “Also, 8.8 percent will increase by 10 to 15 percent and 12.6 percent of companies plan to increase by 15 percent.”
On the industry side, Craig Audet, Senior Vice President for Operations and Head of Regulatory Affairs at Arena Pharmaceuticals (ARNA), is seeing the rebirth in his own front yard.
“When I first got to San Diego, there were ten buildings for lease, just on our street,” says Audet. “Those buildings are now occupied and people are coming to Arena for space.”
That’s great news for anyone seeking a life science job, but it comes with a caveat: The industry hasn’t reverted to the early 2000s model, it’s a new environment.
“Everyone’s trying to run as lean as possible, so they’re looking for people with broader skill sets, particularly scientists,” says Xanthopoulos. “Sometimes companies change direction, going after a new therapeutic area or target, and need people who have knowledge across the board.”
In addition, companies are looking at the big picture, asking: How will this person fit?
“It’s not just about hiring the best and brightest talents,” says Xanthopoulos. “This industry is so team-based; a lot of smart companies are putting more emphasis on cultural fit. They’re paying attention to emotional intelligence, the ability to get along.”
Poke Your Head Outside the Lab
Xanthopoulos notes that some academic scientists have a tough time making the transition to industry, with its different pace and culture. She encourages scientists to poke their heads outside the lab: take some management courses, develop interviewing and supplementary skills.
Most importantly, job seekers must expand their networks, a tough task for introverted scientists.
“Some researchers go to a conference and just stick by their posters,” says Xanthopoulos. “Set a goal to meet five great contacts—not just technical people, but people who can influence hiring. Go to industry meetings like BIO. The broader your network, the better.”
Getting (and Nailing) the Interview
To succeed, candidates must get their resumes off the slush pile and get in for an interview. Audet has a number of common-sense suggestions.
“I’m not preoccupied with where you went to school. If you graduated with a high GPA, that shows effort,” says Audet. “Mostly, I’m looking for self-starters. If I tell you I need A, B and C, you need to see all the way to Z.”
During the interview, make eye contact, dress formally, understand the company. Thoroughly proof both resume and cover letter – typos are a bad signal to a detail-oriented business. Most importantly, ask questions, it demonstrates an interest in the company, as well as the desire to get the right job.
For Xanthopoulos, accomplishments are a must. “Oftentimes a CV lists I was here and here, or I worked on this project. But what was the result? What was the impact of the technology you developed? How did it add value to the company?
Get a Leg Up - Predict When Biotech Companies Are Hiring
Timing is important. So it’s a good idea for job seekers to use their second brains (i.e. Google) to track companies and watch for events that could mark an upcoming hiring surge.
When weight-loss drug Belviq was approved by the FDA, Arena had to add staff to ensure a successful launch.
“Prior to the approval, we never had any commercial people looking at the pipeline, the competitive space or what other people are doing,” says Audet.
A drug approval is a big event, but it’s not the only one. (See more drug approval news.)
“Cash infusions equal hiring,” says Xanthopoulos. “If a company files an IND, for example, markets react positively.” (See more IND news.)
The slow march towards the clinic offers abundant opportunities. As clinical responsibilities expand, people can no longer wear multiple hats. The company may need to fill a Chief Medical Officer or other leadership position. Then there are sales, marketing and other support roles.
Right now, candidates with wide-ranging experience, strong networks and the desirable fit are in a good position.
“There’s lots of pent up hiring,” says Xanthopoulos. “People are burning out and that makes it really challenging to meet milestones. Companies need help, right now.”
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