Biopharma Hires Expect More Than They Did Before the Pandemic

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Pictured: A man and a woman shaking hands/iStock, nathaphat

According to numbers released over the weekend, unemployment remains as low as it’s been in half a century, at 3.5%. For workers with at least a bachelor’s degree, the picture is even rosier, with a rate of just 2.0%.

And despite regular headlines about layoffs in the industry, biopharma is no exception. “Life sciences companies were hiring throughout the pandemic, and they’ve slowed a little bit since then, but it’s still been very busy,” said Joe Peters, president of the recruiting firm Scientific Search.

In this strong labor market, candidates, who became accustomed to working from home when pandemic safety measures were in effect, often won’t consider jobs that require full-time attendance in the office. “The first thing any candidates ask is, can I work from home? Or, is this a hybrid job?” Peters told BioSpace.

Jana Swenke, who leads pharmaceutical and biotechnology recruiting at Kaye/Bassman, was more blunt: “If you’re not doing remote or hybrid, you’re not in the game,” she said of employers.

That expectation is in sharp contrast to before the pandemic, when, Swenke estimated, only about 15% of companies in the sector offered hybrid working arrangements. And with biopharma offices concentrated in urban hubs such as Boston, San Francisco, San Diego and the Research Triangle, “the commutes are horrible,” she told BioSpace. “So it does create a better life balance if you can work from home.”

Other means companies are using to compete for candidates are title inflation and higher base compensation, Swenke said. Peters said he’s seen salaries increase every year since the pandemic began, including this year.

Sign-on bonuses are far more common for U.S. jobs in general than before the pandemic, according to research conducted by Indeed, and Swenke noted that this is also true of freshly minted PhDs entering the biopharma workforce. However, she noted that such bonuses were already standard for most positions in biopharma before the pandemic as a way to compensate for stock options and bonuses candidates would miss out on by leaving their current employer.

It remains to be seen how long job candidates will be able to demand these perks, as there does seem to be a looming shift toward employers regaining the upper hand in the hiring dynamic. “We’re starting to see some smaller companies starting to lay off people,” Swenke said. “They’re having a harder time raising money and raising capital.”

This appears to be the case across the board, according to Indeed, which notes that “the labor market is definitively cooling off from the red-hot levels reached a year ago.” Specifically, there are fewer new job postings going up on the site compared with a year ago, and wage growth has slowed down recently.  

Shawna Williams is a freelance science writer and editor based in New York. Reach her at shawna.williams@gmail.com

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