How the Pandemic Shifted the Rules of Recruiting
Pictured: A moving truck parked in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood/iStock, James Rice
Even as institutional COVID-19 precautions have largely become a thing of the past, remote work is reshaping many of the underlying principles that recruiters have relied on in the past while seeking talent for jobs in biotech and biopharma. According to several recruiters, the pandemic introduced a forced social experiment of sorts, one that continues to change what employees look for in a job. That includes where—and whether—they’re willing to move for a new opportunity.
“I divide the universe into pre-COVID and post-COVID,” said Steven Raz, the co-founder and CEO of Cornerstone Search Group, a life sciences recruitment company based in New Jersey. “Prior to COVID-19, we had a more traditional workforce, but now we’re seeing increased competition across the country” as employees prioritize remote work from homes outside of major metropolitan areas. Relocation budgets at many companies have shrunk, he said, and recruiters are relying less on local talent. Suddenly, the pool of potential applicants includes national, and even international, candidates.
Several recruiters who spoke to BioSpace said it has traditionally been more challenging to draw people from eastern cities such as Boston, Cambridge or New York out west than it is to get West Coasters to move east. Potential candidates give various reasons for this: states along the East Coast are closer together, making it easier to visit family; there are more potential jobs in the region if the first one doesn’t work out; or that international companies are more interested in hiring on the East Coast because the time zones are more compatible.
Much of this is still true, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the most common reason clients give for not wanting to move: the exorbitant price tags pegged to cities such as San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. While the median house price in Boston and Cambridge sits at just under $1 million, in San Francisco, an average home now tops $1.3 million, and the overall cost of living—a more comprehensive metric that includes the prices of necessities such as transportation, healthcare and groceries—is 76 percent higher than the national average.
But Sabrina Deltoro, the founder and principal recruiting director at Delson Talent Consulting, a San Francisco–based recruiting company that works with early- and mid-stage biotech startups, rejects the idea that getting people to resettle in the Bay Area is a hard sell, even as she acknowledges that the move can come with “big sticker shock” for those living in other parts of the country. “In order to get someone to consider moving to California, we definitely have to push the lifestyle aspects—good schools, great weather, the entrepreneurial spirit,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has changed the calculus underlying what people look for in a job. As the pandemic eased, many workers advocated for retaining their hybrid or fully-remote arrangements, and some companies assented. According to a recent report, the percentage of people working from home is roughly six times higher than in 2019, and some economists have posited that the pandemic sparked the greatest change to the labor market since World War II.
This shift is being led by a younger generation of workers bucking a longstanding trend in which people were assumed to be more willing to undergo big moves early in their careers while established employees tended to remain in place. Today, 39 percent of full-time employees between the ages of 24 and 35 are working remotely, often from a relatively affordable location. “They’re willing to work from anywhere, but maybe not relocate to anywhere for the company,” Raz said.
Siena Buccigrossi, the national recruiting director at Surf Search, sees this reality reflected in the list of up-and-coming cities drawing biotech and biopharma investment. “I would say the landscape of attractive places to live that have good career opportunities is definitely changing and growing,” she said, pointing to cities such as Dallas, Houston, Denver and Salt Lake City, which have all experienced rapid growth over the last decade. “I see the biotech and biopharma presence in those places growing, and it’s becoming easier to relocate people.”
How these changes in the recruitment market will ultimately play out is still very much a mystery. Even as some companies are allowing remote work, others are now asking people to return to the office based on arguments that remote work has led to the death of serendipity and innovation, even as others praise its effects on productivity and employee wellbeing. “This is definitely a story that’s not over,” Raz said. “Every company is trying to figure out what the right solution is to make the employees and the business happy, and it’s going to continue to evolve.”