How to Identify a Quality Life Sciences Candidate

Quality Life Science Candidate

Does your organization know how to spot high-caliber candidates for open positions?

There are many different opinions regarding what makes one jobseeker a better fit for a company than others. In general, it’s best if human resources departments and other hiring managers and decision makers are all on the same page while evaluating job candidates. If everyone is using the same criteria, it’s easier for companies to compare candidates and discuss any questions or concerns.

Recently, BioSpace conducted a business community survey consisting of U.S. organizations of various sizes and industries. The highest-rated attributes in life sciences candidates were recognized, and we discussed some of the results with two industry experts, Yaffa Grace of Yaffa Grace & Co. and Leslie Loveless with Slone Partners. Here are some criteria used to identify the highest-quality life sciences candidates and some insight on how you can pick the cream of the crop for your organization.

1. They Have Relevant Work Experience.

91% of survey respondents selected having relevant work experience as being significant for candidates. What’s interesting is that work experience was prioritized over holding advanced degrees (24%) and having attended a highly recognized educational institute (8%). Yaffa Grace adds:

 “In the commercial sector, we are seeing more and more that senior leadership and hiring managers are most interested in the direct relevant experience that will move the business forward the fastest, especially with an emerging treatment or product.”

It’s obvious that candidates who have worked for your competitors have relevant work experience, but thinking outside the box to consider applicants with transferable skills from different industries can also be beneficial. Your goal is to find out about their background and decide how impactful it would be in your organization. A sample question you might ask is:

⊗  How does your background contribute to performing the responsibilities for this position and achieving the outlined goals?

2. They Utilize Strong Communication Skills.

You can start to get a feel for a candidate’s communication style from their resume, and you have the opportunity to obtain even more information during an interview. 65% of survey participants indicated that “demonstrate strong communication skills” was necessary. According to Leslie Loveless:

“Strong communicators rise to the top in these vocations as they possess the necessary skill sets to effectively articulate and activate their ideas – both internally and externally.”

Quality candidates will have examples of when they were able to collaborate with others to reach success. Listen for those types of accomplishments in conversation. You might ask:

⊗  Tell me about a time in your career when you had to work with someone on a project and their style was very different than yours. How did you handle it?

3. They Demonstrate Their Leadership Skills (or Potential).

It’s easy to think of leadership skills as only being applicable to managers and executives, but in fact, anyone can be a leader. A leader is someone who inspires positive change and motivates others. Even if a position doesn’t include the responsibility of managing direct reports, strong leadership skills or the potential to be a leader is important. Has the candidate in question led special projects or cross-functional teams? 39% of decision makers who took the survey selected, “demonstrate leadership experience or the potential to be a leader” as important for quality candidates. Loveless notes:

“There is no doubt that companies are looking for capable, flexible, and inspiring leaders who possess the necessary skill sets to bring an organization to the next level of commercial success.”

Some questions you could ask a candidate are:

⊗  What is your definition of a leader?

⊗  What is your leadership style?


The BioSpace business community survey results were surprising in that many employers didn’t value holding an advanced degree or attending highly-recognized universities as favorably as other factors. Yaffa Grace notes:

“The market is shrinking in terms of access to decision makers both in tighter managed care and health systems, so there is no surprise to see direct relevant experience trumping all other parameters. However, my guess would be that they are assuming a minimum of a BA degree.”


The top three criteria used for identifying quality candidates are:

•   having relevant work experience

•   demonstrating strong communication skills

•   demonstrating leadership experience (or the potential to be a leader). 

What questions can you ask to help assess if you’re speaking with a high-caliber applicant?


Porschia Parker is a Certified Coach, Professional Resume Writer, and Founder of Fly High Coaching. She empowers ambitious professionals and motivated executives to add $10K on average to their salaries.

Yaffa Grace is the founder of Yaffa Grace & Co, a Biotech and Pharma recruitment and career strategy firm that works with companies and candidates to match talent with opportunity. She's a career strategist and talent acquisition specialist with a 20+year proven track record.

Leslie Loveless is CEO of Slone Partners founded in 2000. Slone Partners is North America’s leading life sciences and diagnostics executive search firm.

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