Recruit or Retain?

Published: May 24, 2011

Recruit or Retain?
By Iain Jessup, Director, UK and Ireland, i3 Pharma Resourcing

Practical Tips on How to Recruit and Keep Good Staff

In today’s economic climate everyone wants clinical research staff who can hit the ground running. The pharmaceutical industry, contract research organisations and recruitment companies, under increasing pressure to reduce costs, have become less proactive in providing training for new entrants, which means current demand for junior, relatively inexperienced people is now almost nonexistent. Companies must therefore work more diligently to retain the talent they have.

Until recently there was an acute imbalance between supply and demand that created a “seller’s market”, where the desperate scrambled to snap up any available expertise, fuelling a self-defeating spiral of wage inflation. At the same time, commercial pressure to reduce non-billable staff time led most pharma companies to cut their training programmes. This has now changed, however, with company mergers, layoffs and site closures resulting in a greater number of experienced candidates looking for employment, and even some freelance contractors seeking headcount positions. Yet the need for speed and urgency when recruiting has not diminished.

Recruiting in today’s environment means companies need to challenge traditional ways of working and be more creative and innovative in attracting and retaining talent. It is important to be seen as the employer of choice, and to give candidates a motivational interview with clear emphasis on product pipeline and future opportunities. A good reputation, both of the company and of existing employees, is key, and in particular when recruiting more experienced staff. Even if a potential candidate is not suitable for a particular role they should leave with a good feeling about the company, while it is to the benefit of the company to keep in touch with them for future roles.

In order to plan an effective recruitment strategy there are a few basic questions a recruiter will need to ask:

• Why did I join this company and do I still feel the same as when I was a new employee?

• Am I receiving career development and progression?

• Does the in-house procurement group (assuming you have one) provide value and potential talent?

• Cost of hire is important, but are candidates treated as people, or just part of the recruitment machine?

What is our employer branding? Is it clear and positive?

* How is the company viewed by candidates in the marketplace?

* If working in a global environment, how easy is it for us not only to provide career opportunities for our own staff to work in other countries, but to welcome those from other regions?

If a recruiter cannot answer these questions, then they seriously need to consider them before selling their company at interview.

The introduction of procurement groups in Europe, following the US trend, has principally focused on reducing prices and adding value and has done little to increase quality or develop the talent pool. Many companies do their own recruitment using in-house teams of HR and head-hunters with limited scientific backgrounds and a great understanding of the industry, working closely with hiring managers to understand required skills and team fit. Others either outsource the function or work with a small list of preferred suppliers who manage their resourcing.

If using the latter route it is important to make sure the recruitment partner has a good understanding of the market sector and business goals in order to ensure they select appropriate candidates who are not chosen on price alone. Ideally, the external recruiter should have established best practice standards, solid and proven industry relationships and be well networked with a reliable reputation and a wealth of experience. It is also important for the hiring manager to be actively involved in the selection process since they will be the one having to manage the new candidate. They will need to build a relationship with the recruiter so the latter represents the company correctly, and the manager understands how the recruiter will manage the recruitment process. And of course both parties need to agree communication channels and timings.

Hanging on to talent

But recruitment is only part of the jigsaw: loss of talent can become a gaping hole in any company’s workforce objectives. To retain employees it is important to do more than pay them; a firm will need to understand what they want from a company/role. Career development opportunities need to be available together with mentoring and leadership roles. Not every company is structured to facilitate this and indeed, when wanting work completed, this additional responsibility may actually take someone away from the job in hand.

Nevertheless, to increase retention it is important to treat employees like candidates, and the following tools may help:

* Establish a published career ladder with more frequent steps and small salary increases at the start of a career

* Re-emphasise employer and employee branding

* Understand what employees want both in terms of remuneration and career development by asking them on a regular basis

* Benchmark pay and benefits against major competitors

* Offer mentoring opportunities to more senior staff

* Link performance management to rewards and recognition

* Introduce greater flexibility to assist those with children, carers, etc, by having employees regionally based or working part time but still developing their career

* Involve high performers in stretching projects, broadening their career options

* Ensure the brightest and best receive the investment they deserve.

Not all of these are compatible or possible in every company, and may need to be adapted to resourcing requirements, but it is important to offer a structured=system of career counselling and career development at all stages of employment.

Essentially, if a company is to be perceived as an employer of choice, candidates will need to see that:

* We deal with candidates and employees as people who have choice

* We are aware of the options our employees have

* We motivate, develop, reward and recognise employees to help reduce attrition

* We provide attractive alternatives for all employees

* We are structured to allow for the most effective attraction and development of talent

* We have the right recruitment partners

The following comments are from a recent employee satisfaction survey and indicate what is important to them:

* …I know my manager is always available if needed and provides independent support and advice, which is great

* Good relationships, good communication and followup. Also great with flexibility

* …X is extremely professional, helpful and trustworthy and the fairest manager I have ever dealt with

* I feel confident and comfortable about seeking advice from my manager no matter what the issue may be. I also feel I am valued and not just a “bottom on a seat”

* My manager is very good at taking on board any comments and trying to see if something can be done to address the issue

* My manager always does what she says she will and… responds very quickly.

As the industry evolves it will continue to require highly competent and qualified staff and the introduction of new technologies is unlikely to reduce this need. People are not a commodity: treat them as such and you get the results you deserve. Treat them well and their loyalty pays dividends.

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