Boyden's Chantal Hevey discusses the top recruitment issues in the biotech industry and how companies can address them.

By Chantal Hevey
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Regardless of the industry, recruiting executives is a delicate task that requires an investment (in time, energy and money) equivalent to the stakes at play. Every sector faces its own challenges. However, several factors are making the hiring process increasingly difficult for biotech companies.

Having focused my practice as an executive search professional in the life sciences and biotech industries, I have observed three major recruitment issues and identified ways to address them.

1. Asia’s Competitive Edge

Once upon a time, pharma and biotech industries were developing mostly in Europe and North America. Large companies had created a hub in the United States where venture capitalists concentrated their investments. This is no longer the case. Along with its economic growth, China has developed a capacity for innovation that has been drawing both local and foreign investors’ attention and interest. Hong Kong and Shanghai in particular are growing rapidly on that front and disrupting traditional funding schemes.

As life sciences are being shaken up by incoming players and technologies, the repercussions are also impacting the recruiting process. With more and more executives taking on positions in Asia, Western companies may find it increasingly difficult to remain competitive in a global market.

2. Excellence Comes at a Price

Smaller biotech companies looking to grow will seek to recruit top candidates with experience in larger firms. Meeting compensation demands quickly poses an issue.

Because part of the executives’ remuneration is paid in stock options, joining a successful startup at the right time can prove extremely lucrative and engender bonuses superior to those available in well-established companies. However, since the base salary is usually much lower, some candidates prefer to play it safe and will decline an offer that does not meet their expectations.

3. A Demand for Specialized Executives

A biotech company’s activities are highly specialized, as are the work functions within it. For that reason, new executives cannot simply be poached from other industries or sectors. They must already possess an in-depth knowledge of the recruiting company’s specific field. As the life sciences and biotech industries continuously expand, so does the need for specialized executives, increasing pressure on an already limited pool of candidates.

What’s Next: Changing the mindset

Although the recruitment issues they face are out of their control, biotech companies have several tools at their disposal to attract and retain talented executives. Competing with large pharmaceutical companies to offer the best salaries may not be an option for smaller startups, but other components can be added to the package. Creativity is key in these environments; it then should be used to think outside the money-box and offer appealing alternatives to candidates.

Likewise, Asia may have become a strong competitor on the financing front, but North America’s workplaces can boast thriving corporate cultures. Elevating the employer branding can do a lot in terms of solving recruitment issues. Several executives who decide to leave well-established firms to join business ventures do so because they believe in the company’s mission and vision and share its values. Making them known is crucial to attract like-minded individuals who will significantly contribute to the company’s future.

Lastly, an extensive network is key to finding specialized executives. Working with a trusted advisor guarantees access to the best talent while filtering out the rest.

Life sciences and biotech companies have a bright future ahead of them. All they need are the right people to make their vision come alive.

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