Recruiting for Clinical Development Professionals in the Time of COVID19 and Beyond

by Dani Gavson

While we are all hunkering down and working from home juggling the needs of our families and our jobs, our best and brightest continue to put their talents to work to advance the cause of life sciences – bringing new diagnostics, vaccines and drugs to patients.  We have been experiencing a shortage of experienced personnel in life sciences for more than just a few years, which is in fact further exacerbated by the worldwide COVID19 crisis, in spite of high unemployment across other fields. The life science industry remains HOT, has seen unprecedented investment since 2018, and requires highly specialized skillsets.  Given that dynamic, attracting and retaining the best people is challenging.

With this in mind, things continue to move forward in clinical development and the shortage of well qualified candidates is not going to get any better in the foreseeable future, compounded by the COVID-19 situation and impacts.  Fear of the unknown and the current concerns around the economic impact could very well have potential candidates even more reluctant to consider career changes at this time and that is what will make the hiring of qualified and experienced talent even more challenging than ever before.

Within the clinical space, Physicians and Regulatory professionals have traditionally been the hardest to hire.  Besides the skills shortage, the average lead time for Physician and / or Regulatory search  is generally much longer than other searches.

So, how can you as a Hiring Manager begin to address this challenge and what are these candidates thinking? As an executive  search consultant focused solely on the life sciences industry for the past 18 of my 30 years of recruiting experience, I know and understand firsthand the challenges of filling key clinical roles at every level, whether it be a Medical Director, Senior Medical Director, Executive Director, VP or Chief Medical Officer.

First of all, it’s important to really understand what drives candidates.  This is a  group of candidates which seem to be more risk averse (which may be a good thing when they are developing drugs), they travel extensively (which makes them difficult to reach) and with the constant barrage of outreach on a daily basis, they tend to respond better to “trusted, valued advisors”, so  RELATIONSHIPS MATTER, which I’m sure will resonate well with you in your role as a Hiring Manager.  Yes, hiring the best people is all about relationships!

Having worked in both contingency and retained search, I have an appreciation for both sides and I can honestly say that any advantage (perceived or otherwise) that you or your company might have, can be supported and enhanced by developing a relationship in parallel with and leveraging  an industry-specific retained search firm to fill these hard-to-hire openings.

Just a few of the distinct advantages of a Retained Search firm specialized to MD and Regulatory talent include:

  • Targeted approach – we work exclusively as an “extension of you” and take the time to understand exactly who you are, what you are working to achieve and what it is you need –with executive level understanding and big picture thinking.
  • Efficient Process with Landscape View: We can add value in real time because we are constantly talking to companies and candidates in the marketplace and have our ear to the ground and our finger on the pulse. Last year’s salary surveys are just that – so last year!
  • Broad, Diverse Network & Relationships: Our specialist recruiters have long standing and ongoing relationships  with a huge pool of age-, gender- and ethnically diverse candidates – not just when we’re working on a particular search. We are experts with solid networks who really know the candidate pool and how to leverage those networks successfully.
  • Committed Timelines: We will keep our promise to deliver a qualified slate of candidates based upon pre-committed timelines. Contingency firms will not be specific around delivery timelines.  We will schedule weekly candidate review meetings and keep things moving seamlessly for you, so that you can relax and focus on doing your job with confidence.
  • Expert Guidance: We refine this even further by working with you to develop a realistic and attractive position profile and offering real world guidance to you and your team before we even start working on the role.  It’s a useful exercise which sometimes brings unexpected results when it brings to the table an “outsider perspective” rather than only the “internal group think” which can skew or even derail optimal decision making.
  • Better Candidate Analysis Tools: Our data analytics tools offer additional benefits which include the ability to assess and compare a diverse slate of candidates each on their own merits and fit to the role, as well as cultural fit with two-way feedback from your entire interview team (it’s all included in our comprehensive search process).
  • Dedicated, Experienced Research: We conduct our own research and have specialist recruiters serve on the appropriate search teams, which effectively means you get to work with our in-house subject matter experts to get to a positive outcome much sooner, provided you, as the Hiring Manager act fast!
  • Enhanced Candidate Impression & Response: Candidates tend to respond better to retained search professionals because they understand that it’s a “real search” and that they can really talk to us about their future as a whole. Additionally, we have intimate and close relationships with the hiring manager and his/her team, so candidates won’t get “lost in the crowd” or even worse, lost in cyberspace. Furthermore, as trusted advisors, we hold ourselves very accountable to our candidates which solidifies those relationships even further.

That all said, we need to work together with our clients for mutual success.  How can you as a Hiring Manager assist us in making YOU look great?

With candidates (somewhat) in control, it’s imperative that hiring managers make their companies attractive and that biotech leadership teams position themselves for success by preparing ahead.

Here are some great ways to get started:

  1. Start succession planning now and be proactive about planning ahead. This current scenario will ultimately be resolved, and your company will still need great talent.  Be proactive.  Be proactive. Be proactive.
  2. Re-evaluate your corporate culture
  3. Think outside of the box when it comes to:
    1. remote work or commuting (this has ALWAYS been important but is especially top of mind at the moment and the current COVID-19 challenges we are all working under WILL PROVE working remotely can be highly effective!)
    2. Benefits

Why?  Because – you really need to be able to stand out from the crowd in the eyes of the talent you seek, and we can help you tell that story to the audience you seek to engage.

And then, when you launch your search, be sure that you keep things moving along, avoid delays and ACT FAST to make sure that you land the best talent for your team!