Up with People
Whether large or small, biopharmas tend to be more people-focused than other technology specialties, where shorter lifecycles and the need for speed in commercializing products and fixing bugs results in quicker decision-making. Since clinical trials and FDA reviews take years, Lanfear said, biopharmas need to find people with the lengthy institutional knowledge that a drug development program needs, compared with the consultants that, say, a professional services firm can deploy even in the middle of a process and expect solid contributions.
“There’s a lot of art to the science that is based as you develop therapies, and some of that is built into the people that you’ve had into the program,” Lanfear observed. “It’s difficult to bring somebody in the middle of a process that’s a scientific laboratory research and development, bring them up to speed with enough knowledge to have them contribute in a short fashion.”
Lanfear said the specialized skills biopharma seeks also yield a more specialized, situational-focused interview process, with questions like “Give me a time when…” and even, “Give me a time where you failed, or where you worked against challenges.”
What was once one or two interviews with a hiring manager or higher-ups has blossomed into a series of interviews with peers, oftentimes involving folks that support the position.
As biopharmas shed jobs, companies are also stepping up their strategic planning, narrowing to core functions the positions for which they will interview people, and leaving other jobs to contract research organizations.
For 2014, Lanfear said, “We are seeing an uptick in all of our competitive roles, [in] the roles of biostatisticians, clinical research monitors or CRAs [clinical research associates], clinical data managers, [and] leadership positions. In all cross-leadership positions of the therapy area, we are seeing a greater demand.”
Dr. Raver says the people who fill those and other biopharma positions will be those who succeed in demonstrating that they add value. And adding value, he said, cuts two ways: Candidates will have to demonstrate success both with numbers, and with people.
“It's not just about driving revenue and money, but it's also coming up with new ways to think about scientific problems, or focus on the end user—which is the customer—and how can you add value to that customer, because without the customer, there is no company,” Dr. Raver noted.
The balancing act will prove more important this year than in recent years since many biopharma companies will continue to hire while continuing to shed jobs. The restructurings announced by AstraZeneca, Merck, Novartis, Teva, and several smaller companies include additional investment (including personnel) in therapeutics areas deemed to hold the best potential for growth.
But corresponding cuts in noncore operations will intensify the scramble by jobseekers for new positions, as will the prospect of increased competition as more than half of employees want to leave their jobs this year, and as Ph.D.s look slowly but surely to job alternatives beyond the academic lab. To get the jobs they want, candidates will increasingly need to master the interview as well as they mastered the science.