Hiring challenges in the life sciences industry

According to PwC’s recent survey, 60% of life sciences CEOs are very concerned about a digital talent shortage and 57% find it very hard to attract the right calibre of people.

Biopharma and life sciences companies are not just searching the same talent pool as other industry sectors for general digital talent, but are now also facing competition from technology companies for specialist sector talent, such as computational biologists and bioinformaticians.

We spoke to a Chief Operational Officer at a start-up biotechnology company to find out about their hiring processes and what they look for in talent to support the development of advanced medicines.

Are you willing to take risks on less experienced candidates who are passionate about innovation?

That very much depends on the role. Some roles, you simply can’t afford to take the risk, or invest the time to train people up – particularly in specialist areas. In other roles – it makes perfect sense to hire for potential and passion.

When you are hiring new talent to assist with the development of advanced medicines, do you find the standard interview process to be valuable or out-dated?

Interesting question. I am very conscious of the bias in interviews, where people tend to hire in their own image – which ultimately produces a far less capable team when you are trying to solve very complex problems.

In the context of UK university spin-out start-ups, we are always attempting to solve those sorts of questions, and very quickly. People who are resilient, problem-solvers, who are comfortable with ambiguity and can work outside their comfort zone are what those sorts of start-ups need. Those are difficult attributes to assess in a standard interview.

How important do you think it is for people to truly buy-in to what you are doing and what your ethics are?

I think this is really a question about engagement? Attempting to assess if ‘someone truly buys into what you are doing’ sounds more like self-confirmation bias in the hiring process? I think what you want is employee engagement, which itself is a function of (i) alignment between the employee’s needs (doing mostly the things they enjoy doing, financial, developmental, etc.) and that of the business and (ii) their sense of involvement.

I think it is more important to relentlessly develop people. I actually don’t care if they ultimately leave the business, so long as when they get to the end of their careers – they look back and think ‘that was a worthwhile experience/I learnt a lot that helped me later on.’ I don’t particularly want people who drink whatever the product in developments ‘cool aid’ is – as that slows down organisational learning.

Do you find it’s a risk hiring experienced candidates who may bring more traditional modes of thinking into what needs to be an innovative environment?

It depends on the role. In life sciences, it is definitely not innovation at any cost – or very bad things can happen. Experience of ‘what good looks like’ is actually very helpful, particularly in certain areas.

As long as they are hungry to learn, and focused on ‘getting the job done – not getting their job done’ – I don’t see risks.

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