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The Top 5 Golden Opportunities for Pharma Recruitment


Pharma companies must revise their recruitment strategies in the wake of a skills shortage.

Tanya Derrick

Tanya Derrick

Pharma employers can gain competitive advantage by attracting and securing the services of top talent, ever more aware of its marketability in a candidate-led recruitment ecosystem.

Cielo recently surveyed senior talent acquisition experts at leading pharma organizations. Over half felt that skills shortages would be a significant challenge in the future, and the pharmaceutical industry’s acute skills shortage is predicted to get worse.

Companies urgently need to revise and improve their recruitment strategies to prosper, both now and in the future. Many could be doing much more to tackle the problem. Here are five main areas where they can effect change:

Top-down and bottom-up communication

It can be challenging for organizations to maintain the relevant and most current internal knowledge and behaviors required to recruit and retain high-caliber candidates. Education is needed for behavioral changes among hiring managers throughout the business—both from the top down and the bottom up.

Top-down instruction includes sharing macro trends with board members and recruitment leaders so they know what major shifts will direct the company and the pharma ecosystem long-term. Knowing these will inform what skills, attitudes, and behaviors are needed, creating profiles of candidates who best match requirements.

Recruitment should be in any company’s five-year plan, and businesses value those who administer it.

Bottom-up communication of recruitment’s value is vital, so the process operates and produces job offers to the right individuals more efficiently at every level. Everybody should understand that there is no time to wait for five suitable applicants anymore; two is now normal.

Leverage your company’s purpose

While pharma’s importance was underlined during the pandemic, the sector is still attracting roughly 20% fewer job applications than it did pre-COVID-19. Reasons include people evaluating their lives and pursuing self-employment, travel, and better work/life balance. Many are opting for earlier retirements than planned before the pandemic.

Pharma companies must tap into early talent more, applying new positive reputations to attract strong junior players—then retain them for career-spanning roles to build resilience. Competition is increasing for long-term hires.

Again, employer brand and digital reputation audits are vital, as well as competitor analysis. Promote your company’s purpose tirelessly—internally and externally. A recruitment process outsourcer (RPO) may be useful for objective guidance and positioning on reputation. They can also examine, provide feedback on, and reimagine the candidate experience.

Streamline the offer process

A more agile, rapid, and seamless offer process is crucial to increasing applicants and putting you in front of the best players available. Most companies have far too many interviews. As well as causing needless delays, these waste senior-level employees’ time.

Panel interviews can slash the two- to three-week lag. Bear in mind that efficiencies and time savings will also present the organization as well-managed to candidates, making it an aspirational destination of choice for top talent.

Improve your candidate experience

In this volatile, candidate-led recruitment market, the candidate experience has never been more important. So many companies are still getting it wrong, that those who do it well will garner immense reputational value among those they want to attract and keep, as well as boost their consumer brand. For example, candidate ghosting is very common in pharma currently, with many accepting higher offers at the 11th hour. These dropouts often didn’t enjoy a personalized experience during their hiring process, so they are simply giving back the same respect.

Oftentimes, automation software can be deployed in the wrong places. In general, processes that are critical to streamlining operations benefit from automation, whereas customer-facing ones tend not to. For example, initial searching and sourcing can be greatly boosted by it, but automated outreach always loses out to a personalized, tailored approach. It’s about balance—using digital only where it creates value and understanding where the human experience is required.

Improve your workforce planning

As effective recruitment and retention are paramount, organizations must undertake workforce planning more frequently than the customary “once a year,” and with more drivers than simply budget and headcount.

Audit the skills you have, identify those missing from your workforce, then decide if and when you will need the absent ones. Establish recruitment schedules that allow you to identify, enlist, and onboard appropriate candidates in a timely manner. Examine your own organization for likely appointees, too. Focusing on your internal talent marketplace is not only key for retention, but it has a real impact on tenure and employee engagement. Looking at the need 12 months ahead on a rolling basis will give your recruiters time to focus on critical skills gaps, proactive talent pooling, and investment in internal “rising star” programs.

It's also important to watch market, population, and consumer trends—all key indicators for the outlook of your company’s and the sector’s skills planning. Pharma is heavily dependent on manufacturing, and more operators are exploring the gig economy to build work-based flexibility.

Finally, taking a good story to market is key to combatting dwindling candidate pools. As discussed earlier, an effective executive vice president backed by a robust diversity, equity, and inclusion offering will attract top talent.

About the author

Tanya Derrick is vice president of client services EMEA at Cielo.

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