Pharma Jobs 2011: Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Ego

There’s still not enough evidence for full-fledged optimism, says a leading recruiter.

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By Paul Thomas, Senior Editor

It would be nice to say that pharma companies will be hiring in 2011, but we just don’t know that yet, says Amanda DeSalvatore, Project Manager with Avant Executive Solutions. DeSalvatore specializes in recruiting personnel in drug safety/pharmacovigilance, regulatory affairs, and quality, particularly in biopharma, and we spoke with her about what’s ahead in the job market.

PhM: Are you optimistic that pharma and biopharma firms are going to be hiring in 2011?

A.D.: It’s difficult to generalize. It’s so company-specific. With small and mid-sized companies, everything is riding on their clinical trials. If they’re doing well, they’re definitely hiring. As far as bigger companies go, hiring and firing is dependent on mergers and acquisitions, as well as successful products. Abbott, for example, was recently hiring 50 regulatory affairs professionals because it is undergoing a restructuring [related to the Solvay merger].

PhM: What are you telling industry professionals looking for work, then?

A.D.: The key is to be flexible. A lot of times you have to be willing to move across the country, or even out of the country. And you have to be flexible with your job title. A lot of VP’s are taking director-level jobs to stay in the area that they like, for instance. I’ve seen a lot of lateral moves and downward shifts . . . but good candidates are still getting jobs. Also, you have to be willing to work hard—say, to possibly put in 80 hours a week. Egos have to go by the wayside. If there are big egos, they are the first to go.

PhM: More than in previous years, our readers are telling us that the most important factor for satisfaction is to have challenging work, with salary a distant secondary consideration. Does this surprise you?

A.D.: I see that consistently over and over again. Even some VP’s are stepping down in salary—taking more than $100,000 less—to get the responsibilities they want. A lot of people don’t want to accept less, but people who are really looking for a good, challenging job are willing to. As a recruiting firm, we tend to rule out people who are inflexible and unwilling to take a pay cut. They’re just hard to place.

PhM: Are you seeing a hiring uptick in any specific fields or areas?

A.D.: The areas trending upwards tend to be very specialized roles—for example, if you have excellent manufacturing project management experience with supply chain skills, and, say, some experience in vaccines. Companies are really focusing their searches so they can get what they need. They’re looking for the exact set of skills that they need, rather than someone with general skills who might grow into a position.

PhM: You mention 80 hours a week. That’s not unheard of, of course. Aren’t manufacturers worried about burning employees out?

A.D.: Yes. A couple of our clients have been working people hard, and are finally beginning to hire support staff. People are coming to us because they’re overworked, and looking to move to different companies.

PhM: So you’re optimistic that, in 2011, the pendulum will start to swing back in favor of employees?

A.D.: No. I don’t have the data that says that. I got a call from a client the other day who is laying off its entire regulatory staff. So I’d love to say that companies are going to hire in 2011, but I can’t.

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