How to Find Your Next Pharma Exec

Here are five steps that will have your best candidate answering your offer with “Yes”

By Nancy Kovach, Life Sciences Practice Leader at Salveson Stetson Group

Finding a senior-level executive who meets your organization’s needs and culture is a challenge for every industry, and life sciences is no exception.

Identifying the right person to fill an executive post means conducting a global search for talented individuals, in an effort to find the one who possesses the specific skills, experience and industry knowledge to lead, while bringing a working style that will mesh well with one’s organization. The executives who fit the bill are almost always passive candidates — those not necessarily looking for, or interested in changing jobs — all of which makes the recruiting process all the more challenging.

Of course, recruiting a qualified executive becomes easier if the company that is doing the searching is highly admired in the industry. In a recent survey, 220 employees in the pharma sector said Johnson & Johnson and Novartis topped their wish-lists as the two “Big Pharma” companies they’d most like to work for; Biogen Idec ranked highly among mid-sized pharma employers.

But if you’re not a J&J, Novartis or Biogen Idec, how do you increase your chances of finding the best talent for critical senior-level roles? Here are five executive search tips for hiring managers within pharma:

1. Have a clear picture of the ideal candidate. What exactly is your company looking for in a candidate? Answering this question usually starts with a detailed list of the pharmaceutical expertise and education credentials the position requires. Determine how much managerial and industry experience the candidate must have. Are you open to considering candidates who may look different from an educational or experience standpoint? Note what could affect the position in the near future.

Next, identify short-term goals for the position and seek to articulate long-term possibilities. Finally, do not overlook the importance of location. Does the candidate have to relocate? Could the role be performed from a remote or alternate location? All of these factors should be considered when drafting the position’s description.

2. Develop targets. Now that you have a clear idea of what type of candidate you’re seeking, ask yourself what type of organization this individual is most likely working in today. For starters, consider other pharmaceutical companies. The best candidate might be working for a competitor. But also consider local employers that might be in a different industry but that have products or technologies that are similar to those offered by the prospective company. Be open to the possibility that the best candidate may be working in academia.

3. Mine your network. Use your company’s network to see whether there is a connection to a pharmaceutical executive who might fit the position. Once you find someone in a similar role, reach out to explore his or her opinions toward the hiring company and the position at hand. While you have this person’s attention, find out more about his or her background; this information can help refine what one should and should not be looking for among the all the candidates you bring in.

4. Explore outside your network. Some of the strongest candidates will be those whom you likely don’t know… yet. Search LinkedIn for pharma leaders who actively use the site and those who have updated their profiles. Check appropriate professional associations — PhRMA, for example — to see if the potential candidate is visible. Recent conference speakers and publication contributors are also a good place to find leads. Lastly, cast a wider net by advertising on relevant websites and posting the opening on job search sites while communicating through social media and other channels. The goal is to reach out to every potential target to market the opportunity.

5. Engage with interested candidates. Begin by obtaining resumes from those who express interest in the role. Develop clear messaging that will compel someone to seriously consider joining your team. Get to know each candidate so that you can assess their skills with the positional requirements. Additionally, building a strong rapport with candidates will help them feel comfortable sharing any concerns they may have. Finally, resolve or address any challenges — such as employee grade, title, compensation or relocation — early on in the process, so that when an offer is extended, it’s easier for the candidate to say YES.

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