Pharma Jobs: Could 2011 Be the Year of the Hire?

In our February issue, we’ll share results of our annual job satisfaction and salary survey. Thanks so much to the hundreds of you who have already participated. (There’s still time if you haven’t—click here.) The early returns are showing that you are, more than ever, feeling overworked, underappreciated, and burned out. We’ll dive into the data and broader issues next month (in print and on

In the meantime, I’ve been speaking with many experts and readers alike who are hoping that 2011 treats the pharma worker better than the past few years have.

“I think the pendulum has to swing back into workers’ favor,” says Megan Driscoll, president of Pharmalogics Recruiting. In the past few years, she says, plenty of jobs were taken away but few were replaced. “People were therefore working two or sometimes three different roles with no increase in pay. . . . they can do that for six months, for a year, but they can not do that continuously. As the market gets better and companies start to rehire, you’ll see those positions start to be filled, and you’ll see that responsibility start to shift back. If it doesn’t happen, you’ll see those companies start to lose employees if they don’t change.”

“We’re at a turning point here,” she adds. “Up until now, companies didn’t ultimately care where employees were going to go because there weren’t any jobs. As we see these jobs coming back in a significant way, people are going to have a choice, and they are going to accept a position that isn’t going to require that they do three people’s jobs.”

Most of the new jobs that Driscoll is seeing are in biopharma, especially in downstream manufacturing. Pharma will lag biotech, Driscoll says, but the hiring should begin in earnest towards the end of the year.

Others aren’t as optimistic: "I’d love to say that companies are going to hire in 2011, but I can’t,” says Amanda DeSalvatore, Project Manager with Avant Executive Solutions. “We just don’t have that data yet.” DeSalvatore specializes in recruiting personnel in drug safety/pharmacovigilance, regulatory affairs, and quality, particularly in biopharma.

Hiring in 2011 will be company-specific, DeSalvatore says. “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, recently hired 50 regulatory affairs professionals because it is undergoing a restructuring [related to the Solvay merger].

What is DeSalvatore telling pharma and biopharma professionals? “The key is to be flexible,” she says. “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, she adds, “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.” Or the last to be hired.

More to come from this year’s job and salary survey in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here's a look at last year's numbers and commentary.

--Paul Thomas

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