10 Reasons Life Sciences Companies Fail to Attract Talent

The life sciences sector is at somewhat of a crossroads. Between 2015 and 2050 the UN estimates that the global population will grow by 2.4 billion, but no less than half of that gain – 1.2 billion – will be in the 60+ demographic. This globally ageing and growing population will result in a similarly growing life sciences market, but with relatively fewer young professionals to fill the roles. And that recipe will inevitably bake a not-so-delicious skills shortage cake.


Combine this with risk factors highlighted by top life science CEOs in this PwC report, such as changes in distribution channels and customer behaviours, pressures from the emerging markets of India and China, consolidation in the US and EU, lower profit margins, tougher regulations, and new technologies bringing in ever more competition, and it’s clear that the challenges for industry players have perhaps never been greater.


As anyone with a passing knowledge of business will tell you, employees are your most valuable asset. Attracting top talent should be any life science company’s number one priority. But with more work and fewer people to do it, the hunt for life sciences talent is becoming ever more competitive.


Why is talent choosing your competitors over you? Let’s take a look at 10 of the most common reasons why your life science company might be failing to attract talent, and what you can do about it.

Your employer brand needs work


Ask yourself: why would I want to work for me? The motivations of top talent are many and varied; they may want to work for a company that ensures a comfortable work/life balance, that offers some delicious perks like social events and away days, or that invests in its R&D department and leads the way in innovation.

How outsiders perceive the experience of working within the four walls of your organisation is encapsulated in your employer brand. This brand is built on the back of the opinions of past and present employees, who use social media and purpose built utilities like Glassdoor to rate your company as an employer.

You can take control of your employer brand by selling your company’s vision on your website, being active on review sites and interacting with reviewers, and offering up content that shows exactly what it’s like to work for your company. Inspiration can be taken from Silicon Valley tech giants like Google, who have worked to understand the motivations of their ideal hires and expertly pandered to them.


Your salaries aren’t competitive


It must be remembered that you largely aren’t in control of what you pay top talent. Rather than paying what you think they’re worth, you’re obliged to pay what the market thinks they’re worth, and the discrepancy in these figures is often large.

To attract and retain top talent it’s vital that you research salaries offered by direct competitors and companies in similar markets. But remember that it’s not solely a question of salary; competitive benefits such as bonus plans, discounts and flexible working conditions can be far more tempting than an extra couple of grand. And never underestimate the importance of work/life balance to a modern professional.


You’re being too picky


Hunting for a perfect candidate, it’s said, is like hunting for a purple squirrel. You can search for as long as you want, but you’re not going to find them. As such, compromise is key.

It’s always wiser to focus on the person over the resume. A candidate with the necessary skills and experience, but who doesn’t fit in well with your team, isn’t likely to change as a person. On the flipside, a candidate who is a good fit for your team but doesn’t bring the levels of experience that you’d hoped for can always develop their skills. The short-term pain is more than paid off with long term gain. According to the Studer Group, “A survey of 610 CEOs by Harvard Business School estimates that typical mid-level managers require 6.2 months to reach their break-even point.” that means that vast sums of money invested in a bad cultural fit could be flushed down the proverbial toilet once the incompatibility is recognised.

The key? Don’t miss out on talent by ruling out candidates through nothing more than inflexibility. See people for their potential, not their limitations.


You’re not looking at graduates


Speaking of upskilling, are you actively looking at inexperienced talent fresh from higher education? This wide-eyed group bring energy, passion, drive and new ways of thinking, as well as specific scientific skills that benefit from the latest knowledge. They are mouldable, and ask for significantly less compensation than their experienced counterparts.

To properly capitalise on graduate talent, you need to carefully consider how to reach and attract them (partnering with higher education institutions is a great strategy), and you need to offer a sturdy program of support.


You’re not looking internationally


Why restrict yourself to your own shores? The emerging talent markets of India and China are excellent sources of hardworking and skilled professionals. China produces 150,000 life science graduates within its borders annually, while many more Chinese nationals study and graduate overseas (10,000 graduate in the US every year, for example). Tapping into these talent markets could prove to be the key to ongoing success for life science companies.

Your attraction strategy has gaps in


How do you market to potential employees? While years ago options were rather limited, the internet has brought with it limitless ways to get in front of the eyes of an audience. So in your hunt for talent, are you focusing on mobile marketing? Do you utilise both national and niche channels? Does social media – in particular, LinkedIn – form part of your strategy? Have you taken the time to strengthen your recruitment partnerships, or enhance your website for better engagement?

An incomplete strategy could see the finest candidates falling through your fingers, so a modern talent attraction strategy must be both focused and multifaceted.


Your recruitment process is long


You want to do things the right way, so your recruiting process is thorough. Slow and steady wins the race, right? Wrong.

Research by Dr John O’Sullivan suggests that the top 10% of candidates are often gone from the marketplace within 10 days. When you’re vying for the affection of top talent against your direct competitors, speed is key.

Review your recruiting processes. How many stages are actually necessary? How can the process be made more efficient? Set firm expectations on how long each stage of the process should take, and be sure to factor in potential absences – a top candidate won’t wait for a manager’s two week holiday to be over.


Your training is patchy


Many companies start strong with their new employee onboarding and induction, but then fail to provide ongoing professional development. The benefits of a focus on long term training are two-fold; it can be used to develop your employer brand and position you as a preferred employer, and it also helps an employee develop skills that will push your company forward in the long term.

Employee development offers a serious ROI – according to the American Society for Training and Development, the top 25% of companies in terms of employee training programs have 218% higher income per employee and a 24% higher profit margin than the bottom 25%.


Your internal teams disagree


What sort of employee does your company need? Before you advertise and interview for an open position, consensus amongst internal stakeholders needs to be reached. If your HR team has a different idea of what the ideal candidate looks like than the department that they’re recruiting for does, the entire process could fall down at a very inconvenient time.

Get all stakeholders to sit down together at the very beginning of the process and nut out exactly what your company is looking for. This will seriously reduce the chance of issues later in the piece.


You’re not selling enough


‘Why should I choose you?’ If a top candidate is offered a position by multiple companies, this question will be front of mind. And you better have a good answer.

In the battle for the best and brightest, you need to sell yourself. Why is the opportunity you’re offering so much better than the others? It’s vital that you’ve learnt the motivations of the candidate by this time, as this knowledge will be crucial in knowing exactly what aspects of the opportunity to sell, or how to tweak the offer to make it even more enticing. Training your interviewers in selling and information gathering can help you to secure the services of top talent far more frequently.

The upcoming skills shortage in life sciences is very real. And if your company is to enjoy ongoing success, quality stocks of that most important of resources – the employee – must be attracted and retained. By refining your strategies and processes now, your life science company will be far healthier in the future.


If you are facing similar challenges or looking to recruit for the team please get in contact.


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