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  • Kevin Maguire

Recruiting Through the Pandemic

Over our 20 years of recruiting, we have seen many changes to recruiting in the Life Sciences industry, but none so disruptive as when the Covid-19 pandemic started. We have learned a tremendous amount about recruiting and developed best practices for both hiring managers and job seekers to apply during these difficult times.

At the beginning of 2020 it was full steam ahead for MMGI. Then, March 12th hit. It was clear that Covid was no longer an issue on a distant shore, we were now facing lockdown in Canada. Within 2 days all the mandates we were working on were put on hold and within the week they were cancelled. What was so shocking was the abrupt halt to companies’ intent to fill mission critical positions. As these changes were swift it felt like it was going to be long-term.

The Pandemic Effect on Recruiting

In fact, recruiting resumed pretty quickly. In the beginning days of the lockdown, it was quiet. We stayed busy working on a few business initiatives that there never seemed to be time for and offered free recruitment services for projects related to Covid-19 research. As well, we stepped up reaching out to colleagues, clients and friends to stay in touch since we were already starting to feel isolated.

It became clear that our clients were ready to resume recruiting and engaged with us because they were having difficulty gaining access to talented candidates for their mandates. We began working on searches where job posts were in all the logical places: their website, LinkedIn, Indeed and other job boards. Job descriptions were well written. They weren’t getting access to the talent they had hoped to attract, talent that they deserved based on what they have to offer. Once we were called in, we worked together strategically targeting the exact talent that they were looking for and found the market to be very different compared to just a few weeks before.

The Pandemic Effect on Candidate’s Mindset

It is clear that the pandemic has affected how candidates behave, toilet paper hoarding aside. The candidate mindset has changed and along with these changes come obstacles to a successful hire. We have found that external or internal recruiters can help navigate these obstacles and continue to find the best talent available for your mandates:

Risk-Adverse Candidates

First, there were, and still are, candidates who are feeling risk adverse during this difficult time. On every mandate, we work to discover a candidate’s “criteria for change” before we discuss the mandate on hand. This is so we qualify the candidate for the role, not the other way around. This ensures that we are working with candidates with all the right motivations and not a candidate eager to wave a job offer in front of their line-manager angling for a raise. Understanding what a candidate is thinking before presenting a mandate is critical to recruiting success.

It became clear early on that many candidates just weren’t prepared to take the risk of starting a new job during Covid, no matter what potential reward. I do understand this fear. But I also know that Fortis Fortuna Adiudat: Fortune Favors the Bold. We have seen this first-hand as we have and continue to help candidates land the exact position that they are envisioning. As a candidate, if you have a specific career move in mind or a “criteria for change,” then now is the perfect time to spend a few minutes speaking with a recruiter.

Take-Cover Candidates

Then there are the candidates who are assuming that most all companies have a hiring freeze or are restructuring and don’t even bother looking. For these candidates, job posts are rendered useless. One such contact is a personal friend. He was Covid restructured by a Fortune 500 in March (nice touch, hmm?) and by April he had decided to take a couple of months off. Then, by June, decided to just take the summer off, because no one was hiring, right? Wrong. By June, we had filled a number of mandates and were having a nicely busy summer. We have found that it is taking more effort to recruit during the pandemic. We have also found that talented candidates are definitely still out there, you just have to work harder, be patient and work your strategic processes to find and qualify them.

The Opportunist

Thirdly, there are the opportunist candidates out there. These are candidates who put salary and title increases above all else at all cost. Don’t get me wrong, they have always been out there and we are careful to keep them away from our clients. But during the pandemic, since there appears to be fewer candidates open or aware of change, the opportunists are now bolder about their demands. For example, working on a Project Manager search in clinical research last fall we came across a couple of candidates asking for 170k when the job generally pays in the 115k to 135k salary range. At first, I was eager to learn about these candidate’s game-changing innovations that warranted a significant career/compensation step-up. But it became clear that their strategy was to apply to multiple online roles, speak with multiple recruiters and demand higher compensation. For some of these candidates interviewing with companies who rely solely on job posts, their strategy worked too. …and in a year from now, they will likely be off to the next highest bidder. Luckily, these candidates are easy to spot and most seasoned recruiters know that this is a red flag and must move on.

The pandemic has clearly affected how candidates view career change and new job opportunities. We have definitely put more time in on recruits and have continued to find and influence talented candidates for mission critical mandates. If you have a promising story to tell, an innovative product in development, are about to receive Health Authority approval, substantial projected revenue growth, future career opportunities and strong leadership, then you need to find a way to get your story told in a way that reaches your target audience because this is exactly what top talent is looking to learn about. In future blogs I will discuss strategies and methods discussing how to:

1. Reach the talent that is out there today;

2. Qualify a candidate who looks great on paper and is showing interest in your role;

3. Spot a candidate with a hidden agenda;

4. Improve your hiring and offer process – ensuring due diligence and all best practices continued to be followed during these competitive times.

5. As well, some changes we see coming to industry that will affect hiring decisions in 2021 and beyond.

Kevin Maguire is a Recruiter and Partner at McGovern Management Group. MMGI specializes in working with Pharma, Biotech’s, Medical Device companies and SME’s in the Bio-Economy.

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