• Estimated read time: 5 mins
  • Date posted:15/07/2019
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According to PWC’s 22nd CEO survey, a deficit in the supply of skilled workers is a top concern among life science executives. The life science industry is amidst a period of radical transformation driven in part by technological innovation, changing business landscapes and evolving regulatory requirements. This is spurring demand for particular skill sets – engineering, data analytics, process development and regulatory affairs to name but a few.

It’s no secret that effective leadership is key to success. The right hire can transform a business; growing the bottom line and developing strategies to ensure its sustainable, perpetual growth. However, a bad hire can jeopardise an organisations’ future. Recovering from the blunders brought about by poor leadership will cost an organisation dearly in capital, resources and reputation; a risk no discerning life science organisation can afford.

Assisting life science organisations in their search for leadership talent are executive search firms. Life science organisations retain executive search firms to help them find and engage the unreachable; using their established networks, industry knowledge and tried and tested search and selection methodologies to headhunt and engage senior managers and executives who have the potential to transform their value chain operations.

This insight explores what hiring managers and human resources (HR) professionals should look for when partnering with an executive search firm, and the preparations they can instigate ahead of the search to ensure the highest probable chance of executive search success.

5 outstanding qualities of top-tier executive search firms

When accessing and comparing executive search and specialist recruitment firms, the following five attributes mark out the winners from the also-rans.

1) Expertise

A quality executive search firm should have a deep, experienced-backed understanding of the life sciences. They should grasp the operational and market challenges driving transformation across the industry, be acquainted with latest hiring trends and practices, and have a comprehensive knowledge of the candidate market, including their motives for working in the life sciences. Ideally, the executive search firm will operate exclusively in the life sciences, or failing that, have a dedicated team of executive search consultants who specialise solely in the industry.

2) Reach

Demand for specific skill sets, especially at the executive level, exceeds supply, with stiff competition for talent across the life sciences and related industries. With 3-in-4 candidates not actively pursuing a new tenure, life science organisations must reach those executives who are successful and satisfied in their current role, irrespective of geography.  Top-tier executive search firms pride themselves in their ability to sourcing and place candidates worldwide without caveats, unearthing, entertaining and qualifying high-calibre candidates irrespective of their job search activity.

3) Discretion

Discretion is a prerequisite in executive search. Life science organisations cannot afford to comprise operational integrity due to internal or external uncertainty about the tenure of an influential executive. Similarly, prospective candidates must also trust that the executive search firm will keep their application history confidential. To this end, leading executive search firms conduct searches in a discreet manner, qualifying candidates without the need for disclosing the client’s identity, and employing non-disclosure agreements (NDA) to ensure there is no breach of trust.

4) Relationships

Relationships are the backbone of executive search. To be retained, executive search firms must first gain their client’s trust. To make placements, they need to win over candidates and sell the dream of their next leadership appointment. Providing an optimal candidate experience increases the odds of placing that candidate and reflects well on the hiring organisation they represent.  Outstanding executive search firms go above and beyond to forge close partnerships, pushing the process forward for the benefit of all parties and offering tailored advice that goes beyond the hire.

5) Commitment

A success-focused retained fee structure, whereby the majority of the fee is awarded on the successful completion of a search, demonstrates accountability and a commitment to results. Though placements are guaranteed (the executive search firm is obliged to redeliver a search if a placement is unsuccessful within the guarantee period stipulated in the contract), the client does not have to commit substantial capital upfront – an indicator that the executive search firm places relationships above profits – while providing an incentive for the executive search firm to deliver.

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3 things hiring managers can do to set their executive search partner up for success

A successful partnership with an executive search firm also requires some commitment on behalf of the hiring organisation.

1) Hone a performance job description

Set up your executive search partner for success from the get-go by writing a performance job description. This crucial hiring touch point can make the difference between hiring success and failure, yet is frequently overlooked by hiring managers in their haste to get the hiring process rolling and shortlisted candidates into interview. Done right, a performance job description can:

  • Attracts high calibre candidates with the right skills, experience and competencies.
  • Sets clear expectations of what success looks like for both the candidate and stakeholders.
  • Provides the foundation by which the technical and cultural fit of applicants is measured.

Putting time aside to craft and hone a performance job description is time and money well spent. Not only is it the document referenced when screening, shortlisting and interviewing candidates, but the thought process and due diligence that goes into its creation will assist you with onboarding your new hires and assessing their performance later down the line.

Where possible, ensure the job description is signed off by all stakeholders before approaching an executive search firm. The only exception is when hiring for new or reborn positions where you might want to call on the expertise of your executive search partner to assist you in determining the skills, experience and competencies necessary for success in the role.

2) Prepare a welcome pack

Misrepresentation of the client and the role is one of the main reason executive search assignments fail. Though your executive search partner should devote time and energy to understanding the ins and out of the role and the organisations’ deliverables, mission, values and culture before executing a search, you can help them by preparing a welcome pack which includes:

  • Company mission statement, vision & values;
  • Identify key customers and suppliers;
  • Key facts;
  • Establishment;
  • Geographic reach;
  • No. Employees;
  • Turnover;
  • Organisational structure;
  • Current market opportunities and challenges;
  • Strategic growth plans in the next 3-5 years;
  • Working culture.

Though much of this information will be unearthed during the initial discovery session, and again during the search briefing prior to undertaking the search, this exercise ensures that you don’t withhold seemingly insignificant but potentially valuable information that could assist the executive search consultant in upselling the role and that of your organisation to prospective candidates.

3) Be ready to interview

While you should not expect shortlisted candidates to arrive in your inbox overnight (the executive search firm must first identify, engage, and qualify prospective candidates against the job description to ensure technical and cultural fit – a process that typically lasts several weeks), your organisation should be ready to interview prospective candidates at a moments notice.

Delays cost candidates. Even though the majority of candidates are not actively job seeking, the very best will be approached by executive headhunters on a frequent basis. For those with in-demand life science skillsets, for example, engineering, data analytics, process development and regulatory affairs, it’s a candidate’s market; don’t risk losing a candidate to your competition!

As such, be ready to interview from the get-go. Whether personally performing the interview or delegating, ensure you have thoroughly prepared interview questions which access leadership potential – including weighting criteria  for assessing candidate responses – and planned any other form of candidate assessment (e.g. Presentation). All members of the hiring party should be familiar with the job description, interview questions and format, and you should you have a process for disseminating shortlisted candidate CV’s ahead of the interview. Post-interview you will want to consolidate feedback from all interviewers as to a candidates performance and suitability for the role so as to make an informed decision.

For more information on gearing up your organisation up for an executive search, check our our insight: How to optimise your hiring process to attract top life science talent.

For more hiring advice tailored to hiring managers in the life science industry…

* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.