Q&A: Three big mistakes drug companies make in recruiting new employees

March 30, 2017 | STAT

When drug and device makes need a new chief medical officer or vice president, they often start by turning to executive recruiters.

One of them is Victor Kleinman, who runs the global biopharmaceutical practice at the executive search firm DHR International.

He and his team work with over a hundred companies in the space — everyone from startups just getting their therapies off the ground to industry titans like AstraZeneca, Novartis, and AbbVie. When these companies have a job opening, Kleinman's task is to bring them a list of four to seven potential candidates who are open to being interviewed.

Kleinman's seen a handful of changes over the years in what companies are looking for: greater attention to diversity, for instance, and more interest in leadership styles primed for a corporate structure built around projects, rather than traditional hierarchies.

But one thing has stayed pretty constant: Lots of companies keep making the same mistakes in how they approach hiring, Kleinman told STAT in a phone interview.

Here, lightly edited for clarity and concision, are the three most common pitfalls that Kleinman sees companies fall into:

Hiring in their own image

"Very often hiring leaders can be very biased towards candidates who think like them. They make the mistake of not being open and receptive to fresh ideas, disruptive ideas, new ways of thinking.

"Companies can very often pay lip service to that. But at the end of the day, when you've got two equally qualified candidates who are semifinalists — but one is a little bit more different and radical in their thinking — you've got a lot of companies out there who will default to the safe position."

Not being in sell mode

"Companies should not be arrogant in presuming that the world should beat a path to their door. Too often, they assume candidates will want to work for them because they've got a very promising monoclonal antibody. Or just because they might have a high value CEO. Or just because they may have great funding and a lot of money in the bank or a great business plan. And there are a lot of companies that are arrogant."

Dragging out the interviews

“Getting a candidate and a company on each other's calendars can sometimes be laughable by how difficult it is.

"What generally happens is the hiring leader says: `I'll meet Dr. Smith at the Starbucks in Princeton next Tuesday.' They hit it off and things have just gone great. But then it's time for more interviews with others at the company. That's where these things can bog down.

“You’ve got a drug or medical device that might be generating billions of dollars a year during its patent-protected life – and the person who’s going to lead that can’t get logistically scheduled because of interviews. It sounds silly, but it’s a real challenge.”