Courting Candidates: How to Win the Battle for Top Talent in Oncology
Competition for leaders who can develop and drive clinical programmes in Oncology is unusually intense.
Oncology is easily the largest therapeutic area within Pharma research, last year comprising a whopping 38% of all clinical trials . Senior leaders who can shape strategy are in high demand – and know it.
Many are already on better-than-normal packages that offer outstanding remuneration, flexible working conditions and relative autonomy to deliver products, because their current employers know they must fight to retain top talent. They are approached regularly with offers.
To get senior executives to even consider moving to a competitor – let alone actually apply for a job – is a challenge.
To overcome it, companies with cancer drug development pipelines must change the way they recruit. At the moment, the emphasis is too often on finding candidates with the right profile and skills. But with more than 125,000 Pharma directors from across the globe listed on LinkedIn, identifying good candidates is rarely the problem; getting them to engage is.
To attract well-qualified leaders, companies must shift their focus to the candidates’ needs. The onus is no longer on the candidate to explain why they should be hired, but rather on the companies to identify the factors that will help the right candidates make the move, and make a compelling case for them.
What might such a case include? On the professional front, top candidates will want to carry out exciting and innovative work. Many companies assume that the attractiveness of their product is self-evident, but this is often not the case. They need to think carefully about how to market their pipeline
to candidates, emphasising what makes it interesting and unusual.
The role itself must be attractive. Candidates will look to gain additional responsibilities and influence in the organisation they work for. The quality of their peer group can also be bonus. But personal factors can be decisive too. Beyond salary and benefits, the biggest stumbling block tends to be location.
The requirement to work remotely or semi-remotely has become almost standard, and companies which remain fixated on a centralised approach to their workforce will find that the pool of talent available to them shrinks significantly (unless they pay “top dollar”).
This is particularly true of the mid-to-senior level, where candidates may be reluctant to relocate for what is usually a lateral move career-wise. But even executives with global responsibilities may, for personal reasons, prefer a contract that allows them to stay put, working from home or from local operating companies, with significant travel. Be prepared to accommodate this.
Finally, address the risk that candidates take in accepting a new position when they are appreciated and happy in their current jobs. Tackle this psychological barrier head-on, because many otherwise perfect candidates will prefer not to gamble with their futures.
The competition for top talent in Oncology is only going to become more intense, as the Pharma industry works even harder to find new, valuable and differentiated treatments for Cancer. Under pressure, some companies have appointed more Oncologists from clinical medicine and academia into higher level positions, but this can lead to problems later on if they lack industry development experience.
Others have been forced to take longer to hire, but a leadership vacuum at the top risks weak or wrong decision-making, poor-quality execution, and an unreasonable workload on the existing team.
Long-term, it is crucial that companies from big Pharma to small Biotech’s learn how to talk to talent, developing a deep understanding of their needs, courting them and engaging with them.
When it comes to hiring at the top, the power in Oncology lies with the candidates.
Tom Bradley is Senior Partner and Thomas Schleimer is Managing Partner at Euromedica, which specialises in retained executive search for senior international executive positions in Life Sciences. Both have extensive experience recruiting for senior leadership roles in Oncology and have worked in the industry before joining consultancy.