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Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill

Have you read Modern Romance: An Investigation, comedian Aziz Ansari’s hilarious book about why modern dating is so difficult? If not, we really recommend picking up a copy for a laugh with some insight to boot – but to sum it up for you: basically, people have a long laundry list of qualities that they count as must-haves in their mates. Of course, it’s nigh impossible to find these mythical unicorn characters our brains concoct for us. More importantly, though, these laundry lists tend to ignore one of the most important factors in long-term relationship success: personality.

Guess what? Some pharma recruiters do the same thing. Sometimes because life-sciences companies ask them to. It’s a bad habit on both sides, and here’s why we think you should break it.

Hunting Perfection

The problem with “perfection” is, other than not really existing, it tends to look better on paper. The people with whom we have the best relationships in our lives are not perfect – and it’s their particular quirks that make us love (and want to work with) them.

Of course, every candidate should be qualified. But there’s a little leeway in interpreting what that means. It’s important to be honest with yourself about what pre-existing skills and experience the role really needs, and which can be learned on the job. (After all, you’re going to hire someone smart and savvy, right?) Trying to tick off all the boxes on a huge list of skills and qualifications is likely to eliminate the real best candidates – the ones with the right attitude.

In our experience in pharma recruitment, it tends to be personality that determines success. Whatever else you’re looking for, you probably picture your ideal candidate as someone who is bright, committed, enthusiastic (about your company and its offerings), motivated and determined. These are all deep-set personality factors, which are a bit more difficult to learn on the job than knowledge-based factors like, say, knowing all the latest medical technology.

In recruiting as in dating, having a “great personality” isn’t a euphemism for someone being a loser. It winds up being more important than how attractive a candidate is at first glance.

Scrappers vs. Silver Spoons

We’re borrowing some terminology here from an excellent Ted talk by Regina Hartley. (Go ahead, give it a quick watch. We’ll be right here.)

Basically, some resumes look less flawless than others – but these flawed “scrappers” might actually turn out to be the stronger candidates in the long run. Many of the world’s top entrepreneurs (Hartley discusses Steve Jobs) have seemingly erratic (or at least non-traditional) profiles. You’ll never know whether you might be passing on a Jobs, someone who didn’t go to the right school and has an unusual work history, unless you interview them. Someone with grit will fight extra hard for success – which benefits their employer’s bottom line as well.

Yes, with the increasing specialization becoming inherent to pharma, knowledge is important in the life-sciences industry. And of course, you want to hire someone who has shown themselves to be an achiever, whether at a similar job or in a wildly different situation – but what if they don’t have the specific skills you’re looking for? Luckily, you can train knowledge and skills. It’s a heck of a lot easier than training motivation and moxie!

Yep, that means investing time and money in someone, which can be a tough sell when there’s another candidate with the right experience, if not the right personality. However, the truth is you’re going to need to/want to invest training in ANY hire, regardless of their background, over the course of their career with you. This is the key to inspiring and retaining staff, not to mention to keeping up in this quickly changing field. The right team members will soak up this knowledge and ask for more, benefiting you in the process.

The End Game

One example we’ve run across time and again is clients who are seeking CRAs. We learned the hard way that CRAs are tough to find in the EU. Especially if a client limits the criteria to those with a certain number of years of experience, or experience in a specific therapeutic area. Luckily, we learned this experience is not nearly as important as, say, a candidate’s communication abilities (are they both responsive and proactive?) in predicting their future success in their new role.

Many of the things a CRA needs to know can be trained. (SMS-oncology is doing just that.) Keep that in mind when you interview, and take a closer look at a candidate’s attitude instead. Sure, the list of desired competencies is important; it points us in the right direction and helps define the role. However, it’s important that the list makes a difference between nice-to-haves, top priorities and absolute deal breakers. No one candidate is going to tick off every box on the list. However, when you find someone who’s mastered the most important factors and has the right attitude, that’s where the magic happens.

Are you looking for life science candidates with the right attitude and complementary personality for your pharma, biotech or CRO group? If yes, call us at +31(0) 20 29 00 016 for a friendly conversation or send us an email to: