We see two kinds of hiring companies in the life sciences industry: those that are quick to make a highly competitive offer to the right talent and those that low-ball offers and run the risk of getting the door shut on the opportunity or simply waste time negotiating.
Every one of our clients has the opportunity to make a highly competitive offer -- we deliver the current market state info with each search we do, so it’s never a matter of “We didn’t know.” But that doesn’t mean that every employer uses the strategy of going out with your best offer at the start.
I consider the low-ball strategy to be a relic of yesterday’s market. Honestly, we’ve been serving big pharma, specialty pharma, and development-stage biopharma companies as well as the CDMO industry for years now -- 20, in fact. But regardless of the market we’re serving, the fact is that unemployment rates in the life sciences industry -- particularly at the executive level -- are even lower than the employment market in general. This drives the types of out-of-the-gate offers we should be seeing: strong ones truly reflective of a candidate’s market worth.
But it doesn’t always work this way, and it almost always turns out poorly for the employer.
What does a low-ball salary offer say about a company?
When you walk the halls of any company, which we do frequently, you can feel which companies take the best care of employees. These also tend to be the same companies that start with offers that help a candidate feel valued and provide a sense of advancement. It’s not that money itself builds the culture but the value a company places on each employee does.
In truth, all sectors within the life sciences market must compete with the compensation and golden handcuffs offered in big pharma. There’s no way around it, although this doesn’t mean smaller companies have to find ways to go head-to-head in terms of pay. They just need to ensure they’re doing everything right when it comes to hiring.
Great leaders often want to achieve professional fulfillment beyond their wallet. Most talented leaders in life sciences ultimately want to “move the needle” and make an impact. Some candidates see it risky to work in small-cap, start-up, and development-stage companies, which it can be. But these small companies are usually highly innovative, and they serve as the incubators of new products and technologies which ultimately feed the big pharma pipeline. My 32 years’ experience placing life sciences leaders tells me the promise of a more fulfilling experience can be as enticing as a big paycheck to certain candidates, too. The only way you know this is by getting to know your candidates personally (that’s what we do as recruiters) to find out what motivates them.
Still, even the candidates who are most motivated by professional and personal fulfillment can be quickly turned off by an offer that’s far too low, since it’s frequently viewed as a reflection of a company’s corporate culture and its value of an individual employee’s wellbeing. When hiring for talent in life sciences, the winners are always the companies that know how to nurture employees and give them opportunities for fulfillment beyond money.
The real cost of a low-ball salary offer is opportunity
I’ve always felt that companies who play catch-up games with compensation and low offers could use a primer on the opportunity costs they are losing, especially when they have to compete against the talent that got away and the candidates who shut down negotiations because the offer wasn’t worth considering. In today’s tight market where life sciences leaders can get scooped up by new employers quickly, there’s simply no time to play hiring games. Show your cards early. Sell. Convince. Connect. That’s how you get the leaders you really want.
None of the miracles delivered by the life sciences industry would be possible without the talented people behind the scenes and in the labs. And my experience tells me those leadership teams that understand how to use compensation and culture to attract and retain talent will continue to have the highest probability of success in the life sciences industry.