The key to hiring smart for your CDMO 


Let’s say you’re the HR lead or even a recruiter for a CDMO, and you’ve just been tasked to find a Ph.D. with supervisory experience in biologics. According to your CEO and the project set in front of you, the candidate should understand viral vectors well enough to teach it to a staff -- and the staff may double in the next year or two. The candidate will need to relocate to a town you adore but that isn’t seen as a top destination (let’s call it a B-location for now), and the candidate will probably be working well past bankers hours. Oh, and your company is owned by a private equity firm that’s currently being shopped.

So why aren’t star candidates applying?

The scenario I painted isn’t fabricated -- it’s true. And believe it or not, we filled this assignment earlier this year and are starting work on a similar project, too.

I say all of this not to toot our own horn here, but to let you know that even when it seems like you’re fighting a losing battle to get incredible talent in a competitive market, you can win. It’s just a matter of approach and perspective.

The search we did was tough. It’s the kind of project that can overwhelm an inhouse recruiter who’s also filling a whole slew of other roles. The key was to break down the challenges so the project became manageable and so the recruiting team could focus on the true 800 lb. gorilla. In this case, we determined that the problem wasn’t private equity involvement nor was it experience, the ability to train a team, or the long days. The biggest problem was simply location.

The hiring company, a CDMO, wasn’t in a geographic hot bed for healthcare. In a busy market and for certain job categories, B-locations struggle to attract stars. A recruiter needs to work harder and go deeper to find people who fall in love with your company mission. The recruiter’s job, therefore, is to focus on what the company is doing, will be doing, the company culture, and how all of this builds the type of organization where candidates want to be. In this case, our CDMO client needed us to help candidates see the value in what they’d be doing rather than focus on where they’d be doing it.

At my firm, we work closely with our partners on our clients’ HR and talent acquisition teams. Truthfully, these are people who know the brand, live the mission, and understand the experience. They’ve helped build the company’s culture. These internal HR partners stay because they love everything about the organization where they work. They’re the best internal leaders to help with candidate care, too. 

We also ensure we’re always sweating the small stuff. We find a great realtor, we’re ready with info about schools and everything the town has to offer. For this search, focusing on location made all the difference and allowed us to recruit the stars that this client needed and deserved.

Almost all CDMOs work at a fast pace, otherwise they would not be in business, and this tendency often extends to their recruiting teams, which translates into a very wide net being cast for talent, even for top-level, executive and specialty positions. If we had cast our net wide and simply put out a call for anyone with the criteria we wanted, we would have likely ended up overwhelmed by mediocre candidates who weren’t right. Stars don’t respond to a mass call for applications. Star candidates need to be reached directly, and then motivated to have an open mind. For most positions, to find a star for a niche or executive role, you have to locate and connect with the person one-on-one. Few CDMO internal recruiting teams have time for this sort of detail. The end result of a mass announcement -- you get more resumes but less talent than you were hoping for. 

For any CDMO, all of which are growing at a fast clip, there’s simply not enough talent to fill all of the roles right now, and the gap is presenting an even more acute problem for those few CDMOs working with cell and gene therapies, which our client was.

No one hires a retained search expert to run a LinkedIn-style cattle call for candidates. Our role is to engage and assess the best of the best, which is one reason why star candidates often prefer to engage with experienced search specialists who have a track record serving their same industry. In other words, we’re brought in because we have a track record that shows we DO find the right person. We limit our projects so we can focus on the goal of finding the star for any role. This helps us better understand the challenges we face with each placement. And lets us get to the right candidates with the right message from the start.

Category: CDMO

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