The top 4 hiring mistakes in life sciences

2021-07-08 | BY Sydney Shields | IN Free Resources, Hiring

The top 4 hiring mistakes in life sciences

Hiring is messy by nature. 

Anything relating to human capital is bound to get rough around the edges – particularly in a time like this, when candidates have so many options and talent is so difficult to come by. Yet sharpening and clarifying your hiring process is always worthwhile; the smoother, faster, and more enticing you can make it, the more likely you are to attract the kind of people who will make your team and company a fantastic place to work. 

Recently an increase in demand, inflated pay rates, lack of flexibility, and a need for a very narrow skillset have dramatically reshaped the life sciences hiring market. And whereas other industries can leverage remote work to expand their candidate pools and meet growing demand, most life science professionals are bound to the lab or office. Add that all up and you get some very stressed hiring managers, overworked and under-staffed, struggling to hire in their ‘free time.’ 

That’s why we’re highlighting the top 4 hiring missteps – so you (and we!) can do better by our candidates and teams.

Mistake 1: Marketing the wrong things

For the most part, candidates want the exact same things you want – the things that, hopefully, drew you to your company in the first place. That is…

Culture, work/life balance, and pay.

These are the three features you’ll want to highlight in your job posts, interviews, and emails. These are the things that a candidate will remember long after the interview has ended and they’re weighing their options between you and a competitor.

I’ll give you an example. I work with a company that embraces leadership at all levels, allowing anyone from junior to senior to weigh in on important decisions. Be it implementing day-to-day procedures, drafting a DE&I protocol, forming clubs, etc. – everyone’s opinion is welcomed, solicited, and incorporated. Importantly, this company doesn’t only live this unique culture, but they also market it throughout their interview process. Before day one, new hires know that they will be joining a team where their opinions are valued. A culture like that won’t soon be forgotten by interested candidates. 

If you’re struggling to articulate that sense of companionship, humor, excitement, and intellect that makes your team so desirable – don’t worry. That’s where recruiters come in handy. It’s our job to get candidates excited, to make them see the team and company through your eyes. 

Mistake 2: Letting the process drag on

Here’s our basic rule of thumb; if you’re hiring someone with under 5 years of experience, you don’t need a lengthy interview process. Especially if you’re working with a recruiting agency that will have already video screened, background checked, and reference called your candidate. 

Too often we see companies putting junior professionals through an HR screen, phone screen, panel interview, and onsite interview – a process that can realistically take 3+ weeks. That means putting your candidate through 3 weeks of sneaking calls, booking time out of their work day, and likely losing interest. 

It comes down to this: the faster you move the process forward, the better people you’ll be able to hire. 

Mistake 3: Letting pay rates determine your hires

Life sciences has had it easy the past decade or so. We’ve been able to keep pay rates relatively stable and low, even despite increased wages in other industries.

Until 2020 – when we hit a tipping point. Suddenly pay rates skyrocketed. Demand for candidates rose so high, companies were throwing money at people – well above pre-pandemic market rates. Junior and intermediate professionals quickly adjusted their expectations and were no longer enticed by the rates of the past. 

That’s why we suggest two tweaks to your process:

Audit your pay rates so you can match the market and avoid losing out on talented people. No matter how much a junior candidate likes you and your team, they will always have other more pressing obligations to consider – like debt, family, home payments, etc. A low pay rate may lose them in the end, or fail to entice them at the beginning.

Leave the pay rate open, at least in the exploratory phase. Let your recruiting agency source a variety of people at different experience levels and corresponding pay rates so you can make a fair judgment. This way you don’t discount someone who might be a much better fit at a slightly higher pay rate, in favor of a questionable match. 

Consider this: if you set a range of $17-$18 for an entry-level role, you might get a below average candidate who hasn’t been in the lab for the past 2+ years. Increasing the pay to $21-$24 can make a world of difference. And you can always still hire that $17/hour candidate if that makes most sense for your team and budget, knowing all the facts.

Mistake 4: Under-utilizing consultants

You can’t just pay new hires competitive salaries while leaving your loyal employees to fend for themselves. That’s a recipe for dissatisfaction and, eventually, attrition.

The simplest solution – guaranteed to keep your careful corporate balance in check – is contract workers.

Consultants, contractors – whatever you call them, these skilled professionals don’t need to abide by the compensation rules that guide the rest of your company. They do not get the same health benefits, PTO, etc. and that in itself gives you some negotiating flexibility. Flexibility to grow your team as demand increases, flexibility to shrink when demand wanes, flexibility to pay more or less than you might a full-time employee without offending other workers. 

This is precisely why we encourage our clients to consider consultants, especially when internal equity is causing hiring struggles.

Although the pandemic boosted many scientific industries, it created an entirely new – and headache-inducing – challenge. That is, an intense competition for a small pool of highly specialized professionals. A group of professionals who know how valuable they are and aren’t afraid to command their market rate.

I’m happy to provide more market insights and tips, especially when it comes to marketing your company and keeping candidates interested over multiple weeks. You can reach out to me at to chat!

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