17 Feb 2022

Seven tips for hiring scientists

Focus your search for brainpower 

If you’re looking to add a new scientist—or several—to your company, expect an uphill climb. Current trends are making recruiting candidates more challenging. 

Whether you toil in biotechnology, life sciences, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, agriculture, or any business that employs life science or biotech scientists, they’re not showing signs of letting up. 

So if you’re in the business of companion diagnostics, assay development, bioinformatics, protein engineering, biochemistry, biosensors, immuno-oncology, or any of a score of specialties, the stakes are high. If you can’t find and place the right people, the risks start mounting: Deadlines can slip. Products might not get delivered on time. The few team members you have will have to work harder, given the shortage; that’s a turnover risk. 

And then there are the other companies seeking the exact talent you need. Do you think your competition will give your company a break simply because that one position of yours has been open, seemingly forever? Of course not. They’d be happy to race on past you. 

Whether you’re in the market for a research scientist, staff scientist, lead scientist, or director, you need to take, well, a scientific approach to hiring scientists. 

In this article, we’d like to share seven tips we’ve developed in our years of helping top life-science companies to get the people they need. Hopefully, these can help you, too. 


  1. Consider candidates from academic institutions

This might sound crazy, but here at Connexis Search Group, we’ve seen companies that seem more intent on finding reasons to cut a candidate than to hire one. The top reason? What we might call the anti-academic bias. 

There are real reasons that the private sector often turns its nose up at university-based candidates. The biggest one is “deadlines.” Nothing moves as fast as a business; if your CEO needs to make a quick pivot to counter emerging market shifts or mitigate board pressure, and that pushes up an already-impossible-seeming deadline, scientists in the private sector have more experience shifting into overdrive. 

But that doesn’t mean that a candidate who’s spent their career in an academic setting can’t work quickly—or appreciate the urgency. Assuming the latter is, well, insulting. 

Granted, there are specific scenarios where private-sector experience is a strength: think of the hurdles that accompany FDA approval or hewing to good manufacturing practice (GMP) guidelines. 

Still, the subtle snobbery of the private sector is overplayed. Overlook academia at your peril. 


  1. Don’t over-focus on degrees

Speaking of academia, there are biases when it comes to B.S./Master’s/PhD. 

You may well benefit from re-thinking your thinking: If you believe only a Ph.D. can fill that slot, think again. A candidate with a bachelor’s degree—along with tons of experience—might be a better fit, in your organization, than a newly-minted Ph.D. straight out of school. 

The opposite is true, too. If your field is a niche (and whose isn’t?), you may have a “Ph.D. taste on a bachelor’s budget.” In other words, you may well need a Ph.D., even when you think you can get by with less. That’s because the proper candidate, with that much deep-dive focus, will necessarily have already taken the path to that advanced degree. 


  1. Avoid negative interview bias

As noted above, some companies are so focused on eliminating potential candidates that they lose sight of their actual goal—to hire one. 

It sounds silly, presented that way, but this bias is everywhere. And it’s hardest to see when you’re the one possessing it. We wrote an article that addresses this topic; check it out. 


  1. Be open to candidates who aren’t fluent in English

Communication is essential in business. And science is, essentially, a universal language. 

So embrace it. Just because a candidate doesn’t speak well doesn’t mean they don’t write well. So get past the accent and the missed idioms in the interview, and focus on what they know and how they can help your company. 

Don’t ignore the power of technology here. All it takes is a click, these days, to translate something written in another language into passable English. Again, communication is a hurdle, but it’s not insurmountable. 

It’s also dynamic. Ditch that negative bias that seeks to tell you that today’s scientists with mediocre English will be tomorrow’s scientists with passable English. Scientists are smart. They work hard. It’s not just the research. You think it’s frustrating trying to understand what they’re saying? It’s even more frustrating for them, trying to make their thoughts known. That’s a motivator to improve. 

And you can grease those wheels. What if you, say, offer that candidate ten hours a week of ESL instruction? It’s a form of paid education. Presented properly, it’s not insulting. It’s flattering. It says: “We want you so much that we want to invest in you.” 


  1. Hire candidates who need visas

The more specific the technology, the more limited the talent pool. And that quickly extends beyond U.S. borders. Many companies are put off or intimidated by the prospect of sponsoring a candidate from another country. In the old days, you could get away with that bias. 

Not anymore. Here at Connexis Search Group, we help companies surmount this challenge all the time. We have an excellent resource for you if you’re new at it; check out this article devoted to the topic. 


  1. Hire a recruiting firm—just one

Given that this tip is coming to you straight from a recruiting firm, you might think it’s entirely self-serving. 

It’s not. It’s partially self-serving: Connexis Search Group would love to be your recruiter of choice for helping you to find and place that next scientist. 

But it goes beyond that. First of all, you’re free to hire any company you like; it doesn’t have to be us. 

But hire a recruiter. This is not a DIY project. Professional recruiters have tools, time, and motivation that you don’t. Why just one? Play it out in your mind, and you’ll see. If you have, say, three companies all trying to fill the same slot, it’s highly likely that the same candidate will get approached by all three—and then quickly assume, “That company must be desperate! That’s a red flag.” 

And consider it from the recruiter’s side: Why would we want to devote all our energies to a non-exclusive assignment? There are only so many hours in the day; we’d prefer to work on the ones where we can not only shine but be fairly rewarded for our efforts. The same holds true for any recruiter, not just Connexis. 


  1. Don’t rely on job postings

One of our recruiters put this argument succinctly: “If you put up job postings for scientists, you’ll get applications from fry-cooks, too!” 

It’s not a wild exaggeration. And remember: The best candidates aren’t actively seeking a new position. They need to be sought out, lured, and poached. No job posting will do that for you. 

Have a scientist slot you’re itching to fill? Contact Connexis Search Group today. We specialize in this field and get results for organizations just like yours. Let us help you, too. 


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