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5 Alternative Methods for assessing the potential of a new employer

Authored by Karl Simpson

Below are some ideas for the contrarians among you who might assess a new job opportunity. These escape the traditional clichés and provoke you to think about why you might seek to assess jobs in a different way, primarily because candidates need to get even smarter about how they think around the slick selling and marketing of new job opportunities by many companies.

Partnerships not pipeline

The world of pharma and biotech is no longer a world of vertically integrated innovation. Frankly speaking, we are in an era of discovering innovation across the globe, through partnerships and alliances; with academia, specialised discovery companies, technology innovators, service companies or large global enterprises. This vast innovation ecosystem is now the life blood that feeds the beating heart of scientific advances leading to improved healthcare for societies – rich and poor.

This new open culture of innovations philosophically rooted in the idea that collective minds can collaborate around big, complex problems in advancing medicine. This is a true paradigm shift which will continue to drive the industry over the coming years.

Historically, any person considering a career in the pharmaceutical sector would take a long hard look into the depth of the pipeline. This is still a critical measure of the company’s prospects as a drug company, however, this might not be the only measure of future pipeline productivity.

It is almost inevitable that any prospective employer will be scouting for deals, far and wide. Their ability and success in establishing relationships with other entities of strategic value, now forms a key measure of their forward looking opportunities. The ecosystem of partners they have been able to develop will provide new opportunities for the company and its employees.

In the past 18 months, one of the most successful pharma companies at this ‘innovation acquiring’ has probably been Celgene. They have been incredibly active in establishing a range of highly creative deals. These have been outright acquisitions, licensing deals with options to buy, academic partnerships, investments in companies (with follow-ons), as well as many other opportunities with companies ranging from cancer stem cell research, to immunotherapy, epigenetics, next-generation biologics, through to novel platforms in areas like fibrosis. The range of partners they now have serves a specific strategic agenda to transform the company into a global innovation powerhouse in the haematology, oncology and immunology/inflammation markets.

Assess a company for its web of activities, not just its pipeline chart!

Employee engagement

Loyalty. That is what we all used to use to measure the commitment someone gave to an employer. Time served offer the rewards of recognition and familiarity, not always equal in their distribution. To serve your employer over the years was a sign of the personal dedication you gave to the company,  management and the customers you served. It was also a way that as prospective employees you could measure the value of an employer and the way it looks after it’s employees. Equally, employers would judge the prospective employee on loyalty it showed in previous jobs.

However, things have changed and the relationship between employer and employee has been reorganised to a great extent – the value chain has been restacked and long-service is no longer the end-game. Similarly, low attrition of staff is no longer the signal that a company is a good place to work. Of course it can be an indicator, but it isn’t the only way to assess things. You can have companies with high staff retention levels but who have incredibly low output in terms of productivity or innovations. The perspective employers now take has shifted and so must that of the individual.

Companies are not looking for loyalty so much, but impact. They’d rather hire someone who comes into the company and is totally motivated to give their very best (and then some), and make a difference. It is now a case of employee of engagement. This mainstream concept is about making sure employees and intellectually, affectively and socially engaged. When you look at employers, you want to see companies with an employee base that is energetic, dedicated and whole-heartedly into their work. This type of engaged culture can achieve truly remarkable results.

Loyalty is an important value and not one which should be confused here. We’re not talking about loyalty or the absence of it. Companies enter into a contract with employees aiming to get the very best out of them, to train and develop them and grow them as people. If they do this loyalty should come, but it must not be a loyalty born or diminishing value. This leads to an overall reduction in the capabilities of the company.

Feel the passion from the people you meet!

Acquisitions targets can offer career value

We like companies surrounded by rumours of possible acquisition. In most cases, not all, the reason these companies are the subject of such rumours is that there is inherent value locked up in those companies which the acquiring company believes can be materialised. If you are a part of the future story, there is opportunity too. Of course, the pharma industry has been historically a place of large mergers where operational efficiencies could excrete value from the deal and many people are gravely concerned about M&A because of their own experiences. The mega-deals are clearly not over, as the recent offer by Pfizer to acquire AstraZeneca shows, but these deals are no longer the trend of M&A.

Acquisitions can often create considerable value creation for the employees. The world of business is now very much used to employee stock options and other equity participation schemes. These are typically fully materialised as a result of ‘change of control’ event like acquisitions. Therefore, being in the shop window can generate financial possibilities for the companies employees which in themselves create an individual’s security. And this point about job security is at the heart of the issue to join a company surrounded by acquisition…and security is all relative. Instead focus on picking companies with outstanding science, exceptional people, great opportunities; companies making a real difference. These will provide the experiences that propel your individual value and make your skills and experience more marketable in the future.

Work for companies making a difference, it will pay off for you in the long-run 

Culture and diversity a significant part of the picture

The word culture is applied a lot in the hiring process. Companies use a set of defined values and behaviours which they often employ to give employees and prospective employees some sense for the cultural identity of the company. These are the actionable ideas and concepts which are used to try and define the working practice, the way you do or do not behave and the relationships you develop with each other and customers.

However, if you spend any considerable time researching and understanding the ‘values’ of most corporations, you notice there are more common themes than uncommon ones. Concepts like:

  • challenging the status-quo
  • teamwork
  • respect for others
  • understanding the view of others
  • excellence in all

No doubt you’ll identify with at least one of these. These values-systems are very important, they help define an understood ‘code of behaviour’ and that in turn contributes significantly to culture. Although in our view, culture is more than this, it is as much about the intangible aspects as it is the identifiable. So looking for cultural signals is really important.

Allied to this, most companies are very good at extending platitudes about their relative commitment to a more diverse company. This can mean gender diversity at the executive level, or some other diversity agenda they are trying to deliver.  It is generally a good idea to focus on these statements. How does the company view the diversity topic to the highest level of the company and what evidence is there of those behaviours throughout. It is generally accepted that diverse companies are stronger as a consequence of that factor, the arguments for which are highly debated but have a growing body of evidence behind them. So, if you’re looking to join a strong company which you hope will prosper,, then you could do worse than join a diverse one. Besides, it is a great to work alongside a very wide range of people who bring different perspectives and talents to the table.

Look for actions not words!

Look for companies that have stark contrasts

Recruitment processes are as much an opportunity for candidates to select employers as the other way round. This selection procedure provides the candidate an opportunity to truly identify what it is that they like and don’t like about companies. In this regard, it is very useful to look for stark contrasts and to be very wary of the ‘all things to all people’ cultures.

Sometimes we understand more acutely what we aren’t, or what we don’t like, than what we’re positively aligned to. This is a very effective tool in discussion about new employment. Use it in your appraisal of new roles. Don’t use it arbitrarily, but in a very directed way.

There are many applications where is can be used to test the culture, the leadership, the vision, the operating structures.

For example;

  • If a company has a working culture involving long hours and frequent travel, but you need to be home by 5pm and have little interest in ever going anywhere – clearly the role is not for you.
  • Maybe a company has a strong ethos of ‘consensus decision making – almost committee leadership’, again you might appreciate more definitive decision making.


Look for companies and leadership who can frame the proposition in this way. They should be able to tell you the sorts of people that don’t fit in well in their companies, as well as those that do. When you have these more diluted, less radically stark contrasts, be aware of the need to better understand the culture of the company.

 Look for common interests! 

Liftstream is a privately owned company that provides Executive Search and Interim Management recruitment services to the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and life sciences markets across Europe. Liftstream also works with senior managers and executives to provide highly structured career management services that enable more effective career performance.

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