Which size of pharma company is the best fit for you?

Artyom Smirnov, Managing consultant at Talentmark, explores which size of pharma company is the best fit for you?

Competition for top talent in pharma is fierce. With candidates knowing that they have more options than ever before, we’re seeing an increasing number of life sciences professionals taking the somewhat riskier route of moving from the structured and safe environment of big pharma to more fledgling operations with big ambitions but a far less established presence.

Big pharma are the household name giants; those which have been around for a long time, with a solid employer reputation and a sizeable workforce – not to mention impressive levels of revenue.

Small pharma are typically companies with fewer than 500 employees, with a leaner operational model but with a number of products in their pipelines.

Start-ups are usually biotech or medtech firms which have very small teams and equally diminutive portfolios.

There are various factors which will determine which type of business is more suited to an individual and these include personality, preferences, priorities and what stage they are at in their career path.

“It really is a case of working out which culture you lean towards, what your personal priorities are and where you are in your career”

Big pharma: the safe choice?

Big pharma companies are highly robust, corporate and structured. Projects are run by vast teams and there are plenty of opportunities for career progression and sideways moves to work on different products or services.  Training is always high on the agenda and you get access to a wide range of on-the-job learning, workshops and higher education opportunities.

The drawbacks include more red tape, slower processes and frequently, a lack of closeness to the end result. That said, plenty of highly successful life sciences professionals spend their entire careers in big pharma and don’t look back.

Start-up: a risk worth taking?

Working for a new player on the scene means that you are likely to be highly involved in bringing a drug to market, from inception to commercialisation. Products generally move much more quickly through the drug development process as there are fewer layers of key decision-making. You’ll be working with the patient very much in the forefront of your mind, and this can be very rewarding.

However, the flipside to this is that smaller businesses are often sold to their larger rivals at late stages of drug development.  So, while you may have been attracted to the idea of seeing the full cycle of drug development through, the truth is that the rug may be pulled from under you, at any time.

Small pharma: the compromise?

Small pharma is an interesting area because some of these businesses can offer the best of both worlds – more opportunities for career progression than a start-up but less of the red tape of big pharma – and a more relaxed culture. We’re seeing an increasing number of candidates looking specifically to join this type of organisation.

Cultural differences

The culture of a start-up can certainly be alluring. Roles are far less clearly defined and job descriptions often somewhat obsolete; it’s a case of everyone pitching in, regardless of title or seniority. Homeworking and flexible working are increasingly the norm; dress codes are casual and offices usually have a relaxed and cool vibe. It’s easy to see why these factors are appealing to both millennials and professionals with young families alike.

Big pharma’s culture is undoubtedly far more structured and traditional. However, with competition for top talent on the rise, employer branding is a priority for these businesses and we’re seeing more and more ‘soft benefits’ being introduced (along with more flexible working) in a bid to attract and retain the best.

Small pharma companies, perhaps unsurprisingly, fall somewhere in between these two pillars. Some have a more entrepreneurial set-up, while others can offer a more corporate environment.

Which ‘type’ are you?

When thinking about whether to choose between big and small, you are likely to feel quite torn; we meet many candidates who face this dilemma.

Make a ‘wish list’ and put your priorities in order. However, be careful to think longer term.  Your current priorities can quickly change, just as your personal circumstances do. You may value salary over flexibility now, but if you start a family, for example, then the ability to adjust your working hours may become invaluable. Likewise, you may be focused on saving up for something big and be drawn in by the big salary on offer from a start-up – but what if that business doesn’t fly and you’re left looking for work again in 12 months’ time?

Some people are natural risk-takers and if this sounds like you, then you have probably already decided that biotech is worth a shot! If, however, the idea of uncertainty unsettles you, then big pharma is probably going to be more attractive.

Then there’s that midway option of small pharma to consider, which for many can offer the ideal blend of old and new. The best thing you can do, if you are feeling undecided, is to talk to as many people as possible from both sides of the fence. Subjective experiences will be invaluable in helping you to frame your own thinking.

Timing is crucial

There are particular points in your career path when the choice may be somewhat clearer. If you’re a recent graduate, or just a couple of years into your life science journey, then traditional pharma is a great place to continue learning and to establish a name for yourself in the industry.

Most candidates looking to join a start-up will typically have at least three years’ solid pharma experience under their belts. It provides a good base for the CV and you will inevitably feel far more comfortable with the idea of taking a risk.

Trust your instincts

Big pharma, small pharma and start-ups can all offer excellent career opportunities, so it really is a case of working out which culture you lean towards, what your personal priorities are and where you are in your career. Do your research, talk to experienced life sciences professionals (and your recruitment consultant, of course!) and you will undoubtedly form a gut feel for what will suit you best.

Artyom Smirnov is Managing Consultant, Talentmark Resourcing Solutions. Go to www.talentmark.com