Pharma recruitment during COVID-19

COVID-19 has presented many challenges to industry, not least in recruitment and retention strategies. Richard Clegg discusses how pharma recruitment has adapted.

As a result of customer demand at the outbreak of the pandemic, pharmaceutical firms have, in many areas, been required to increase production levels at an unprecedented rate. There has also been the pressure for many to expand product lines, undergo major research and development innovation and even change whole processes as they navigate adapting to operating safely. This is to meet health and safety requirements, while also bringing products to market which address the fight against COVID-19.

“It is often forgotten that recruitment can be extremely time-consuming, time being a luxury that not many businesses have at the moment as they adapt to changing ways of working”

While all sectors are feeling the pressure of having to evolve as a result of COVID-19, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has found that small businesses in the UK achieved three years of innovation in just three months1 as a result of the lockdown. What this means for all sectors is that organisations are having to consider their recruitment and retention strategy, and of course workplace wellbeing to ensure staff morale, optimum productivity and long-term retention.

While some pharmaceutical clients have paused recruitment, many others are taking advantage of the challenges COVID-19 has posed and using this as an opportunity to reassess operational structures, lead times and to take advantage of any availability in the talent pool.

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How to manage and handle an influx of applications

With employees still on furlough and many sectors beginning to make job cuts, the number of individuals in the market for a new role has grown exponentially. While this can be good news for those organisations recruiting, it can make recruitment all the more challenging.

As a result of more people being out of work, it is highly likely that recruiting businesses are going to receive an influx of CVs, most of which will be from candidates who are not qualified for the roles being advertised.

It is therefore imperative that pharma recruiters strategically plan out the roles they’re hiring for to filter out candidates who don’t fulfil the criteria.

One way to do this is to provide basic screening questions before the candidate applies – this prevents them not only wasting the recruiters’ time, but theirs too. For example:

  • Do you have three or more years’ experience in research and development?
  • Do you have experience working in a pharmaceutical environment?
  • Do you have five years of experience in drug safety and pharmacovigilance?

It is often forgotten that recruitment can be extremely time-consuming, time being a luxury that not many businesses have at the moment as they adapt to changing ways of working. Therefore, having a structured approach with key stakeholders involved to streamline the process, or working with a recruitment partner, can help to mitigate these challenges, allowing the organisation to focus on operational efficiencies until the role is fulfilled.

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Social distancing: Adoption of virtual interviews

With time being of a premium to all parties involved and many organisations looking to minimise risking the possibility of bringing someone with symptoms in for an interview, the first steps of recruitment are now being undertaken virtually. While this could be a good old-fashioned telephone call, the adoption of video interviews is becoming the norm, enabling both potential employees and the recruiting business to establish suitability and that initial rapport.

While standard video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams are a great way to interview potential employees, new video interview technologies are emerging which make it easier to manage the hiring process and screen candidates. Whichever application is chosen, it is crucial to make sure it is something simple for the interviewee to access and that they understand how the software works. Using free tools might also have time limitations, such as Zoom which only allows a 40-minute call if three or more people are dialling in.

While face-to-face interviews have proved to be a benefit in the past, they are often unnecessary for the first steps of the recruitment process and add the extra burden of trying to find appropriate times to meet, often encroaching on both individuals’ personal time. Saving these for the final selection process will undoubtedly ensure you quickly get to a shortlist of candidates who have the right fit.

Turbulent time: a cause for concern

With everything that is going on in the world, along with changes to internal processes, colleagues on furlough or even rapid recruitment plans, it is easy for those already within the business to feel concerned about the long term objectives of their role. During this time, it is crucial to keep engaging with your existing workforce, so they understand what is happening within the business and the business goals to ensure that everyone works together to meet these challenges.

Having a happy workforce that feels informed and valued plays a significant role in reducing employee turnover, which in turn can help with attracting good quality talent. 

Richard Clegg is Director of Expion Search and Selection.

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This article was previously published in Pf Magazine.