The current economy -- including hiring -- is especially unpredictable. The media has been predicting upswings, but hiring just keeps on stagnating, with every halfway-decent month followed by a disappointing one. A month or two ago, I reported in my column that things were looking up and that hiring is increasing, but the latest numbers from Washington (which admittedly aren't focused on science) say that we haven't made any progress at all.
I still believe, based on the number of senior hires companies are now making, that downstream job openings should soon start picking up. But it doesn't pay to prognosticate in such a wacky climate. The best approach is to make your best guess based on solid workforce trends.
The big trend in biosciences industry is away from research and toward development. R&D is now "little 'r', big 'D'." Couple this trend with our current economic mess -- some say it will take 6 to 8 years to fully recover -- and it's clear that anyone considering an industry career should give some thought to going over to the "D" side.
As opportunities in basic research and discovery decline, operations, manufacturing, and support positions are becoming more numerous. For a while it looked like smaller companies were stepping in to the discovery void left by the bigger companies, but today even small startup companies are shying away from looking like "research boutiques." Instead of doing their own basic research in-house, companies are licensing molecules that are closer to development, often from academia. So although what evidence we have suggests that industrial hiring isn't exactly vigorous, it's probably a lot better on the development side than it is in basic research. In this month's column I will suggest some ways that scientists with roots in academia can prepare themselves for the development side of today's biopharm industry.
Hiring managers downstream in development don't operate the same way as their colleagues in basic research and discovery, and these differences are reflected in the people they want to hire. (An important caveat: There will always be exceptions to generalizations like these.)
A hiring manager in a discovery position works with less-definite deadlines and timetables than the person who runs the department charged with, for example, scaling up a biomolecule. Although there is never an endless supply of time, there's a sense on the discovery side that deadlines are guidelines, important but nonbinding. The discovery manager knows you can't rush discovery.
But when a product candidate is handed off to the director of process development, the deadlines get a lot more serious. That tells us something about a major difference in the way that these managers look at your application.
Many managers in the discovery area hire like academic departments do: They look for the best labs and plenty of publications, and they like to hire from relevant postdoctoral positions. The development team -- and its hiring manager -- has priorities different from those of the discovery folks. They are less interested in your elegant science and more interested in what you can do to keep their project moving. They care about your ability to get stuff done and the specific skills you bring to the job. They pay more attention to what techniques you've used and what equipment you've had experience on, and less to the number of publications you display. These differences should affect how you structure your application.
Transforming your experience in an academic niche into something that appeals to the fastest growing parts of the biopharm industry requires some retooling of your CV and your plan. Here are my four strategies: