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Why Would Candidates Choose You? A Review of Pharma and Biotech Career Site Messaging
Guest Post by James Ellis, Principal of Employer Brand Labs
March 9, 2023
With so many companies in the pharma and biotech space chasing ever-narrowing pools of talent, candidates continue to hold the cards, as they have for years.
In the pharma/biotech space, talent generally gets to choose where they want to work. But in order to make an informed choice, they require specific, differentiated information about potential employers and what kind of culture, values, and working experience they can expect.
But many pharma, biotech, and biopharma companies are not offering talent a meaningful value proposition. Based on what they post on their career sites, regardless of company size, they seem eager to say nothing differentiated that would allow talent to make an informed choice.
In other words, when every company says they are a great place to work with few details beyond that, how can someone talented make an informed choice?
To that end, I ran an audit of 30 pharma and biotech companies with large US footprints; 10 each of large multinationals with more than 10,000 employees, growing mid-sized firms, and smaller firms with fewer than 1,000 employees. While there were variations between the segments, the core issue of lack of differentiation remained endemic.
Methodology: In order to create a proper apples-to-apples comparison, I employed a human-motivation-based model of how people choose jobs. While this adds a layer of abstraction to the process, it allows us to understand all companies relative to each other.
In a crowded talent market, the ability to be clear about what a company offers talent and how it is differentiated from others is what drives the best talent. I scored companies against the primary two motivations being discussed on their career site. Companies that were specific, attractive, and different in how they described what they offered scored better than those who were vague, indifferent, and unfocused in how they communicated.
On the graph on the right, you can see where the 30 firms landed in terms of motivations and how well they communicated those motivations.
Large companies have complex career sites, with a great deal of content about culture, offices, videos of staff and leadership, deep examinations of benefits packages and perks, learning and professional development opportunities, promotion and bonus structure, access to equipment and resources, and the people.
The strategy for that level of content seems to be comprehensiveness. With all that information, there’s bound to be a reason for someone to want to apply, right?
But that’s not how candidates look for jobs. There are thousands of possible employers and candidates looking to understand the gist of a given company. They want to apply a heuristic label to a company: This one offers me support and a caring team and that one offers me development and performance. The difference is in how the content is framed.
Additionally, comprehensiveness is why many companies look and sound the same. Pretty much every company at this level offers substantial insurance benefits and access to a gym and 401K and a state-of-the-art facility and a list of increasingly common perks and benefits. When listed out in a comprehensive fashion, it’s very hard to tell the difference between brands, making it hard to actually choose one. Instead, candidates apply across a range of companies that all seem similar and waste recruiters’ time because recruiters are the ones who are expected to carry the burden of framing and describing the company in more depth.
Medium-sized companies of between 1,000 and 10,000 employees seem to take a slightly different approach. Instead of putting a lot of weight behind mission and values messaging (we care about patient outcomes, impact on patients’ lives, etc), they moved much of their messaging to how much they care about and support their teams.
This is a strong strategy, as companies of this size may not be able to offer the same level of resources for innovation and impact compared to companies of 10 and 20 times their size. But they can call out their wellness benefits and team spirit.
Interestingly, mid-sized companies don’t necessarily offer better benefits and perks, they simply moved them toward the top of the message hierarchy to provide some measure of differentiation from large companies. More could be done, but they seem to appreciate and strive for some measure of differentiation.
Smaller firms of less than 1,000 employees are in an interesting spot. Their size suggests an ability to be agile and innovative in their talent strategy approach. And in some cases, stronger and differentiated messaging does happen. But in this audit, smaller firms were more likely to mimic the largest firms by offering very soft messaging and vague branding. In effect, they were communicating the worst of what big companies were doing (speaking in generalized and undifferentiated terms) without offering what big companies could (resources, scale, benefits, etc).
These companies have ample means to embrace what makes them interesting and different, but it seems like few are willing to say something meaningfully different. This is surprising because the bulk of smaller companies exist because they believe they are very different from the biggest companies and that their approach to drug discovery and development is more effective. That thinking should be reflected in how they walk to walk on their career sites.
A successful talent attraction strategy for any company is based on standing out, rather than blending in. Candidates can’t choose a company when they all look and sound alike. To attract more great talent, companies should be showing the ways in which they are the most something or the only something.
Even within the constraints of consumer regulation, they need to embrace better employer branding to differentiate themselves among potential hires. By doing so, they may attract fewer applicants. In exchange, they will be attracting hirable candidates.
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DISCLAIMER: This article was submitted as a guest post by a member of the BioBuzz community and was not written by BioBuzz staff. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author listed above and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of BioBuzz.
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James, principal of Employer Brand Labs in Chicago, is a born employer branding nerd whose mission is to create a million employer brand thinkers. He is an author, keynote speaker, practitioner, and podcaster with a wealth of experience across multiple industries for almost a decade. James’ achievements include authoring what’s been called the bible of employer branding, managing the number one employer brand newsletter in the world and helping companies globally establish and develop their ability to hire talent.