Please note, this article contains references to Ashfield Engage which has now become Inizio Engage
Eoin McAtamney, Vice President, International Business Development for Ashfield Engage and Paul Burden, Chief Commercial Officer at ADVANZ PHARMA spoke to EPC and argue that collaboration with expert partners is crucial to building and delivering an industry-leading pharmaceutical talent acquisition programme.
The pharmaceutical industry is rapidly changing in a number of areas. This is having an enormous impact on the way pharma companies engage with their target healthcare providers (HCPs) and patients, and on the people they need to recruit to deliver the evolved, effective programmes required.
Several major trends are driving a shift in recruitment needs:
- The changing nature of new products. A decade or so ago, most new drugs were for primary care. As such, the sales and engagement skills required to promote them to target audiences were more similar to those needed for sales professionals in a range of other industries. Increasingly, however, the pipeline is full of biopharma and specialty treatments that are more complex and demand additional patient care and support. These require very experienced sales teams with specialist scientific knowledge and expertise to promote them effectively.
- The drive for greater medical and patient engagement expertise. Alongside the need to recruit more scientifically minded sales teams, pharma companies increasingly need to bolster their medical science liaison (MSL), medical information (MI) and patient engagement capability. This is crucial to support patients, care partners, HCPs and other stakeholders in the navigating the complexity of the new generation of treatments and their associated care and administration infrastructure.
- New engagement channels. Remote and digital approaches to HCP and patient engagement have been rising for many years. E-tools, such as individual and mass emails, as well as web portals and social media platforms, are increasingly used to engage with HCPs and patients at times and on channels more convenient to them. Some 54% of global HCPs now say they prefer hybrid engagement – combining face-to-face with digital approaches – with sales reps. Traditional sales teams may lack the relevant experience and capability to adapt to this new age of omnichannel engagement.
With all of this in mind, the candidates that pharmaceutical companies want to deliver their HCP and patient engagement programmes have changed drastically in recent years. Traditional salespeople with non-pharma specific backgrounds and with experience only in face-to-face engagement are becoming less and less desirable. Increasingly, the industry needs engagement professionals with the scientific expertise to promote and inform about complex cutting-edge treatments, and with the agility to do so across multiple channels.
Such candidates are difficult for pharmaceutical companies to identify and recruit on their own. For a growing number of firms, such as specialty pharmaceutical company, ADVANZ PHARMA, working with a dedicated talent acquisition specialist, like Ashfield Engage, is crucial to source the best candidates to stay ahead in a fast-changing pharma space.
Finding the best candidates
A key challenge facing pharmaceutical companies when trying to recruit the new generation of talent capable of taking on the challenges of patient and HCP engagement in the 2020s is sourcing and identifying the right candidates.
This is a more complex process than ever before. Candidates now need more than the “soft” skills of a consummate salesperson – listening and communication skills, an in-depth understanding of people and their needs, and the agility to respond to different personality types. They also require the technical knowledge that can only come from a science or medical degree or PHD, and even experience working in the field.
Such unique candidates often cannot be found using traditional recruitment approaches – moreover, increased competition across the industry means that more and more companies are fighting to attract a small pool of candidates.
Companies need access to global intelligence and established networks of contacts at the world’s top universities, as well as at industry bodies and institutions in related fields, to help them seek out potential new talent. These networks can take years to build from scratch, slowly developing relationships with individuals and institutions across the industry and international universities.
Talent acquisition partners like Ashfield Engage have well established networks across global institutions that can identify the right people quickly and effectively. By working with Ashfield Engage, ADVANZ will expedite its hiring process, saving time and resource in searching for candidates that can be better invested in getting to know the prospective recruits and what they will bring to the organisation.
Understanding key markets
Every geography is different. Not only does each have its own pharmaceutical regulations, but the healthcare sectors are similarly unique with their own structures and differences in engagement requirements that need to be considered.
A partner like Ashfield Engage, with years of global recruitment experience and offices all over Europe, has unique insight into the healthcare environments in multiple geographies, so can provide guidance on selecting the right candidates for each market. For ADVANZ, Ashfield brings local and regional knowledge of the diverse European recruitment landscape, enabling it to recruit the best talent and build first-class teams in each European market.
Overcoming technology hurdles
Another challenge facing pharmaceutical companies is how to use the latest talent acquisition technologies to their full potential.
Online interviews have been increasingly important for a few years now, providing benefits for companies looking overseas and across the globe for the best candidates. The COVID-19 pandemic – with global lockdowns preventing in-person meetings – has accelerated the trend.
Screening and interviewing candidates via remote video conferencing tools is a new dynamic for many organisations. Language barriers can be exacerbated, and there may be technical issues which leave a poor impression of a candidate even if they are without fault. Some candidates, who may well be the right fit for the job, may not be able to convey their unique appeal as effectively in a video call as they might be able to face-to-face. Knowing what to say to draw out the right information to discover the “x factor” in a candidate during a remote interview is essential.
In addition, it may be the case that interviews reveal promising candidates who may not be the exact right fit for the role currently in play but may be suited for potential new opportunities. Partners such as Ashfield Engage have the infrastructure to provide effective talent management support to keep track of such talent between rounds of recruitment.
Working with Ashfield Engage, ADVANZ will access comprehensive talent management databases that can allow it to search for candidates for new roles quickly and efficiently before reaching out for previously unknown talent.
Engaging with candidates that have awareness of the company can be beneficial during any recruitment process. They already know the organisation and their potential team members from the previous interview process, so they are much more likely to say yes to any job offer.
Building a strong employer brand
Finally, another obstacle that pharmaceutical companies must overcome if they are to build a strong team of talented sales and medical engagement professionals is their employer brand.
It takes more than simply offering an effective salary to lure people to a new role. Particularly now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people across industries are reluctant to move jobs. They want to feel safe and secure in a role that they are familiar with, and where they enjoy the rights or benefits packages only offered to established employees.
Persuading people to embark on new career opportunities in this environment takes a powerful and positive employer brand. Candidates need to be able to trust their potential new employer, and they need to see that they will receive additional benefits. In addition to attractive pay, they want learning opportunities, new challenges to stretch and develop themselves, to be part of a friendly, supportive team, as well as an agile or hybrid working environment. Moreover, they want the security of knowing they will be working for a company they know to be solid and secure in an uncertain economic climate.
For ADVANZ, a strong employer brand and online reputation is imperative to attract the best possible candidates. With its recruitment done largely remotely, it is even more important for the business to ensure that its digital shop window is an accurate reflection of their internal culture.
Working with Ashfield Engage, ADVANZ can do just that. The business has access to the best guidance on establishing and naturing their employer brand across all key channels, so ADVANZ can take steps to demonstrate effectively to potential candidates the unique value of working as part of its team.
The future of pharma recruitment
The pharmaceutical industry is growing and evolving rapidly. More new pharma companies are entering the space all the time. This is putting pressure on already small, niche talent pools – it takes time, experience and resource to train the very best candidates to deliver world-class HCP and patient engagement. We can expect competition for the best talent to increase significantly over the next few years.
As ADVANZ demonstrates, working with an experienced and specialist talent acquisition partner, like Ashfield Engage, is a key part of the solution to this conundrum. Such a relationship can allow pharma companies to benefit from years of dedicated experience in all aspects of the recruitment process for sales and medical engagement roles. With such insight, they can be confident they have the support and guidance they need not just to find the very best people for their needs, but to convince them to take the role too.
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