Recruiting: Winning the War for Biopharma Talent

March 11, 2021 – One of the hallmarks of companies that are thriving in these challenging days of not only a pandemic but rapidly shifting talent needs is the ability to meet change with speed and agility. That’s why on-demand services and interim staffing are emerging as forces to be reckoned with in the “new normal” that is taking shape across the economy. And nowhere is that capacity to pivot more critical than across the red hot life sciences sector, and biopharma in particular.

One recruitment firm, Recruiting in Rockland, MA, outside of Boston, knows this better than most. Its three-pronged talent offerings—recruitment process outsourcing (RPO), contingent talent solutions, and executive search—have been proving invaluable to the firm’s devoted, and growing, client base, whether the services are deployed alone or in tandem. “The bio-pharma segment is a very risky area,” said Eric Celidonio,’s founder and managing partner. “It’s filled with lots of starts and stops. It is very capital intensive, and fraught with regulatory hurdles, and what works in the lab, frequently will not work in human trials. When you get a green-light to hire, you need to hire quickly.” These three variables often lend themselves very well to business – and talent – outsourcing.

“What’s unique about our model is that we’re built of both agency and corporate recruiters. That allows us to go in consultatively to help build these companies strategically, creating best practices along the way.”

Agile Capabilities

It was that kind of thinking that recently led Mr. Celidonio to bring in recruitment veteran Leslie Lazarus as a managing partner and consultant to build out the firm’s executive search platform, where both saw the potential for tremendous growth. Thus far, Ms. Lazarus has helped with marketing and introducing Mr. Celidonio to others who might be a fit for the team. In time, she expects to carve out her own practice, revolving around PE and HR.

“Leslie has a very different background from me, and I thought that her experience and background complemented me and the rest of the team,” said Mr. Celidonio. “I like the fact that she’s worked with some well-known executive search firms, she is entrepreneurial, and she has agile capabilities. We have good chemistry.”

In the past, when clients had an executive role that required a more in-depth search than Mr. Celidonio’s team could handle, he would refer them to an outside recruiter and split the fee. Ultimately, he was dissatisfied with that approach. “I really wanted to do better than that,” he said. “Independent recruiters simply are not going to pay as much attention to the search as if they were primary stakeholders. It is much more advantageous for both the recruiter and the company being served to have a team that is vested in the process and who ultimately want to win for themselves and the client. So that’s why we decided to build out this new executive search vertical. We care about being holistic talent solution providers.” But competition looms in the highly rivalrous – and ambitious – field of life sciences and biotechnology.

In Recruiting’s field of play, competition for talent is merciless. “These are ‘wanted’ candidates and there’s a small
pool of them that fit the bill for what are deemed very specific, niche roles. That makes this work that we do so much more uber competitive,” said Ms. Lazarus. “The market has changed a little bit due to COVID-19, but it is still competitive for finding strong candidates. A number of organizations opt for talent with a specific, apples-to-apples kind of experience, but what’s needed in biotech technical roles is flexibility,” she added.

“We’re concentrated on the bio-therapeutics space which is probably the hottest segment and the one that I know best,” said Mr. Celidonio. “But overall, our focus is in life science.”

One need only look at today’s headlines or watch the evening news—or the commercials alone—to understand why life sciences and biopharma, in particular, are paying some of the highest premiums for search work of any industry. And new medical advances require top-tier talent.

Rent the Function

All this makes Recruiting an attractive option for its clients and prospective ones, many of whom are start-ups and for whom the path forward is still uncertain. The three options that the firm offers negate the need for an in-house corporate talent team, for starters, and allow clients to pivot effortlessly as they grow or as modifications emerge. “This industry changes by the second,” said Mr. Celidonio. “The reason why what we offer is especially well suited to this industry is the binary starts and stops of biopharma itself. These businesses are beheld to heavy regulatory processes that could literally sink a program on a moment’s notice. A company can literally go from boom to bust by one FDA decree. They could say, ‘Hey, this didn’t demonstrate efficacy.’ And that can cause a stock to go from 100 to zero, and it’s happened.”

He also said that funding – the lifeblood of most organizations in this sector – is volatile. “Companies are often backed by VC and PE firms that have fickle needs and interests. You can take any great success story and any one of these companies could have gone the other way. The truth is there is a big element of luck here and even the smartest minds in the room aren’t going to be able to take it all into consideration,” he said.

“Unless you’re a big company that’s going to continually expand, it really doesn’t make sense to have a full-time talent acquisition staff in many respects,” said Mr. Celidonio. “It’s a point in time. And you are going to need to add on 100 people, and you’ve got to get through your clinical trials, and there’s no sense adding on more people until you show success there. So rent the function until you know you need to buy it.”