Hiring for Biotechnology: 5 Characteristics Early-Stage Companies Should Look for in Employees

Posted on February 3, 2016 by Craig Shimasaki in Human Resources for the Life Sciences Industry

First in a three-part series from Moleculera Labs on human capital management for biotechnology companies

Without question, one critical success factor for all biotechnology companies is the ability to identify and retain a synergistic combination of internal and external team members, all working seamlessly toward the same goal. This collective group of individuals can be referred to as the company’s “human capital.”

In comparison to the other activities of a start-up or development-stage biotechnology company, there is relatively little strategic planning time spent on understanding how to grow and leverage the human capital assets of the company. This lack of human capital planning is a mistake, as it is impossible to start and build a successful biotechnology company without the help of an exceptional and synergistic team of individuals.

In this post, I will discuss the most important characteristics biotech entrepreneurs should seek in new employees. My next post will go into the various non-employee human capital resources that biotech startups need.  The third post will discuss selecting the external partners who can be so vital to your success.

1) Diversity
There is a natural tendency to hire individuals most like yourself, who think like you and with whom you get along with best. However, who needs two employees who think identically and have identical backgrounds? In this case, one of these people is expendable.

My advice is to get comfortable with individuals who have diverse experiences and expertise. Individuals with diverse qualifications view problems from a different perspective and are more likely to come up with creative solutions to the unique problems that smaller companies face.

Hiring for diversity, however, does not mean embracing individuals who do not see eye-to-eye with your mission and vision – or hiring those who do not share your core values. When hiring for diversity in team members, it is important to look for variety in their approach to solving problems – but the following characteristics are ones that everyone must share across the board.

2) Fit
Early hires are critical to establishing a solid foundation for your company and their skills can ensure that you achieve the desired product development progress. Therefore, you want to recruit and hire the best “fit” individuals in all the functional areas where your company professes core expertise.  I define best fit candidates for employment as those who exemplify outstanding characteristics of:

  • relevant experience
  • ability to execute
  • shared core values

3) Relevant experience
Most companies hire strictly based on work experience and education – the type of experience one lists on a resume. However, to find the best “fit,” professional experience is only one of three types of experience that should be examined. To find candidates with the most relevant experience, managers need to also examine candidates’ ability to execute and determine whether they possess shared core values with your organization.

4) Ability to execute
Individuals with relevant experience may have knowledge but not all knowledgeable individuals are capable of getting things done.  The ability to execute means both knowing what needs to get done and possessing the ability to accomplish it. It is not unusual to hear of a company hiring someone with outstanding relevant experience, only to find in about 30 days on the job, that this person doesn’t accomplish a whole lot. One way to help assess that a candidate can get the job done is to ask detailed questions about how the individual was able to accomplish the things listed on their resume. Having them reveal the methods used to reach their listed accomplishments does a lot to provide more insight into their ability to execute projects.

5) Shared core values
All individuals possess core values that are the driving motivations behind why they do what they do. These core values drive their decisions and their choices. Employees who do not espouse the same core values as the rest of your organization will be at odds with others because their values don’t match.  You improve your chances of selecting the best employees to complement your team by developing an interview process that permits the examination of three important aspects of “fit.” These three criteria are discussed in more detail in The Business of Bioscience: What Goes Into Making a Biotechnology Product.

Conclusion
Hiring right “fit” employees is an important principle for all companies. However, it becomes absolutely critical for companies in the development stage, as each incoming employee either contributes to the accomplishment of your mission or they detract from reaching your goals. Indiscriminately hiring employees who don’t meet these five criteria guarantees you will be in store for what I call “artificial problems.”

These are internally generated personnel issues that constantly create internal conflict over decisions and activities that are incongruent with the mission and vision of the overall organization. Do not interpret this as advocating “sameness” but, rather, diversity in harmony. Building a successful biotech company requires an ever-expanding team of diverse individuals, with shared core values, all working toward the same goal.

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