Over the past three decades, I’ve learned the hard way that finding the perfect candidate for a job in the chemical and life science industries, as in any field, can be like hunting for a unicorn. It's simply not always possible to find the ideal candidate and flexibility in the selection process is often necessary.
If you feel like you’re hunting unicorns with your recruitment, here are some ideas to consider which just might turn those unicorns from mythical creatures to real life hireable talent:
Diverse skill sets over a perfect match:
Job roles in the chemical and life science industries often require a wide range of skills, from technical laboratory expertise to business development acumen. It's rare for a single candidate to possess all the necessary skills and experience, making it challenging to find a "perfect" match.
Instead of seeking a candidate who ticks every single skills box, prioritise those candidates with a strong foundation, coachability and a willingness to learn additional skills on the job. For instance, a lab manager with excellent technical skills might need training in personnel management, or a sales specialist who may be an excellent scientist, but inexperienced in business development may have aptitude. All skills can be learned over time with the right motivation and attitude.
Changing industry landscape calls for flexibility:
The chemical and life science industries are dynamic and subject to evolving technologies, regulations, and market demands. What's considered a perfect candidate today may not tick every box tomorrow.
Instead, look for flexibility and a willingness to stay updated with industry changes. A candidate may not have all the answers now, but they have the potential to grow and adapt as the industry evolves. Continuous training creates team players with excellent cross-functional skills, making them a versatile and valuable asset to your business and also accelerates the individual’s personal career potential.
Don’t overlook the importance of cultural fit:
Beyond technical skills, cultural fit within your organisation is crucial to ensure you hire the most suitable individuals. Finding someone who aligns with your company's values, work culture, and team dynamics can be challenging but will pay dividends in the mid to longer term.
While cultural fit is essential, you should also consider the strength of diverse perspectives and experiences. Introducing fresh ideas and innovations can often benefit your business. My international experience across many cultures produced insights that translated into added value for the business.
Location and availability is no longer a deal breaker:
Sometimes your unicorn may exist but might not be geographically accessible or available as soon as you would like.
Nowadays, remote work options or flexible scheduling can often go a long way to accommodate the candidate's location or availability constraints. This may often widen the pool of potential candidates and is the way forward for many roles that suit remote or hybrid working.
Budget does not have to be a constraint:
Ideal candidates with extensive experience and skills may demand higher pay, which might not align with your budget.
Consider hiring a candidate with strong potential and a willingness to grow into the role. Several times I have brought candidates into the business on a lower initial salary who have then proved to be a great long-term investment. It is very rewarding help them grow into their potential and in return you build loyalty and lower staff attrition.
Unicorns are very elusive creatures and the multifaceted nature of roles, industry dynamics, and various other factors often force employers to adopt a less rigid approach to identifying the best candidates. Flexibility in the selection process is essential to adapt to the ever-changing landscape and to make the best possible hiring decisions. By considering candidates with growth potential, adaptability and cultural fit, alongside an openness to remote working and investing time in their personal development, you can maximize the chances of finding and selecting candidates who will excel in their roles with your organisation over the long term.
Dr Jeremy Clarke is an accomplished Senior Director of Business Development. He received his PhD from the University of Kent in Microbial Biochemistry and has developed his commercial experience selling capital equipment, research services and consumable goods in the chemistry, life science, pharmaceutical and biotech industries.