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Ep 570: Sustainable Hiring

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The overhiring in the technology sector at the end of the pandemic, the resulting layoffs, and the knock-on effects on talent acquisition have been well-documented this year. However, big tech isn’t the only area where this has happened. Other talent markets have also been through a similar journey.

So how can employers hire more sustainably, and what new talent strategies are companies adopting to build more flexibility?

My guest this week is Carina Clingman, Founder and CEO of Recruitomics, a talent consultancy working with start-ups and scale-ups in the Biotech industry. The Biotech industry has had a big issue with overhiring in the last few years. Carina has some insights on sustainable hiring models, which are also relevant in many other sectors.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The changing talent marketing in Biotech

• Challenging for scaling companies

• Aligning talent strategies with business goals

• Fractional hiring

• Understanding candidate motivations

• Balancing growth with sustainable hiring

• The dangers of overhiring

• What can larger employers learn from start-ups and scale-ups

• Total talent thinking

• What is the future for recruiters?

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Transcript:

Matt Alder: Support for this podcast comes from Greenhouse. In today’s competitive hiring landscape, taking a people first approach is business first. That’s why Greenhouse helps companies adopt a flexible, fair and efficient approach to hiring. Greenhouse empowers everyone, from recruiters to hiring managers to make confident decisions that help strengthen your business, so you can get measurably better at hiring. Discover how Greenhouse can help you hire for the kind of business you want to build. Learn more at greenhouse.com/hire. That’s Greenhouse dotcom slash hire.

[Recruiting Future theme]

Matt Alder: Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 570 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. The overhiring in the technology sector at the end of the pandemic, the resulting layoffs, and the knock-on effects on talent acquisition have been well-documented this year. However, big tech isn’t the only area where this has happened. Other talent markets have also been through a similar journey.

So how can employers hire more sustainably, and what new talent strategies are companies adopting to build more flexibility?

My guest this week is Carina Clingman, Founder and CEO of Recruitomics, a talent consultancy working with start-ups and scale-ups in the Biotech industry. The Biotech industry has had a big issue with overhiring in the last few years. And Carina has some insights to share on sustainable hiring models, which are also very relevant in many other sectors.

Hi, Carina, and welcome to the podcast.

Carina Clingman: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Matt Alder: An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Carina Clingman: Sure. My name is Carina Clingman. I am the Founder and CEO of a niche talent acquisition firm called Recruitomics Consulting. And we work specifically in the biotech space and even more specifically with startup biotech’s, really small baby biotech’s, so that we can help them get set up with their talent because they have to compete against the big giants on the pharma field, like the Bayers and the Takeda’s. So that’s what we do.

Matt Alder: Fantastic stuff. And before we get into exploring this a little bit further, tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are now?

Carina Clingman: Sure. So I have a PhD in biochemistry. When I was finishing up my PhD, I started to look for jobs like most of my colleagues that were also finishing up. What I realized was a lot of the recruiters in the biotech space specifically didn’t have a scientific background. And so sort of communicating what I did and then in return, learning what the companies did, why it was interesting, what the day to day of the jobs were, things like that was really challenging.

So I have always been a little bit entrepreneurial. I started my first business when I was seven, so I figured this was a good time to start again. I created this little consulting firm which was just me to begin with. And my first client was Moderna therapeutics, which a number of people have probably heard of. We, I, at that point, was their scientific recruiter, really looking for the niche scientists. I am an RNA biochemist. That was my training.

So from there, what I realized was that there was a real need for this within the small startup space. Moderna was growing, and so I started to work with smaller and smaller companies. And so that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years. At this point, we’ve worked with about 85 baby biotech’s, either working directly with them or through venture capitals and private equity firms.

Matt Alder: So tell us a little bit about the market. What’s the talent market like in the biotech industry at the moment?

Carina Clingman: Oh, it’s weird at the moment. Yeah, it’s been a ride. So during the pandemic, I’d say second half of 2020 through the first quarter of 2022, it was booming. There was a lot of money in biotech. There was a lot of excitement around biotech because it was solving this huge global problem, namely creating vaccines and diagnostics. That was tremendously valuable. People were willing to invest and money was really flowing.

I would say much like the tech sector, perhaps the money was flowing a bit too much at that time, and there has been a market correction since then. So for about the last 20 or so months, we’ve been in a real market correction where that money spigot has turned off. Companies are not able to get the funding that they need, especially the early-stage companies. And we’re seeing layoffs even across the sector, even with the large companies. And so what we’re seeing is a reversal of the boom of hiring, and now we have a lot of candidates on the market, and it’s definitely a different landscape than it was a few months ago.

Matt Alder: It’s amazing how quickly things have changed, isn’t it?

Carina Clingman: It is. Yeah.

Matt Alder: I suppose to give us a little bit more context. Talk us through the biggest challenges that the small biotech companies have in terms of how they scale up.

Carina Clingman: Yeah, it’s really interesting. So there’s two phenotypes of small biotech founders. We’ve got on the one hand– and this is putting them into do broad buckets, so there’s of course, people in the middle. But on the one hand, you’ve got these young founders. They are coming out of their PhD or their postdoc, they have a great idea and this idea was usually born through their research.

Biotech relies heavily on that basic research component. We then take that basic research, for instance, the idea that RNA can be used as a vaccine, and then biotech’s develop that technology into a therapeutic, something that we can use in humans. And then typically, at that point, it is either sold to or licensed to a larger pharmaceutical company for actual clinical development, and then it comes to the market. And so that’s the typical progression.
And so what we see is that, in this first phenotype, these early stage, these early career founders, they come out of their PhDs with these great ideas, a lot of energy, and zero knowledge of how to actually create a business around their idea. And so that’s one big bucket.

The other big bucket are founders that have come from a long career in big pharma. And so they have worked their way up to chief scientific officer of a giant pharma, and then they are nominated often by a venture capital firm to become the CEO of a small company, so they either are the founder or they’re brought in as the CEO. So those two different buckets of founders or company operators have their own challenges. On the one hand, those small early-stage founders, they end up not knowing how to build the right team because they’ve never worked outside of an academic lab. So they don’t understand all of the intricacies of building a business. What they tend to do is hire really junior talent and hope that they can figure it out as opposed to getting some experts or expertise surrounding them, and that creates a lot of problems.

The other bucket, those bigger company founders, they are used to being surrounded by real experts, heads of departments. And they will hire really, really top heavy. When they start, they’ll hire senior VP of this and Chief Scientific Officer, this C-suite that, and then those individuals are not doers, and they’re not in the lab doing things. They expect to build out a large team, and so those companies to end up being really top heavy and over hiring and running through their budget very quickly. So those are the problems that we see.

Matt Alder: That’s really interesting. I suppose, I think the really interesting question for everyone listening, is how does talent strategy fit into all of that? How do you help those companies align their talent strategy with their business goals when you’re facing these two very different but related issues from the different types of founder?

Carina Clingman: Yeah. We come at it from a very consultative perspective. So the bigger companies, let’s just Takeda, for instance. Takeda has a multinational presence. They have a huge recruiting engine. So they have their TA strategists, they have recruiters, they have schedulers, they have all of the things that go into running a TA process. I think the strategy piece is really, really key.

I’ve actually heard some other guests on your podcast talk about the challenges of actually doing the strategy when you’re in that company, sometimes you are welcomed at the table and sometimes you are not. But the role of a TA strategist is really to look at the landscape of the company and of the market and to tell the company what is prudent and what is not prudent. Should we make that full time hire? Should we leverage a consultant? Should we leverage a fractional expert? That is what we’d bring to these little companies where they don’t have that internal expertise because they’re just too small. They wouldn’t have hired that person yet.

So we sit with these two types of founders. For these more junior founders, we will connect them with experts that are usually fractional experts or consultants in the different business verticals that they need help in and we’ll advise them, “At this stage hire lower-level doers, you need your great lab technicians, you need your first scientists, you need to be getting the data points that are required to move your project forward, but you also need the expertise, but you don’t need a full-time person.”

So we have a great suite of people that we recommend that are strategists in research and development, strategists in operations, whatever business need they have. That’s typically, actually for both camps of founders. That’s typically what we end up prescribing when they have that limited budget. They’re in their Series A, they think they have a lot of money in the bank, but it goes very quickly. If you have a $30 million Series A, it’s shocking how fast that goes in biotech. So you really need to stay lean and focus on how do we scale this in a really intentional way without becoming too top heavy.

Matt Alder: I want to dig into that a little bit more in a minute, because I think that’s fascinating in terms of the mix of types of talent that you’re talking about there. Before we do, I just want to talk about the talent themselves. So how do you go about convincing people that they should be joining these smaller companies rather than sticking with some of the large ones? What part does recruitment, marketing, persuasion, sourcing, branding, how does that all work in this sector?

Carina Clingman: It’s incredibly valuable. That’s one of the most fun parts of our job, to be honest. So I hire PhD level scientists who want to be close to the science still, but they want a career change. And so recruiting gives them the ability to stay really close to the science, really close to those companies. They’re interfacing directly with the hiring managers who are boots on the ground in the lab. They’re interfacing with senior leadership of the company. So what we do is, as a kick-off initiative, we create a bit of a marketing and branding package that we use internally. Sometimes our clients are in, what we call, stealth mode. I’m sure that that’s familiar to some of your listeners, depending on industry.

And so we can’t say a lot about them publicly. But what we get from our counterparts there at the company is what we can say, what we can market. And sometimes that does require getting an NDA signed. But if we’re able to do that, then we can play a huge role in getting candidates excited. And because of our deep scientific knowledge, that’s a lot easier for us because we can speak to how really truly groundbreaking the science is and the mission of the company. So that’s one of our favorite parts of the job. It does require a lot of talking. It requires the personal connection because we don’t have a lot of publicly available marketing materials that we can put out for these companies.

Matt Alder: Is the mission and the science, the biggest thing that people are looking for when they’re changing jobs in the sector?

Carina Clingman: They really are. Biotech is very mission driven. It’s something that repeatedly we hear from our candidates, from the people working in the sector, from people who come from outside. So we’ve worked very deeply with some venture capital firms. Flagship Pioneering is one. And our TA counterpart there, the head of TA there, she is somebody who came from tech and she specifically came to biotech because she loved the mission and she wanted to be more mission driven. So this is a theme that we hear very strongly from our candidates and anyone working in the industry. We’re directly impacting human health, and that feels really good.

Matt Alder: So you were talking a second ago about the different mix of talent and the advice you give companies who ultimately have a limited budget for hiring. How do you balance growth with sustainable hiring? You talked about this a little bit, but what are the risks caused by over hiring?

Carina Clingman: Yeah. So the risk is cash burn. Like I said, it is a quick runway. Especially the more junior founders, they think they have a lot of money in the bank. They may get a seed round for a few million dollars and that feels like a lot of money when you’re coming out of a postdoc and you’ve been making $60,000 a year. But it goes so fast. And so we have learned to leverage.

Even in my own business, I’ve technically run a startup, I have a very small company. It’s been lean for the last 10 years. We leverage fractional experts as well. I have a fractional CFO, I have a fractional Chief Marketing Officer. I only need their time for about five hours a week. So I wouldn’t need to make a full-time hire, but I can still have them on speed dial, so to speak, so that I can do meaningful work and not worry about that aspect of the business. So that’s typically what we counsel our clients to do as well.

We have a really strong network of fractional experts in every different vertical, and we rely on those people to help our clients to grow more effectively, and then we usually hire the lower-level people who are the doers in the company. And that usually persists until about the 30 to 50 person mark when you do start to need to internalize some of those higher-level experts.

Matt Alder: What do you think larger companies in biotech or outside of biotech can learn from startups and scale ups when it comes to talent acquisition?

Carina Clingman: Ooh, I think there’s a lot of opportunity for larger companies to be a little bit leaner. There’s a lot of bloat and a lot of money spent in those companies. I know this because I know what these individuals are making, and I can see the number of high-level individuals in these organizations. So I think with the pandemic, one really interesting outcome is that, businesses, as a whole, are more comfortable leveraging consultants and outside expertise. And so I think we’re going to see the larger companies also moving toward this model a little bit more.

It’s really exciting because for people like me, I love working with a lot of different companies because that’s really fulfilling. That fills my cup to come every day to work to different problems, and different exciting therapeutic areas, and learning new things about biotech. I think that that is really a fulfilling career for a lot of people. So we’re seeing a lot of folks go into that more fractional decentralized model. I think that the big companies have a lot to gain there in terms of the organizational bloat that they occasionally seem to face.

Matt Alder: I think that’s really interesting in terms of that sort of total talent thinking that you have problems that you need to solve, you need specific skills, but actually in terms of how those skills come into your business, there are lots of different ways of thinking about it. I agree with you that I think it’s something that we’re going to see more and more of. What impact though does that have on things like employee experience and employee brand? Because in the past, those things have tended to focus on the full-time employees of the organization, but I’m guessing that that’s going to have to change if we move more towards this model of talent.

Carina Clingman: Yeah, I think it will to some extent, but there’s always going to be a core group of internal employees. That’s unavoidable in biotech because of the intellectual property considerations, because of the lab-based nature of the work. There is no way to completely decentralize a biotech company when they must have lab spaces and you’re not going to put a lab in your employees’ garage for them. So there is going to be always a cohort of full-time internal people with these biotechs.

I think that we are seeing a cultural shift though more broadly across all industries because of the hybrid work that we’re seeing now. I don’t know that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Maybe this is controversial, but I think there was a lot of identity for people wrapped up in their work. And there still is to some extent. But I think the ability to create a more balanced work life for yourself– I don’t believe in work life balance. I think it’s a balanced work life. It is how do you approach what amount you need to work with what amount you need to not work and to do things outside of work.

For those of us who work remotely, that has become a real question. I think that that is going to change the fabric of how companies even think about their culture as well. So we’re in a real revolution, and I’m actually really excited to see how all this turns out, and I’m following it closely. I know that you ask a lot of folks this sort of same line of questions, and I’m always fascinated by their answers too.

Matt Alder: And as a final question to dig more specifically into that in terms of the future of TA, it was really interesting that you were talking about the real importance of personal connection, the amount of talking and persuading that you have to do to get people to join these organizations. AI and automation are dominating the conversation when it comes to talent acquisition at the moment, and are clear forces of a lot of disruption over the next few years. With all that in mind, what do you think the role of the recruiter is going to look like in the future?

Carina Clingman: Yeah, I think they’re going to be community builders. I think the recruiters are going to be the touchstone for the community within the candidate pool. So to that end, we’ve actually formed a sister company called the Collaboratory Career Hub, where we are working directly with schools and companies for outplacement. There are a lot of layoffs right now in our sector where we’re helping to develop candidate’s ability to job search more effectively. But in that vein, we’ve actually formed a really nice community where our recruiters are working directly with candidates, not necessarily in an immediate recruiting capacity, but we’re nurturing a talent pool forever, for the future.

I think that that community builder aspect is what recruiters are going to be within large companies, and external recruiters like mine who are working with a variety of different companies across the sector. So I’m excited about that because I think community is something that we are going to see as a very important turning point, I would say, with this AI revolution because we’re going to lose that more and more. We’ve already lost it a little bit with the remote work. And so how do we build the communities? I think that’s the real question.

Matt Alder: Carina, thank you very much for talking to me.

Carina Clingman: My pleasure. It was great.

Matt Alder: My thanks to Carina. If you’re a fan of the Recruiting Future Podcast, then you will absolutely love our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast. Not only does it give you the inside track on what’s coming up on the show, you can also find everything from book recommendations to insightful episodes from the archives and get first access to new content that will help you understand where our industry is heading. For a limited time, subscribe to the Recruiting Future Feast newsletter and get instant access to the video recording of the recent remixed webinar on AI and talent acquisition featuring some of the smartest thinkers in the industry. Just go to mattalder.me/webinar to sign up. That’s Matt Alder dotme slash webinar.

You can subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. You can also find and search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com and don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast. Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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