2023 recruiting trends in life sciences
March 30, 2023
What does the future hold for recruitment in life sciences? Well, we know a few things. We know that the industry has seen rapid growth since the pandemic—when it was catapulted into prominence and compelled into cutting-edge innovations—and that it’s still growing at a vastly faster pace than all other occupations in the U.S. economy. We know that, while a record number of people are graduating with life sciences expertise (the number of researchers working in life sciences grew by 79% between 2001 and 2021, compared to just an 8% growth in other U.S. occupations), the life sciences industry had the second-lowest unemployment rate of all U.S. industries in April 2022—meaning finding talent can be extremely difficult for life sciences organizations.
We know that the life sciences industry employes a greater percentage of high-skilled workers than other industries; that turnover in these organizations is high; and that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is top-of-mind for both employees and employers: in a recent survey, 73% of life sciences professionals felt that racial minorities were underrepresented at the most senior levels, while 63% said they felt women were underrepresented at the top.
But we wanted to know more. That’s why we surveyed over 100 talent acquisition professionals in life sciences as 2022 came to a close: to get a collective sense of pain points, priorities, expectations, and goals, along with a shared sense of what 2023 might have in store. We asked about everything from tech stacks, to headcount plans, to diversity hiring, to employee benefits, to recruitment marketing and recruiting KPIs. We also segmented responses by company size in this report, recognizing that recruiting teams in smaller organizations (1-999 FTEs) and larger organizations (1000+ FTEs) may be having different experiences right now.
Here’s some of what we found:
Recruiting team—and overall headcount—growth is expected
In the last half of 2022, 15% of recruiting organizations at life sciences companies saw reductions in force. Yet 43% of smaller organizations and 58% of larger organizations saw recruiting team growth. And the outlook for 2023 is optimistic: only 3% of life sciences respondents expect their recruiting teams to shrink this year, while 86% say they expect Recruiting will either stay the same size or grow in 2023.
What’s more, 78% of talent acquisition professionals at life sciences organizations say they expect company-wide headcount increases—whether slight or significant—in 2023. (11% expect decreases.)
Building talent pipelines is the #1 activity talent teams are engaging in in preparation for a market return
Recruiting teams’ top 3 priorities in this market are building talent pipelines (around 48% of both large and small orgs are doing this), building and/or strengthening their employee value propositions (26% of smaller orgs and 31% of larger orgs are doing this), and evaluating their DEI initiatives (around 26% of all orgs are doing this).
Larger companies are more likely to be investing in recruiter upskilling (19% v. 4%), while smaller ones are more likely to be spending time on data cleanup (30% v. 21%). Meanwhile, 38% of life sciences companies say they’re not experiencing downtime. (And if you want to know how top talent leaders spend hiring slowdowns, we’ve got a resource for you.)
Meeting diversity goals and initiatives continues to be challenging
Nearly ⅖ (38%) of smaller life sciences organizations and more than ⅘ (81%) of larger ones say they have formal diversity hiring initiatives or diversity goals in place. 31% of all respondents, regardless of company size, say they’re meeting their diversity goals (here’s how many of them are doing it). This means 69% of teams see at least some struggle in meeting those goals.
The biggest barrier for organizations when it comes to diversity is finding underrepresented talent to begin with (37%), followed by moving underrepresented candidates through the hiring funnel (20%) and retaining underrepresented employees (16%).
“Gem provides a great barometer to know how many female engineers I’m reaching out to—and down the line, how many I need to reach out to if I want gender equity in my pipelines… to go from zero to 29% female representation, zero to 64% underrepresented representation in eight months, that tells me results with Gem have been about as instantaneous as you can get when your goal is organization-wide diversity.”
- Greg Troxell, Sr. Recruiting Manager @ Wheel
Time to hire is the #1 data point life sciences teams are tracking—though source of hire is catching up in 2023
The top 3 KPIs life sciences recruiting teams tracked in 2022 were time to hire (63% of teams tracked this), source of hire (52% of teams tracked this), and offer accept rate (51% of teams tracked this).
For the most part—and surprisingly—smaller organizations are more likely to say they track the following KPIs than larger orgs are: passthrough rates (35% v. 10%), source of hire (61% v. 42%), top of funnel activity (30% v. 12%), offer rejection reasons (48% v. 35%), and quality of hire (39% v. 27%). Two exceptions are retention rate of hire (48% v. 26%) and diversity (42% v. 30%)—larger organizations are more likely to track these metrics. (Respondents from larger organizations were also much more likely to say “I don’t know” when asked about whether they tracked particular metrics.)
In 2023, the top use cases for data will be: to uncover best sources of hire (46%), to report on time-to-hire and cost-per-hire (44%), and to track passive candidate outreach (42%).
“We had a clinical assessment that a lot of people were failing; we looked at our passthrough rates in Gem and saw the percentage of candidates who were dropping out at that stage in the process. So we decided that instead of making all candidates go through a simulation interview, we’d give them the option of completing a home assessment test.
Gem helped us uncover a pattern and work toward clearing that hiccup in the funnel, which will mean increasing the number of qualified candidates who pass through to the next stage. Gem has also done wonders for team collaboration, because the team has visibility into what the highest-performing sourcers are doing to get the numbers they get. They can iterate on best practices based on their teammates’ successes.”
- Sandra Osorio, Recruitment Specialist @ DotCom Therapy (formerly Clinical Recruiter @ Mindstrong Health)
Sourcing tools and recruitment marketing tech are top priorities in 2023
Sourcing tools and tech are the #1 technology recruiting teams in the life sciences space will invest budget in this year. Recruitment marketing tools and tech are #2; specialized candidate databases are #3. Smaller companies are nearly 3x more likely to say they’re investing in an ATS in 2023 (32% v. 11%), while larger companies are maturing their tech stacks with specialized candidate databases (30% v. 16%).
Remote/hybrid work takes the #1 place in terms of talent team focus
Fully embracing remote/hybird work was the #1 activity respondents said recruiting teams should be focusing on in 2023 (63% of smaller orgs and 40% of larger orgs said this), followed by pay transparency (53% of smaller orgs and 36% of larger orgs said this). Talent professionals at smaller organizations also emphasized structured interviews (26% v. 6%), internal mobility (32% v. 17%), social recruiting (32% v. 17%), and re-engaging past applicants and former silver medalists (37% v. 23%); while those at larger organizations emphasized talent sourcing (47% v. 26%) and recruitment marketing (23% v. 11%).
Finding qualified candidates is 2023’s top challenge for life sciences recruiting teams
Regardless of company size, the top recruiting and hiring challenge talent acquisition professionals anticipate in 2023 is difficulty finding qualified candidates (58% of smaller orgs and 53% of larger orgs anticipate this challenge). In aggregate, uncompetitive offers (39%) and nurturing passive talent over the long term (33%) come in at challenge #2 and #3, respectively.
Smaller life sciences organizations are more likely to foresee difficulty meeting diversity goals (47% v. 6%), sub-par referral programs (26% v. 6%), and undefined employer brand (26% v. 11%) as challenges; while larger organizations are more likely to foresee struggling with recruiting process delays (26% v. 11%).
There are many more insights in our 2023 recruiting trends in life sciences report. We hope this resource helps you better understand the broader life sciences recruiting landscape, assess your company’s place in that landscape, and anticipate what may lie ahead. It’s as important as ever to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry.
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