By Morten Nielsen, global managing director, Global Life Sciences Practice, Witt/Kieffer
No industry is more competitive than the life sciences for leadership talent. And we all know there are obvious advantages to asking one’s own leaders to help recruit, but allow me to offer a few words of caution if this is your strategy. There are several issues at stake that require forethought:
Conflicts of interest. Whenever an executive recommends someone from his or her network for a position, there could be a tacit belief that the candidate will be given not just fair but special treatment. There may also be the presumption that the recommended party will be the candidate of choice, perhaps the only candidate under serious consideration. In some cases this may be true, but most often it is not. Whenever executives are asked to help recruit, extra measures must be taken to make explicit that there will be no favoritism given to recommended candidates, and that each applicant will undergo the same rigorous interviewing and vetting process as all others. Otherwise, it is a recipe for confusion and hard feelings.
Fairness. When recruiting for any position it is important to give fair consideration to any and all interested candidates, especially those not recommended by someone inside your organization. Looking at the other side of the coin, a fair and open search is critical for whomever is hired, particularly a referred candidate. It can be extremely difficult for a newly hired executive to establish credibility with colleagues and subordinates if there is a whiff of suggestion that he or she was inserted into the role without proper vetting. A company does no favor to an executive by hiring that person through a hasty or incomplete process.
Confidentiality. More than ever, expert recruiting requires utmost confidentiality, as rumors or information leaks during a search can jeopardize not only the recruitment itself but also the careers of the executives involved and the reputation of one’s firm. Professional recruiters, whether internal or retained, have concern for privacy in their DNA. They well understand the risks involved and make it standard practice to protect candidates and the veracity of the search process as much as is possible. When executives become involved in recruiting, it becomes much harder to maintain confidentiality.
Finding the Best Talent. Asking your executives to suggest potential candidates may bias a firm towards recommended candidates. It may also come at the expense of conducting a comprehensive search for the best person available. It is tempting to have a viable candidate presented on a silver platter and to jump at the chance. The inclination is to fill the position—“Let’s get someone in here who can do the job, and fast.” Those two goals aren’t always compatible. Getting the right person, for the right job, for your organization is best done through a thorough, deliberate process. Good recruiting can be done quickly, but pace should not be the only selection criteria.
RULES OF THUMB
What does the organization owe its executives who recommend candidates? Honesty and transparency. In my mind, there are a few simple guidelines to follow:
- Ask but don’t promise. By all means, solicit candidate referrals from executives and staff. Then make no promises other than that recommended candidates will be fairly considered and treated.
- Communicate. Keep recommenders apprised of the progress of a search. This doesn’t mean giving them inside information on the status of the recruitment, but letting them know what stage the search is in and whether or not their suggested candidate is still under consideration.
- Say thank you. When the hiring process is complete, express appreciation to recommenders regardless of the outcome. They have gone out of their way to try to help the firm.
The war for talent in the life sciences is real. It makes sense for a firm to ask its executives to help win the war, as long as there are clear rules of engagement.