Originally Published MDDI December 2003
The stability and growth of the medical device industry make it one where lots of professionals want to get in and few want to get out.
Medical device professionals are overwhelmingly satisfied with and secure in their jobs. Even with the economy still uncertain, those in the device industry understand that their field is as stable and rewarding as any, especially in comparison with other high-tech sectors.
These attitudes are borne out by the findings of MD&DI's 15th annual salary survey, and by comments from recruiting and human-resource experts who specialize in the device industry.
Among the survey's findings is that an overwhelming majority of respondents feel as secure in their job as they did a year ago, or more so. Only 16% felt their job was less secure, compared with 15% who feel more secure and 68% who feel equally secure. Likewise, only 9% of respondents indicated that they were more unsatisfied than satisfied with their jobs, compared with 69% who rated themselves “very satisfied” or more satisfied than not.
In keeping with the trend, 64% of respondents said they are appropriately compensated, and 66% said they are not considering searching for a new job.
The device industry is so attractive right now because of the high wage and benefit levels, the stability of the industry, and the collapse of other industries that used to compete with the device sector for talent, experts say.
“The word must be out, because a lot of people are trying to get in,” says Steve Matolcsy, corporate recruiting manager for Medrad Inc. (Pittsburgh). “There's a big glut of people from the telecom industry trying to get into devices. And those who used to be in and left are now trying to get back. I don't see people getting disgruntled and I don't see people trying to leave.”
Never is the industry's ability to withstand the lowest points of the business cycle more appreciated than during periods when other sectors have been crippled by them.
“The economy does impact the device industry, but not nearly as much as it does consumer products,” says Joseph Mullings, president of the Mullings Group (Delray Beach, FL). “We are a regulated industry whose growth is governed a lot by FDA. We never get the high spikes that other industries get, but we don't get the lows either.”
“Several years ago, a lot of people left for dot-coms, and we're seeing them come back to medical devices,” says Nancy Simon, senior partner at Lucas Group (Atlanta). “What's intriguing is that they are being accepted back.”
But self-interest isn't the only reason why the device industry produces such a high level of satisfaction.
“There is a sense of purpose that comes with these positions,” says Roger Brooks, president of Edge Medical Search (Boulder, CO). “They impact medicine and change people's lives.”
Opportunities for advancement vary, often depending on what kinds of products a company offers.
“At the hot areas in the medical device industry, such as the cardiovascular, neurological, and orthopedic/spine worlds, there is a ton of chance for growth,” says Simon.
There may not be as much movement, however, in other areas, especially where small companies are concerned.
“There are now limited opportunities to work at start-up companies because of reduced venture funding,” says Brooks. “With no IPO market for device companies to go public, that keeps venture capitalists from investing because there is not an exit strategy. And when we do see investments in start-ups, it's not usually new capital, but shifting of dollars around.”
However, the rapid pace of innovation that occurs in the device industry ensures that there are job opportunities, and that there will be even more when investment picks up.
“The device industry is so innovative that it rarely settles on current technologies,” says Mullings. “The opportunities presented by innovation and improved patient care pull along all disciplines. I hear very, very few complaints, if any, about compensation and conditions.”
Big versus Small
There are major differences between working for a large company and working for a start-up, and those who are satisfied at one may not be satisfied at the other.
“The start-up person is less concerned about security and about the overall outcome of the company,” says Dan Murray, owner of Medical Search (Michigan City, IN). “The start-up person generally has a more maverick kind of style and is very interested in technology. The person at a larger
company is more concerned with its viability and knowing whether there is a chance he will still be there in a year or two. He may be a bit bored but is willing to put up with it for so-called security.”
“When these fabulous opportunities become available at well-funded start-ups with high market capitalization potential and good boards of directors, in the past people were lined up to interview,” says Brooks. “Today I have to make hundreds of phone calls to get people interested in them. It's like pulling teeth. The better talent does not want to look around right now. They're more content with what they have. The reason is that they are not reading about people getting wealthy, so they don't feel like they're missing out on anything.”
The less-heated demand is actually a good thing, says Mullings. “We're starting to see movement with start-ups again, but it's movement in a more disciplined fashion. In the 1990s, some people who were tapped on the shoulder to be CEOs and vice presidents had no right” being in those positions.
Quality of Life
What is striking about the medical device job market is the diversity of opportunities. There are jobs available in a number of cities, working with a number of technologies, at varying levels of pressure and expectation. It is up to each individual professional to determine which options best suit his or her needs.
“There is a give and take in the marketplace,” says Simon. “At some companies it may seem like you are underpaid, but maybe you have a high quality of life and have enough time to spend with your family. Then there are jobs, like a lot of those in the pacing world, where the pay is higher but you're on a pager 24/7. You have to decide what on the scale of quality of life–to–pay you want to give up.”
Certain regions are home to many device companies and as such provide all sorts of chances to advance in the industry, whether within one's current firm or at a different company. In other parts of the nation, however, a professional may have to move if he or she wants to advance his or her career and won't be able to do so with the current employer.
“If you're available to move, the sky is the limit,” says Matolcsy. “If you're in an industry center like Boston, Minnesota, or New Jersey, there is a ton of opportunity.”
Mullings says a decision to move often comes down to three factors: the technology one wants to work with, career advancement, and personal and lifestyle choices.
“There's nothing you can do about the technology, it is what it is,” he says. “For career advancement, have you asked what you can do to get to the next stage? If there is no opportunity at your employer, are you willing to pull out and go elsewhere? If you live in a device-centric region, you have plenty of choices, but if you don't, you'll have to relocate, and that's where the lifestyle choice comes in. If you decide that's what you want to do, make sure it's how you really feel, and not just because you're having a bad day or a bad week.”
Knowing Your Worth
While most device professionals do not feel dissatisfied or underpaid, there are recourses available to those that do. Experts say, however, that it is up to the employee to take the initiative to better their situation. If an employer is not made aware of any dissatisfaction, it is highly unlikely to make changes to lessen it.
“If an employee is overworked or getting no satisfaction, he owes it to his employer to let them know what the issues are,” says Matolcsy. “If the employer does not react, shame on them. Then the employee must decide how much it is bothering them.” The employee should start by talking to his or her immediate supervisor.
If the employer does not address the concerns, then the employee should start actively looking elsewhere.
“Understand that different companies pay at different levels, and the only way to find out is to market yourself and see what offers you can get,” says Jeff Kroh, president of Jeff Kroh Associates (Los Angeles). “That will enable you to get an honest assessment of yourself and your abilities.”
In fact, Murray says, disgruntlement can be prevented if a professional takes a long-term view as soon as he or she starts a new job. “When someone goes into a new company to begin work, they need to have a clear sense of what they want, what their position is, and what it could lead to. The more they are on top of that, the better. The less the person knows what they want, the tougher it will be for them. It's just a matter of communication—communicating with yourself.”
It also helps if a professional is constantly attuned to better opportunities. “Don't lose touch with people you worked with in the past that held you in high regard,” Brooks says.
There is also a misconception, Simon says, that hirings slack off in the fourth quarter because of the holidays. “December is actually a very busy time because January often brings new budgets and decisions about things like bonuses and relocations. If you're looking for a new opportunity, don't think you shouldn't be busy during the fourth quarter.”
The medical device industry has always been extremely difficult to break into, and that is even more the case now that the economy isn't what it was five years ago.
“The days of picking someone who is ‘close enough' are over, at least for the short term,' Mullings says. “They are being more selective today, and it is good for the industry.”
But once a professional has gotten into the industry, good pay, good benefits, and healthy satisfaction await. And merely being in the industry is often the best qualification for advancing in the industry.
“Going forward, there will be labor shortage issues when the economy picks up,” says Matolcsy. “Right now, it's a dream world for recruiters. There are good people actively looking. As things start to turn, it will be hard to maintain the level of standards you want. We will find good talent, but not necessarily with industry experience. In return, people with industry experience will be able to write their own check at some point.”
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Salary Approximation Worksheet
The information presented in this article provides a broad framework for approximating employee compensation in the U.S. medical device industry, based on MD&DI's salary survey for 2003. Most of the responses analyzed are linear. They use cross-tabulation to compare one variable, such as job function, and analyze it simultaneously with a second variable, such as number of employees supervised. To account for the influence of additional variables, multivariate analysis is used to examine all variables simultaneously, account for their interdependence, and identify those that have the highest degree of predictive power. In any given year, some factors may not help to predict salary—usually because they correlate strongly with other variables included in the model.
The variables that were determined to have the greatest predictive value formed the basis for this year's salary approximation worksheet. Statistically, the model is only moderately powerful—it explains a little more than 58% of the salary variation (adjusted R-square = 0.576) and is significant by the F-test at p<0.001. Ninety-five percent of the time, its prediction around the mean is ±$6500 (standard error = $3200, mean = $82,900). Predictions tend to be most accurate for salary values in the middle of the range.
Base Salary: $19,100
Years of post–high school education (+$6370 per year) +_______
Age in years (+$431 per year over 24) +_______
Years of experience in industry (+$844 per year) +_______
Each million dollars in organization's sales (+$1.85 per number of millions, up to $5 billion) +_______
Primary Job Function
Is your primary job function in Quality Assurance/Quality Control? (–$6300) –_______
CEO/president (+$27,500) +_______
Vice president/director (+$23,400) +_______
Employees directly supervised (+$652 per employee) +_______
Hours worked in excess of 40 hours in a typical week (+$667 per hour over 40) +_______
Predicted total annual salary: $________
Note: The worksheet applies only to full-time employees in firms manufacturing medical devices or in vitro diagnostics, with salaries ranging from $30,000 to $180,000, and for whom salary is at least 60% of the value of their total compensation package. The model provides a sense of the relative importance of each factor in predicting salary. It should not be used as a basis for comparison with any individual's situation.
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