An MD&DI June 1999 ColumnFinding and hiring well-qualified candidates can be a challenge in today's job market.
Today's robust economy has led to the lowest level of unemployment in many years. Although not as directly affected by the economy as other industries, medical device companies are nevertheless competing for new employees while also facing a potential brain drain as members of the current workforce are lured away to other disciplines. Medical device companies continue to flourish and step up their hiring activities. In addition, other advanced-technology industriessuch as electronics and automotiveare recruiting across industry lines.
There has always been a limited pool of candidates that have the highly specialized skills required to meet the medical industry's demands. Now it has become even more difficult to find candidates with industry-specific expertise in such areas as regulatory affairs, quality assurance, research and development, engineering, and product development. Human resources directors and other hiring managers may need to reassess their company's approach to recruiting candidates to fill technical and managerial positions.
"Recognizing that it's more challenging than ever to find quality talent, we've developed a committee with high visibility to ensure that the recruitment process has been raised to the next level for attracting the top employees," explains Tony Perlingieri, director of human resources for the Patient Monitoring Div. of Datascope Corp. "From identifying and developing business partnerships with recruiters to creating innovative college recruiting programs and electronic techniques, we're doing what it takes to become an employer of choice."
Complicating the process of attracting new candidates is the issue of location. Medical device companies tend to be concentrated in large metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay area, Boston, New York/New Jersey, and the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul, also known as Medical Alley) where the cost of living can be extremely high. Motivating someone from a small Midwestern city to move to California, where housing costs are double or triple what he or she is accustomed to, is often difficult. On the other hand, the reverse can be trueconvincing someone from a major city to take a drop in pay for work at a company headquartered, for example, in Texas, where the salary drop is supposedly offset by a lower cost of living, can be quite challenging. In addition, cultural differences from one locale to another also can play a role in increasing some candidates' reluctance to move.
HOW TO FILL AN EMPTY POSITION
Hiring costs in a competitive job market are high. Recruiter fees and relocation costs alone can reach six figures depending on job level and location, among other factors. However, vacant positions affect the bottom line, so a company must be willing to spend what's required to attract highly qualified people. The first offer made to a desirable candidate should be attractive. Otherwise the company risks offending the candidate and losing him or her to a competitor offering a more-enticing benefit package.
An employer should be prepared to offer strong and creative financial incentives, including sign-on bonuses, early reviews, stock option arrangements, profit sharing, and bonus plans. Examples of the latter include two- or three-tiered hiring bonuses, where a new employee receives a portion up front and additional payments after specified periods; bonuses for individual contributors to a project or members of the project team; and guaranteed minimum bonuses. If applicable, the employer should also offer a reasonable relocation package that includes a cost-of-living adjustment.
Another attractive benefit for future employees is the potential for career advancement. In recent years, many companies have undergone a change in hierarchy that has translated into fewer management positions. To compensate for the loss of these positions on the managerial ladder, an employer should offer candidates the opportunity to lead projects or a team of employees or to act as a liaison with senior management. Establishing dual technical and managerial career paths within the company can enable talented employees to continue to be promoted even if they are not interested in, or do not have the right skills for, a managerial position.
Another compelling and often overlooked benefit is job fulfillment. An employer often can win over a candidate by providing an opportunity to work on a cutting-edge project. The chance to work with a renowned scientist or engineer or at a prestigious firm also can be very appealing. However, the prospective employer should remember that interest in such perceived benefits can vary dramatically from one candidate to another. Fulfillment for one employee may be working at a company with an 80% share in its market segment, while another may dream of troubleshooting for a small company facing regulatory issues. Still others may look for the challenges and potential financial rewards associated with a start-up company commercializing a new technology.
Those conducting interviews should empathize with the candidate. Making a career change can be one of the most stressful events in a person's life, and recognizing this by showing compassion and understanding is both an ethical and effective hiring tactic.
In today's job market, device companies should consider recruiting talent from other industries that demand the same underlying skills and then training new employees in medical industry requirements such as good manufacturing practices and the design control and documentation sections of the quality system regulation. Employees from other industries also can be taught about the marketing strategies and distribution channels specific to the medical device industry.
PARTNERING WITH A RECRUITING FIRM
One effective technique to facilitate the filling of technical and managerial positions is to form a partnership with a recruiting firm. Working as an extension of the hiring company, the recruiter conducts a search to identify candidates who meet the requirements of particular positions. Outlined below are several points to consider when seeking a partnership with an executive search company.
Look for Related Industry Experience. Because the job market is so strong, start-up recruiting firms are opening in many areas of the United States. A company should be aware that reputable, experienced firms that are part of a national network may very well offer more extensive capabilities for finding qualified candidates. Management or human resources should research the recruiting firms' specialties, ask how long each recruiter has been in the business, and determine if they have established long-term relationships with employers.
It is particularly important to confirm the qualifications and industry-related experience of the particular recruiter or recruiters who will work with your company. Executive recruiters should be well versed in the medical device industry, its technologies, manufacturing processes, and typical compensation ranges. They should also know key industry-specific terms and be familiar with industry job titles and the associated areas of expertise. In addition, they should be well versed in the relevant FDA regulations and international standards and be aware of the differing needs of various market segments within the industry.
Because recruiters represent the hiring company to potential employees, the more they know about the company and where it fits into the industry, the easier it will be for them to attract high-quality candidates. Providing recruiters with a rundown of job requirements, such as education, skill sets, and years of experience, is not enough. The company must also outline its willingness to be flexible regarding those requirements, identify salary and benefit levels, and provide a review of ongoing and future projects that the candidate would be working on. It should also give recruiters information on market share, expected new product launches, expansion plans, and the culture, environment, and dynamics of the company.
Explore Fee Structure Options. Recruiters work on either a retainer or a contingency basis. Traditionally, under contingency-based arrangements recruiters received an agreed upon percentage of the candidate's annual salary when the search was successfully concluded. However, in today's competitive job market, a contingency compensation is often higher and is based on gross income (compensation plus bonus). This fee structure ensures that the recruiters will work aggressively to find candidates that best fit the client's needs.
A retainer-based fee structure is beneficial when filling confidential, high-level, or difficult-to-fill positions, or posts at a company with a less-than-stellar reputation (one involved in litigation or found noncompliant with government regulations, for example). The retainer provides the recruiting firm with exclusivity and a financial guarantee for what could prove to be a challenging and time-consuming project. Numerous forms of retainers exist including a tiered schedule of payments (e.g., a third up front, another third at a specified interval, and the final payment at the end of the search), which is well suited for difficult-to-fill positions, and a monthly retainer, which is often chosen when multiple positions will become available as a company expands.
Inquire about Candidate Screening. One reason to enlist the services of a recruiting firm is to save time and money by only interviewing qualified candidates. Good recruiters will insist upon receiving thorough job specifications in order to fully understand the client's exact needs. Then, tapping their well-established network in the industry, the recruiters will screen potential candidates to assess their ability to perform the specific job functions and will refer only those whose credentials and experience most closely match the client's requirements. Typically, only two or three prescreened, well-qualified candidates will be referred. A good recruiter does not simply find candidates but ensures that the company obtains the candidate it wants.
"I can't rely on networking with colleagues to find a mid- or senior-level engineer because my networking doesn't get me enough in-depth information," explains Robert Bea, vice president of quality assurance/regulatory affairs at Siemens Hearing Instruments (Piscataway, NJ). "A good recruiter is able to conduct much more comprehensive discussions and develop a valuable bank of knowledge. This can reduce screening time dramatically."
Before the hiring company conducts its own interviews, it is the recruiting firm's job to accurately communicate to its client all relevant information obtained from the candidates about their background, expertise, motives, objectives, and compensation requirements. This up-front approach prevents any misunderstandings that may arise relative to the candidate's and company's expectations.
Ask How Deals Are Closed. One of the most awkward aspects of the recruiting process for a company is negotiating compensation and benefit packages. The recruiter's role in this negotiation should be that of an effective and objective liaison between employer and candidate. Additionally, the recruiter should determine during the prescreening process what each candidate is looking for in a compensation and benefits package, including such items as a 401(k) plan, a flexible work schedule, profit sharing, and relocation assistance. Sharing this knowledge of candidate expectations with the hiring company will help to ensure that closing the deal is a smooth process. The recruiter should also have coached the candidate on how to respond to a current employer's counteroffer. If everyone involved in a compensation negotiationthe hiring company, the recruiter, and the candidateis well prepared, it is highly probable that when a viable offer is made, the candidate will be ready to accept it.
The U.S. medical device industry is dynamic and fast growing, but skilled candidates are in short supply in many areas. As a result, it is important for companies to move quickly and aggressively when hiring managerial and technical employees. Whether or not it uses the services of a recruiting firm, a company must analyze the candidates' skills and their ability to fit into the corporate culture and then make the most qualified person an attractive offer up front. This is the best insurance a company has for attracting top talent.
Howard Klein is president of F-O-R-T-U-N-E Personnel Consultants of Bergen County (NJ) and David Ducharme is president of F-O-R-T-U-N-E Personnel Consultants of Hilton Head (SC).