Today’s job market: hiring and getting hired in San Diego

After more than two years of virtual events, SDEE returned to live activities with a panel discussion on hiring and getting hired in San Diego in these post-pandemic times. The event took place at the spacious facility of the Hera Hub in Sorrento Valley. The reception before the event was a nice opportunity to network while having great wines, beer, and snacks. Many thanks to SDEE’s platinum sponsors, Alexandria and Morrison/Foerster.

Dimas Jimenez moderated the discussion, and panelists were Taylor Moyer, CEO of ManagedLab Services and former SDEE president, Linda Sierra, Senior Vice President, Business Development of the executive recruiter firm Bench International, and Laura Puga, Vice President, People and Culture at Codex DNA and board members of several non-profit organizations.

According to the labor department, there are two openings for every applicant. Because the life sciences industry is a very specialized sector, the situation is even more difficult, with many openings but not enough qualified applicants. This is across the board, from entry level positions to VP and up. Many entry level jobs in warehouses being taken by Amazon, for example. Recruiting firms for these positions in the life sciences have seen big changes now compared to even 6 months ago. While before there may have been 400 applicants per each position, now the number is into the teens. Hiring scientists is not easy, either, and the hiring manager needs to strike a balance between the skills that a candidate needs to have versus what can be learned on the job. Talents want to explore their possibilities and see what they can gain, not only in terms of salary and overall compensation package, but also in terms of skills.

Referral programs usually work well to hire qualified employees. Good sites to post positions are LinkedIn, Indeed, and even Craig’s list and Facebook groups for entry level jobs. Twitter is gaining popularity and who knows if TikTok will be next! In any case, everybody who applies should get a response, positive or negative, within a few days. New hires can be featured on the company LinkedIn page, for example, as a means to recognize them and, at the same time, promote the company. These “people” postings usually receive more hits on social media than scientific material.

Video interviews are becoming very common as a first step, but even the in-person interview that follows can be a screening step to evaluate if a candidate is even interested: 6 out of 10 people drop out at that stage. The in-person interview allows to evaluate not only skills and interest, but also personality fit. Diversity may come organically if one hires the right people and fosters openness to new ideas. It also needs to be made clear, during the interview process, if the position requires on-site work, as it is the case for lab scientists.

Retaining is as important as hiring. For example, people may be excited to join dynamic start-up companies, but then realize that the workload is daunting and leave right after the 1-year mark. Employers need to understand the pain point of their workers and get creative in what they can offer to hire and retain employees. For example, some offer on-site child care. Child care has impacted the job market during COVID-19, as parents were always unsure if day care centers and schools would be open or not. Remote work is almost an expectation, at this point, and companies now allow more and more remote or flexible schedule when possible. For example, employees may be required to come to the office three days a week and work from home the other two days. Catered lunch once a week is a nice perk and a way to build and foster the human connection. Virtual happy hours, instead, do not work very well. Ping pong tables, access to the executives, 401K education sessions by the broker, and discussion forums, are all forms of engagement that are low cost or free to the company. Pet insurance is another big hit that sometimes does not cost the company anything.

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