Author Archives: The Alpine Group

Giving Thanks in the Job Market

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Giving Thanks in the Job Market

On Thanksgiving I took some time to ponder those things for which I’m thankful and it got me thinking about comments I’ve been hearing from hiring managers as they try to find people to fill openings on their team. For many employers it’s becoming less about finding specific technical skills or accomplishments in a resume and more about finding people with integrity, character and – most of all – humility. The matrixed based management structure prevalent in most organizations today requires that employees collaborate closely with their team members, and that they take time to thank and praise colleagues when appropriate as well as acknowledge their own faults and mistakes. The ability to be genuinely humble in this type of environment is a trait that is becoming harder to find.

As a candidate in a job interview it can be very tricky to express humility while also proving that you’re good at your job. An interview is a time to proactively communicate your attributes and positive qualities, which can be perceived as “bragging.” Hiring managers want to know that, although an individual has been working as part of a team, he or she can demonstrate individual contributions that have made a difference in the team achieving its goals. So candidates have to provide that evidence, but in a way that makes it clear that they value their colleagues and don’t take all of the credit for a team’s success. Team leaders don’t want to hire “Lone Wolves”, no matter how talented they may appear. Hiring managers want people who are genuinely thankful for the opportunity to be a part of a high-performing group of professionals. So as a candidate it’s important to balance “bragging” statements with humility and acknowledgement of other’s contributions.

A frequently asked question of candidates in the interview process is about perceived weaknesses or “areas for development.” Most interviewers will point out that we all have them, and will sometimes frame the question by asking what a candidate’s supervisor would say about their areas for improvement. This is another measurement of one’s humility and it is important to be truthful and genuine in your response. Hiring managers are generally not impressed when they hear something like, “sometimes I work too hard and have to take a break to achieve work-life balance.” That may be true but it’s a very predictable response and doesn’t get to the issue of whether or not you’re able to be self-critical and willing to acknowledge your faults. One candidate told me that his boss pointed out that he had a tendency to talk too much in meetings, so he deliberately set out to spend more time in active listening in order to help make the team more effective, at the expense of his own self-promotion.

Sometimes I’m asked if the trend toward individual attainment and away from humility and thanksgiving in the workplace is a by-product of our mas-and-social-media fueled culture. I think that’s true to some extent but it doesn’t automatically mean that younger Millennials are necessarily going to be less humble than Baby Boomers. I think that everyone, regardless of age and experience, must recognize the forces at work here and take steps to self-regulate themselves, whether working on cross-functional teams or answering interview questions.

Hiring managers are seeking that magic balance of skill and will. When they talk about a candidate’s lack of “personal chemistry” or “cultural fit,” they are most often referring to their perception of the candidate’s will: not just the willingness to work hard, but also the willingness to be humble and grateful for the opportunity to be part of a team. It is an increasingly important trait in the workforce and one we should all work on improving. As always I welcome your questions and comments.

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The Dysfunctional Product Launch Blues

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: The Dysfunctional Product Launch Blues

The old adage says “you better be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.” In many ways that captures the spirit of the new product approval process in the BioPharma and Med Tech industries. A company works for years to develop a breakthrough therapy or diagnostic test and when it finally gets approved, then what? The inventors and product developers have completed their job and now all eyes turn to the marketing department – and you better have your plan in place. Nothing is more stressful – and more rewarding – in the career of a marketing professional than the opportunity to launch a truly innovative product. After citing the opportunity for growth and advancement, it is the most common reason that marketing professionals share with me when describing their motivation to make a job change. For most people it only happens a few times in their career, and of course it’s important to make the most of it.

When everything goes smoothly and according to plan everyone celebrates a successful launch and thanks the marketers for doing a nice job. They had leading-edge technology, put together a reasonable plan, and didn’t screw things up. But what about those occasions where things don’t go so well? Sometimes launches don’t meet expectations, or they are so stressful when they are successful that the culture of the organization suffers dramatically. In those instances a marketing team can end up with the Dysfunctional Product Launch Blues.
Similar to a doctor routinely hearing complaints and bad news from patients, when I’m speaking with people about their interest in making a job change it’s often a bad experience in their current situation that has them talking with me. The negative experience can be driven by many things, but a common malady is DPLB. I’ve heard it said that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and that the first six months of a launch will usually set the trajectory of the product forever. So there’s a great deal of pressure to get it right, which means long hours, frayed emotions, and the potential for dysfunction in a marketing department.

I recently placed a Marketing Manager in a company that is in the middle of launching it’s first major innovation in about 15 years. It’s a first-in-class product and expectations are running high. While colleagues in Engineering, Project Management, Accounting / Finance and other departments are going home at 5:00, the marketing team is still there at 9:00 or later each time, working frantically to resolve details about things like sales meetings, tiered-discounts, and Med Ed slide decks. Meetings are tense, Directors are yelling at each other, and senior executives are micro-managing. The stress flows down from the top and as the Marketing Manager told me, “it’s hard to find an executive who can display grace under pressure during this launch.”

Marketers choose this type of career path, of course, along with the risk / return that accompanies it. But some organizations and team leaders are more prone than others to foster disorganization and stress in their product launches. The put the FUN in dysfunction. I’ve heard stories about Chief level commercial officers in large organizations overruling decisions about the type of candy given out at trade show booths. One medical device company I work with elected to launch their product in the U.S. – including deploying a sales team – after getting CE mark approval in the EU but before getting FDA approval (it took another 18 months to get FDA clearance). Stories abound about pricing decisions that have derailed product launches, particularly in oncology and other markets that frequently introduce innovations where valid pricing models are difficult to find.

Pitfalls like these are common, of course, but how does this impact staffing and recruitment?

High-profile product launches are terrific for the recruiting process because the best way to attract great people is to offer clear opportunities for growth and development. As we know, nothing drives organizational growth like innovation and a robust product pipeline. But high-profile product launches can be very bad for long-term retention of talented employees. The build-up to a big launch often creates unreasonable expectations and if results over the first year fail to meet those expectations then the marketing team is often the first to be blamed. Depending on their personal resilience and the availability of opportunities elsewhere, these marketers may elect to jump ship rather than wait for a turn-around. The overall morale of the team drops and many people begin to believe that the grass is greener somewhere else, particularly if continued underperformance of the product is likely to result in a downsizing in the future.

Even successful launches can often breed attrition and turnover. Many marketing professionals join companies in order to get a high-profile launch on their resume. After a year or two post-launch they expect to be able to earn a promotion since they helped launch a successful product. The problem is that the company probably hired a large number of talented individuals in the run-up to the launch and people often feel resentment when they lose out to a peer on a promotional opportunity – so they leave.

The other issue that leads to high turnover rates shortly after a successful launch is good old fashioned burn-out. If the stress, frenetic pace and dysfunction of a big launch doesn’t abate within 6-12 months post-launch the marketing team is most likely going to experience turnover, even if the product is booming. Whether it’s excessive overnight travel, long hours at the office, or toxic team chemistry the talented people I know are only willing to put up with it for a limited amount of time. Most marketers understand and agree to the need for short-term pain in exchange for longer-term gain, but the pain will result in burn-out if it persists for more than a year.

In summary, big product launches are great for marketing professionals – except when they’re not. If you find yourself with a case of the Dysfunctional Product Launch Blues give me a call and we can discuss what to do about it.

Seasonality in the Job Market?

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Seasonality in the Job Market?

It’s the 4th of July week and I’m camping in an RV park, “on holiday” in a good old fashioned family vacation. I generally schedule my time off to coincide with the vacation and travel schedules of my clients. It’s tough to have meetings, schedule interviews and do business when nobody is around. Just like planting season, tax season and football season, there is a seasonality in the job market that impacts the way employers and potential employees make decisions. Hiring managers and job seekers would be well served to recognize the trends so they can best invest time and money to meet their goals as efficiently as possible.

In addition to PTO schedules the timing of staffing decisions is also driven by an employer’s budgeting cycle. In the Med Tech and BioPharma industries, unless your primary customer is the U.S. government or you work for Medtronic, you probably run on a fiscal year that matches the calendar. In that case we generally see new headcount put in place in January of each year and a significant spike in hiring during the first five months of the calendar year. There are many large medical conferences held in May and June and things begin to slow down, and by July and August they can sometimes grind to a standstill. In the U.S. most employees are back on the job in late August and there is a burst of hiring activity between Labor Day and early December. The second half of December is typically dormant due to the holidays.

Why is this important for employers?

Hiring managers with urgent staffing needs recognize that the supply of qualified candidates who are interested in considering their job is nearing an all-time low. The U.S. unemployment rate is approaching the “transitional” level and in the medical industry in particular it’s extremely difficult to find “A Players” to key openings. Even unemployed candidates are able to be choosy and selective in this job market because they’re more confident they will have multiple offers to consider. We’ve seen a steep rise in the rate of counteroffers being extended and accepted, and candidates who accept job offers and then don’t show up on the start date because they continue to interview with another organization and accept another offer.

All of this means that that hiring managers must consider seasonality in planning for job creation and work force expansions. And even in adapting to unexpected backfills an employer must plan their interview process more thoughtfully in this labor market. You have to be ready and eager to interview qualified, interested candidates before you post a job or ask a recruiter to begin selling your opportunity in the marketplace. If you start too early and can’t move them along through the process at a reasonable pace you will build resentment among candidates and lose them to other, more nimble employers.

Check with the members of your interview team to get agreement on the decision-making process (including the need for consensus) and their travel schedule (work or personal) that will impact their ability to interview candidates. Candidates who are currently employed will generally be more available for calls and interviews between February–June and September–November, just like the interview team. It’s also a good idea to use Facetime or Skype more aggressively in other months to maintain candidate interest.

Why is this important for candidates?

For candidates who are currently employed and not in an “active” job search the issue of job market seasonality is not a significant problem. If you’re not planning to make a job change and are simply being opportunistic you can manage you schedule with or without employers and interview teams. What I generally see, however, is that when a candidate agrees to consider a particular opportunity and enter into an interview process he or she will become more inclined to consider other openings at the same time because they have gone through the process of updating their resume, brushing up on interview tips, and mentally preparing to make a job change. When you have multiple interview processes underway at the same time it’s very important to communicate that information to each of the employers, particularly in peak season, and be transparent about projected interview dates and your travel schedule and availability. You’re not being “pushy” when you tell an employer that you are moving along in another interview process and they may need to expedite their own process.

For active job seekers it’s more important to consider seasonal differences: your research, phone calls and emails should occur during those weeks and months of peak interview times so you can catch hiring managers when they are most available. For instance, if you decide to contact a GM of a business unit only two times because you don’t want to be a pest, make sure it’s during peak season rather than “off season.” In the interest of managing your own expectations, it’s important to understand that most employers post jobs online without considering the timing issues of the interview team, including their own. So you may apply to a posting for which you are highly qualified and get limited response, if any. It doesn’t mean that they are not interested in your qualifications – it may mean that they have not timed their process appropriately.

When a new job comes “open” I will often encourage employers to postpone the initiation of a search for candidates until the timing is right. It seems counter-intuitive in a candidate driven job market, but for best results all members of the hiring process – including the candidate – need to be ready to talk and make decisions in an expedited manner. Of course, there is a distinct difference between a job “opening” and a true business need that requires hiring a talented employee – but that is the subject of a different blog. As always, I encourage your comments and questions.

Video Recruiting and Video Resumes

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Video Recruiting and Video Resumes

I think we are all in agreement that the methods by which we send and receive information has changed dramatically over the past ten years or so. Since we’re now all walking around with computers in our pockets it stands to reason that we’re going to communicate with each other differently, and much more frequently. The fact that there’s almost no incremental costs to sending emails, texts or web posts means we are now subjects to “information overload,” a term originally coined by Alvin Toffler in the pre-internet 1970 book Future Shock. It’s a state where we have difficulty understanding and making decisions about an issue when we have too much information about the issue, rather than too little. That difficulty gives rise to the need to TRUST the source of the information we’re getting more than ever, and like it or not we tend to base that trust on the personal characteristics of the communicator rather than on the content being communicated. And that’s where video technology comes in.

Now that award-winning movies, documentaries and TV shows are being made with inexpensive, highly accessible recording devices we have found ourselves in a new era where consumers of information often expect that information to be transmitted in a combination of moving pictures and sound. And at least for the time being that expectation is generally not being met in the world of recruiting and job seeking. Yes the use of Skype, Facetime and other such services have grown as important tools in the interview process, but in order to get to the point where people agree to take time to consider interviewing they first have to be persuaded to stop what they’re doing long enough to pay attention. That requires cutting through the information overload in a trustworthy, convenient and differentiated manner. It can be highly impactful to use brief video messages to communicate information about career opportunities as well as about candidates for important positions.

The bottom line is that people simply don’t want to read as much as they used to, and we can either embrace that notion or fight it. I believe that employers and employees who embrace it will be the winners in the evolving job market. First on the employer side: I work with hiring managers to craft a “search plan” to attract the most talented candidates with a pre-designated skill set, in the hopes that they will consider a new career opportunity. That means not only finding the right people who have those skills, but “tapping them on the shoulder” to get them to consider the opportunity. You have to develop trust in order to get someone to respond to that shoulder tap. One way to do that is through longevity in the industry, the “branding” of your reputation, and word-of-mouth referrals by trusted acquaintances – in fact, there is no substitute for that. That used to be the way employers and we recruiters relied exclusively to get call-backs from targeted prospects – “I’ve been around forever, you know me or someone that you trust knows me, so call me back.”

That method of recruiting worked great, and it still does. But now we have the option of adding video technology to raise that level of trust even higher, in an efficient, convenient method of communication. For every search I conduct I now create a one-minute video on my desktop where I describe the highlights of the career opportunity. The recipients of my messages more often than not get their information on their phone or handheld device, and it’s much easier to click one button and watch a video than it is to scroll through an email or job posting. They can get enough information to determine if they want to learn more, in which case we set up a call and I send them more complete information. (This is also easier on me because I don’t have to worry as much about my writing inadequacies . . .)

So if this works for recruiters and hiring managers, what about candidates and job applicants? They have an even greater obstacle to overcome in terms of the “noise” they have to cut through, in that each on-line job posting generates hundreds of unqualified applicants sending their resume in the hope that whoever wrote the posting didn’t really mean it when they listed the qualifications. On the candidate side of the job market, the use of “video resumes” is on the rise because of their ability to help people establish trust and to differentiate themselves from the hordes of other candidates for a particular job. Candidates can now create short video vignettes to replace their cover letter, which never gets read anyway, and in those messages they have the opportunity to explain their motivation and interests, and why they may be a fit for that particular job.

I’ve found that the most impactful candidate videos are those that are customized for a given opening, where relevant information can be added that’s not in the resume and may be important to the hiring manager for that opening. Examples include why you may be interested in making a job change, why you have made job changes in the past, and your interest in working for that specific company at that particular location and level (you can also include information about relocation and salary flexibility if appropriate). The link to the online video can either be embedded at the top of the resume or included in the email itself, and it’s a simple click for the hiring manager to see and hear the candidate’s story, as opposed to simply scanning the resume.

Websites like YouTube, Vimeo and others have made it simple to communicate our stories with the power of video and audio, and I don’t think we’re going back to other communication methods anytime soon. As these techniques become more common their power for differentiation will diminish of course, which is why we can’t rely on video alone for getting our message out. In fact, it’s more important than ever to consider supplementing the videos with “old school” ways of communicating for the very reason that they can be so unusual. For example, post-interview follow-up notes can be handwritten by candidates on Thank You cards and left with an office assistant before leaving the site. On the employer side, a nice hand-written welcome note from a hiring manager on a new employee’s first day can be very impactful in reinforcing the decision to take a job. The power of written correspondence sent via the US mail is often underestimated in business correspondence, and I’ve found that is helps in communicating the emotional element of a message.

Written correspondence is still crucial, and good writing abilities are among the hardest skills to find in the search for talented employees. But video technology as a core communication medium is here to stay. Because of its speed and efficiency video is an increasingly important tool for communicating information in the job market, but it also provides the opportunity to raise trust in a way that only face-to-face meetings can exceed. You don’t have to be a photogenic movie star or highly skilled method actor to make these short videos. You just need to be authentic and trustworthy, and willing to try something new. As always I welcome your comments and questions.

Talk to your recruiter about RBF

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Talk to your recruiter about RBF

Resting Bitch Face. It’s a real thing – a scourge upon the land that ruins people’s perception of each other. Google it sometime to see some examples. Male or female, all ethnicities and ages – this is a global epidemic that Wikipedia defines as follows:

“Resting bitch face, also known as RBF or bitchy resting face, is a term for a facial expression (or lack thereof) which unintentionally appears angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous. The concept has been studied by psychologists and may have psychological implications related to facial biases, gender stereotypes, human judgment, and decision making. The concept has also been studied by computer experts, utilizing a type of facial recognition system; they found that the condition is as common in males as in females, despite the gendered word “bitch” that is used to name this concept.”

What has this got to do with staffing decisions and career planning? Plenty. All day long I hear things like “not a fit,” “bad chemistry,” “didn’t click with him/her,” “don’t think I’d fit well in their culture.” It’s certainly true that behavioral traits like work ethic, prior performance results, and the words people use to ask or answer interview questions do matter. But there is a reason why we insist on live interviews rather than simply matching job descriptions to resumes, sending emails, or holding phone calls or Skype conferences. We want to see people, shake their hand and – often unknowingly – evaluate body language. And nothing drives body language more than facial expressions, so we must get educated about RBF and it’s ramifications throughout the job market and global economy. Let’s look at this plague in two ways: why candidate’s often don’t get job offers, and why they often don’t want to accept them.

First, on the candidate side of the equation: interviewees know they only have somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours of “face time” to make a good impression, and they can’t blow it. Successful candidates understand that the most important thing they need to communicate, in whatever way possible, is trust. “Trust me, Ms. Hiring Manager, that I will get the job done and exceed your expectations. I will view the problems that need solving through your eyes and take accountability to solve them, freeing you up for other things.” It’s very hard for an interviewer to trust someone who, when they are not speaking, has a facial expression that communicates that they are “angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous.” Live interviews typically begin with the interviewer providing some background about the company, the job or themselves, giving the candidate the opportunity to listen and communicate with non-verbal cues. If the message being sent back is coming from a RBF then there’s going to be a problem.

Regarding the interviewer who suffers from RBF – the problem is more insidious. The reality is that many hiring managers WANT to project resting bitch face because their interview style is to screen out “unworthy” candidates. They believe they hold all the cards and that the candidates have to do all the selling in order to prove they deserve the opportunity to take the job, forgetting that the best candidates have many, many great opportunities in front of them to consider. The interrogation-style interviewer rarely gets the A Player on their team, but they generally don’t care because the company culture is fine with that. But what about the sincere manager striving to build and lead a world-class team? The most important thing they need to communicate is that they care about people on a personal level. The old leadership adage is that “nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.” Since the majority of time in a live, face-to-face interview is spent with the candidate answering questions and the interviewer listening, there is ample opportunity for RBF to creep out and cause the candidate to lose the sense that the person sitting there could possibly care about their personal goals, dreams and ambitions.

So what can be done?
Like any good 12-step program the first and most important action is to recognize and accept that there is problem. The first phase after RBF diagnosis is always the toughest. It usually includes shock, anger, denial, introspection, research and grudging acceptance. Then comes the hard work of prescriptive action, including many hours logged in front of the mirror conditioning those facial muscles so they can unconsciously communicate Resting Happy Face. On the other hand, you can simply forget about allowing the face to rest at all in an interview. Experts agree that the easiest technique is eyebrow control – if you want to convey a sense of trust or caring you may want to furrow the brow when you hear a particularly sensitive comment. Of course, high eyebrows along with an easy smile will endear the other person to you, provided it is not overdone. The bottom line is that those who suffer from RBF must work during the interview to keep that face moving!

There are countless remedies and techniques for treating RBF available online. Given the huge market potential I can foresee the day where a new wonder-drug is approved for the condition – perhaps a next-gen Botox or something similar. My own prediction is that RBF will become much more apparent and recognized as the scourge that it is, particularly when our very own President suffers from it. Perhaps Patient Advocacy Groups will be formed. I’m optimistic that the higher profile of the disease will increase research and funding for treatment options, and those of us suffering quietly will no longer live in the shadows. As always I welcome your comments and questions.

2016 Salary Analysis – Marketing Professionals in the Medical industry

Each year I analyze the results of self-reported salary information to get a current understanding of average compensation levels across the Biopharmaceutical and Medical Technology industry. I have the data broken out by four different levels of marketing positions and by company size. The intent is to provide select clients with real-time bench-marking information that can help their organization stay current as they attempt to attract and retain key employees. This is information provided by real marketing personnel working in the Drug and Med Tech industry in 2016, in contrast to syndicated data gathered from surveys of job-band salary ranges, which are not based on individual’s salaries and are typically published 6-12 months after they are reported.

The four levels of marketing positions I’ve analyzed are:
1. Product Managers, Associate Product Managers or other titles assigned to personnel with less than five years of upstream, pipeline planning or downstream marketing experience
2. Sr. Product Managers, Group Product Managers or other titles assigned to personnel with five or more years of marketing experience who are at the highest level of individual contributor and working in a role that is not intended to have direct reports.
3. First-line Marketing Managers, Associate Directors or Directors. These are people who have or will have direct reports assigned to them.
4. Senior Directors, Vice Presidents or other titles of personnel who lead the marketing function of an organization, and are most often managers of managers. These positions do not include Sales, Business Development, Managed Care or other functions that typically report into the C Suite or Sr. VP level.

Employers are defined as “Large” if they generate 1B or more in annual revenue and / or have more than 5000 employees. This base salary analysis does not consider bonuses or equity packages, which are generally more comprehensive in smaller and mid-sized organizations than in larger ones.

Results – Biopharmaceutical Industry

Marketing Level I
Associate Product Managers, Product Managers and other junior-level, individual contributors with fewer than five years of marketing experience: The average base salary for Level I marketers in 2016 was $115,200. Among large employers the average was $119,705, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $105,625.
Marketing Level II
Sr. Product Managers, Product Managers and personnel with five or more years of marketing experience who are senior-level, individual contributors and working in a role that is not intended to have direct reports. The average base salary for Level II marketers in 2016 was $143,163. Among large employers the average was $147,648, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $133,944.
Marketing Level III
First-line managers, including Group Marketing Managers, Associate Directors and Directors – these are marketing managers who have or will have direct reports assigned to them. The average base salary for Level III marketers in 2016 was $176,294. Among large employers the average was $185,304, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $168,892.
Marketing Level IV
Senior Directors, Vice Presidents or other personnel who lead the marketing function of an organization. They are not responsible for Sales, Business Development, Managed Care or other functions reporting into the Chief level. The average base salary for Level IV marketers in 2016 was $224,842. Among large employers the average was $258,833, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $209,153.

Results – Medical Technology Industry (Medical Device and Diagnostics)

Marketing Level I
Associate Product Managers, Product Managers and other junior-level, individual contributors with fewer than five years of marketing experience: The average base salary for Level I marketers in 2016 was $105,593. Among large employers the average was $114,861, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $98,920.
Marketing Level II
Sr. Product Managers, Product Managers and personnel with five or more years of marketing experience who are senior-level, individual contributors and working in a role that is not intended to have direct reports. The average base salary for Level II marketers in 2016 was $138,082. Among large employers the average was $145,794, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $132,405.
Marketing Level III
First-line managers, including Group Marketing Managers, Associate Directors and Directors – these are marketing managers who have or will have direct reports assigned to them. The average base salary for Level III marketers in 2016 was $169,147. Among large employers the average was $174,364, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $163,042.
Marketing Level IV
Senior Directors, Vice Presidents or other personnel who lead the marketing function of an organization. They are not responsible for Sales, Business Development, Managed Care or other functions reporting into the Chief or Sr. VP level. The average base salary for Level IV marketers in 2016 was $214,501. Among large employers the average was $233,555, and among small and mid-size employers the average was $204,412.

ANALYSIS
As in prior years there was a 30-40K gap in the average base salaries from one level to the next (the gap is wider at higher levels, as would be expected). Across all levels salaries have risen by 2-3% above 2015, which is a slightly lower growth rate than the prior year, and the lower level marketers enjoyed a greater increase than those at higher levels. There continues to be a gap between base salaries paid by large-cap companies versus their smaller counterparts. The percentage gap between large and small organizations is greater at the Director and VP levels than at lower levels (on the other hand, equity packages at those levels are much richer in smaller companies than in larger ones).

Despite ongoing contraction and layoffs, marketers in the Biopharma industry continued to earn a slightly higher base salary than their counterparts in the Med Tech space, with a 5-8% difference across the various levels.

Overall, base salaries continued to trend upward in the BioPharma and Medical Technology industries in 2016, which is consistent with the employment and new job creation rates reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Preparing for the Next Recession

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Preparing for the Next Recession

I admit it – I’m a Prepper. Not the kind with machine guns and years of freeze-dried food stored in the basement; I’m generally more concerned with preparing for financial downturns because they are rather predictable and to be expected. According the National Bureau of Economic Research it’s been 7 years and 5 months since the end of the Great Recession in the United States (the generally accepted definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth). That particularly cruel recession lasted 18 months, from December 2007 – June 2009. In the United States there have been 11 cycles of recession / recovery since 1945 and the average length of those recessionary periods has been 11.1 months.

The NEBR defines “recovery periods” as the time from the trough of the last downturn to the peak before the next downturn. Of the 11 cycles in the US since 1945 the average expansion time has been 58.4 months. We are now in month 89 of the current expansion. That history, along with the uncertainty of a very new political reality in Washington, means that we’re due for a downturn in the next few years. And then things will bounce back and we’ll continue the cycle. So it makes sense to pro-actively manage your career to account for these cyclical events, right?

I’ve been doing some research online and in my own database on the job market during the Great Recession of 2008 – 2009, and to a lesser extent the recession of 2001-2002. We all know that employment trends lag GDP growth, and because of the depth of the last recession the unemployment rate in the US remained unusually high far longer than June 2009: unemployment peaked at 10% in October of 2009, after GDP had begun growing again, and it remained above 7% until November of 2013. We can’t accurately predict the timing of the next recession or the persistency of unemployment following it, but we can safely say that job creation is limited for a far longer period than the actual recession itself. I’ve seen talented executives search for mid-level and senior-level positions for years and only recently been able to find opportunities that make sense for them.

So what career management decisions can we consider to plan for this eventuality? A wise person once said that the best time to fix your leaky roof is when the sun is shining. Thinking back over the stories of how some people successfully navigated the last recession / recovery cycle I found some trends. For the most part these are Marketing and Business Development professionals in the medical technology and biopharmaceutical industry, and they were able to maintain a fairly steady income throughout the cycle. Back in the day conventional wisdom held that if you were able to secure a job at a large, global company in the Fortune 50 you could expect to ride out a recession without getting laid off. But I have friends at places like Merck, Medtronic and Becton Dickinson who were victims of reductions-in-force. So the conventional strategy of seeking security in numbers is now risky, and most would agree that we need better ideas to proactively manage our careers through tough times.

I’ve identified four techniques that may make sense to consider:

Seek privately-held organizations
The privately-held organizations I work with tell me that they are better positioned to make investments and limit short-term cost containment measures that their publicly traded counterparts. Without quarterly pressure from stockholders to post positive financial results management can remain focused on making decisions in the best long-term interests of the organization. There is a 50 year old privately held medical device company that I help to hire marketing personnel, and they have had no force reduction or layoffs over the past eight years. In contrast, their three publicly traded direct competitors – large, global corporations with huge market caps – have each had multiple rounds of layoffs during that time span. Although sometimes viewed as being risk averse and lacking in innovation, these long-standing privately held companies, whether family owned or otherwise, often provide safe harbors during economic downturns.

Develop a sub-specialty
I’ve noticed that over the past eight years the marketing professionals I know who have been able to thrive have developed specialized skills that are differentiating and hard to find. Examples include digital and online marketing capabilities, health economics and payer-focused programming, and in-licensing skills that help an organization grow with less capital and labor investment. There are many examples and they all follow relatively new trends that require special skills not developed by the masses – and they frequently relate to cost containment. These are advanced capabilities that make an employee different and valuable to an organization, as opposed to a more generalized skill set focused on strategic planning, for example. It’s also generally true that a marketing job which is farther downstream and closer to the customer is less likely to be impacted or eliminated in a workforce reduction than a role that is upstream and internally focused.

Work with first-in-class technology
My analysis showed that a disproportionate number of workforce reductions in last eight years were at organizations that manufacture relatively mature technology in markets that are becoming commoditized. Examples include pacemakers, small molecule drugs used in the primary care setting, and ELISA kits in the clinical diagnostics segment. At one time variations of these products were highly innovative and on the cutting edge of the life sciences, but no longer. When cost pressures impact payers and large buying groups they often look for deep discounts from suppliers of these undifferentiated products, and that leads to job instability for the suppliers (unless you’re in market access or reimbursement – see last section). While it’s true that first-in-class technology is often born in risky start-ups, those career opportunities are often less risky in an economic downturn than large, old-school organizations (provided they have adequate financing, of course).

Build an external professional network
Some of the most talented marketing execs I know were laid-off in the Great Recession – many of them more than once. Yet a significant number of them have been able to build highly successful consulting careers based on the relationships they fostered while toiling away for their employers. They kept in touch with former managers and peers, and even networked with agency personnel and vendors from management consultancies and the investment community. They’ve been willing to build 1099 contract-based consulting careers with multiple clients, and in many situations have found their next full-time permanent position after first completing a successful contract assignment for the would-be employer. In a recession employers often prefer to “try before they buy” a permanent FTE, and they first look to their personal networks to identify a contractor to fill a short-term need. Linked-In has been incredibly valuable in this regard, but there is no substitute for old fashioned one-on-one emailing and phone calls.

These are four career management techniques that have been used successfully in recessionary periods, and there are many others. One need not wait for an economic downturn to take these steps, however. Give the length of our current economic expansion it may be wise to take pro-active measures such as these to fend off career misfortune. As always, I welcome your comments and questions at dave@alpinesearch.net

The Cost of Bad Writing

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: The Cost of Bad Writing

From the dawn of human commerce the livelihood of marketing professionals has been built on clear communication, and with the growing importance of electronic messaging the need for effective writing skills has never been greater. Technology driven industries, including Biopharma and Medical Device, are particularly reliant on clear, concise writing because of the complex nature of the information being communicated. Yet many industry executives and students of organizational communication lament the reality that writing proficiency is in decline.

In a recent survey published by Harvard Business Review, 81% of business people who spend more than 20 hours per week reading for their job said that poor writing skills cause a significant amount of wasted time for them, and over half said that what they read is frequently ineffective because it is too long, poorly organized, unclear or filled with jargon. Employees get little training in how to write in a brief, clear manner and the result is a profound lack of impact in what they are trying to communicate. And the problem is not just in junior level cubicle dwellers – senior managers struggle to communicate exactly what they want within the subject line / title and first few sentences of what they write. As the HBR story points out, when executives are clear and direct in their business writing they will develop a reputation for candor and truthfulness, and employees will get to work accomplishing the goals that are set out for them.

In the context of the marketing profession, the need for effective writing is not confined to customer engagements or promotional material. The long term planning process, built in part on reporting the “voice of the customer,” is driven by clear, concise communication of strategies that are based on extensive analyses and in some cases massive amounts of data. The magic happens when a marketer can identify patterns in customer’s voices and articulate them clearly in written form. A Vice President of Marketing at a high-growth surgical instrument company told me that one of the most important drivers of their success is the ability of upstream marketing personnel to bring clarity to product development needs. The success of his organization, like most companies operating in a dynamic, fast-paced environment, depends on efficiency in the written word.

So why does this matter in the world of filling jobs and obtaining jobs?

On the employee side of the table it’s more important than ever to be clear and concise when writing a resume, a cover note that describes motivation, and the follow-up correspondence after interviews. Managers place a premium on finding candidates who can write efficiently, communicating the most important points in as few words as possible. Hiring authorities are most impressed by resumes that begin with a maximum of two to three sentences of “overview” statements describing key attributes and qualifications. They want to get to the point about where someone has worked, the kind of problems they were asked to solve, and the results of their efforts.

From the employers’ perspective, it’s time to take a hard look at what’s being written in job descriptions and online job postings. It’s remarkable to me that some of the largest, most prestigious organizations in the world create job descriptions that fail to convey the specifics of what an employee will do on the job. Here is some language from two job descriptions different clients of mine have written for current marketing openings:

“Responsible for the development of specific marketing plans and activities for specific product(s)/project(s)/product line(s) to establish, enhance or distinguish placement within the competitive arena. Activities may include tactics, tools, logistics, campaigns, basic messaging and positioning. Leads cross-functional teams/groups, (i.e., launch teams); to develop new products or enhance existing product(s) or product line(s). Understands business environment and relates extensive knowledge of internal and external activities to trends. Interfaces with a variety of management levels on significant matters, often requiring the coordination of activity across organizational units.”

“Responsible for the design, development, implementation and coordination of marketing plans for specific product, product line or product areas. Design, develop and implement deliverables such as product specifications, branding and launch strategies per New Product Development procedures and Launch Excellence guidelines.
• Core team representation as commercial and customer VOC on internal product development teams, also responsible for launch planning.
• Commercial Integration – partnering cross-regionally to identify best commercial practices to accelerate penetration.
• Executes marketing plans and programs, both short and long range, to ensure profitable growth and expansion of company products and/or services
• Researches, analyzes, and monitors financial, technological, and demographic factors so that market opportunities may be capitalized on and the effects of competitive activity may be minimized”

The problem with this unclear, subjective style of writing is that it not only fails to inspire talented prospects to want to pursue a job opportunity, it also leaves the description wide open for unqualified individuals to assume they can perform various functions because of lack of clarity that they cannot. I can’t complain too much about this problem, however, because candidates rely on me to explain what the job actually entails.

It’s clear that bad writing leads to wasted time and ineffectiveness in the corporate world. It’s possible that texting has led to a dumbing-down of writing skills in all forms, but I think the cause is more complicated than that. It’s incumbent upon senior leadership to insist on improvement in employee and candidate writing, and as a start they should work to enhance their own skills, setting a high bar for others to follow. As always, I welcome any comments or questions.

Job-hopping – a generational thing?

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Job-hopping – a generational thing?

I work with hiring managers to identify candidates for openings that fit their “ideal” profile. On the wish list of criteria is always a “track record of success,” often defined by a clear progression of increasingly more responsible roles. Most hiring managers want to see some of that progression within the same organization because they usually want to build a bench of future leaders for their own company, and would prefer to do that with people they can trust will want to stay with them for a period of several years. Hence, hiring managers have historically looked askew at “job-hoppers.” One large pharma company I have worked with even has a policy against considering candidates if they have more than two different employers in the past five years.

That conventional thinking is being challenged in many circles, and labor market analysts like to contend that workers in younger generations, particularly Millennials, are far less “loyal” to their employer and much more likely than older works to change employers frequently. One LinkedIn study says Millennials job-hop more than their predecessors, however this only contains data LinkedIn members actually report. Gen X and Baby Boomer members of the site may be less likely to report their extended history of employment, but instead the few most recent jobs. It’s interesting to note, however, that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Baby Boomers job-hopped in their twenties just as frequently as Millennials do now. So it appears that frequent employment changes is not so much a generational phenomenon as it is a function of being young.

From a Recruiters perspective, job-hopping is more prevalent in certain functions than certain generations, for instance, I see far more employer changes among marketing personnel than I do among engineers or R&D personnel. On balance, a 50 year old marketing professional is more likely to have multiple, recent job changes on their resume than a 30 years old product development professional. A recent LinkedIn study inquiring about reasons for making a job change showed that 59% of respondents chose their new company because they saw a stronger path for career development at the new company than at their current company, regardless of their age. It’s not surprising that workers from all generations are seeking opportunity for growth and development, and it’s also not surprising that workers in their 20’s and early 30’s don’t necessarily believe that they were fortunate enough to stumble into a career path that will ultimately lead them to retirement.

Is there a continued stigma associated with job-hopping?

With corporate contractions, mergers and acquisitions affecting nearly all industries, and the resulting force reductions and lay-offs, it’s safe to say that frequent job changes on a resume are not unusual, and generally not perceived as negatively as they once were. Hiring managers are less likely to simply cast off a candidate without at least inquiring about the reasons for the job changes. But there remains a level of suspicion about candidates who have had many job changes because they are assumed to be a flight-risk. It’s extremely expensive and time consuming to hire and train new employees and if an interview team has to choose between someone who has demonstrated longevity in a given employer versus a job-hopper, they will demand that the job-hopper have significantly better skills for the job.

I think it’s fair to say that today’s hiring managers, who themselves have likely made several employer changes and / or lived through some downsizings, are far more open to considering candidates with a track record of multiple job changes. But they also have a high level of respect for employees who were able to earn multiple promotions within one organization over several years. It’s not necessarily a negative thing to have job hops, but it’s a very positive thing to show a track record of progression within one organization. And it’s so rare to see that in a Millennial candidate – for example, 5+ years at the same employer right out of college that included multiple promotions – that they are always viewed with favor in an interview process versus other younger candidates who don’t have that story to tell.

When I review resumes in my database of successful employees of mid-size and large companies who have risen to the VP level and above I see a similar pattern. Their first job out of college is usually with a high-profile, multinational organization that gave them training and access to resources that are not available at smaller companies. They generally stay there 5-10 years and earn at least two promotions, building a track record of accomplishments that make them very attractive to other organizations. In some instances those high risers will choose to remain with their initial employer for decades, rising through the ranks, but far more often I see them being recruited to smaller organizations where they can often accelerate their career advancement and have more fun doing it. It’s no secret that smaller companies are riskier and when they don’t get funding or their lead product fails, those A Players need to find another job. So in reality I see just as much job-changing (voluntary or not) among Baby Boomers and Gen X workers as I do among Millennials.

I don’t think job-hopping is a generational thing, I think it’s far more based on individual personalities and the functions that workers perform, regardless of their generation. As always I welcome your comments and questions.

Top Five Candidate Regrets

The Blogs of Dave Murphy: Top Five Candidate Regrets

As I talk with talented Marketing and Business Development professionals I’m in a unique position to observe career decisions that lead to positive outcomes and those that don’t. After many years of hearing these stories I’ve begun to notice some trends, and because happily employed people generally don’t call me back (as opposed to those who are ready for a change), many of these trends are related to regrets that candidates in interview processes express when things don’t turn out positively for them.

This list goes beyond the obvious situation where a candidate really wants a job but doesn’t get it, which is a very common occurrence given the competitive nature of the job market. Instead these are hindsight observations candidates made as they reflect on their experiences in an interview / job change process:

5. “I should have pushed for more money.”
Candidates have to balance their interest in maximizing the terms of a job offer with that of burning up political capital with the new employer before they even start working. We have seen a few instances where employers have retracted an offer because of a candidate’s “negotiating” tactics. One of the advantages of working with a competent recruiter is that he or she will be able to effectively communicate the reasons why a job offer should be enhanced, if appropriate. In that way a candidate can be assured that they are not leaving anything “on the table.”

4. “I took a job I don’t really like because I didn’t ask the right questions beforehand.”
The interview process is a two-way street where the candidate needs to gather as much information as the interview team does. If you find yourself in an interview process where you are not able to ask questions to the right people, then you probably need to see employment elsewhere. Although unforeseen leadership changes happen all the time, you can usually get a sense of a company’s culture by talking with peer level employees during an interview process, and it’s reasonable to request access to those people if they are not part of the normal interview team.

3. “I was too loyal.”
During an interview process a candidate often must evaluate whether the new opportunity is better than their current job. Sometimes they express regret about not making a job change due to feelings of loyalty / obligation / guilt with their current employer. They often have longstanding, personal relationships they don’t want to jeopardize. So they stay at a company for a long time waiting for promotions that never happen, losing valuable time during the building phase of their career. These are opportunity costs that are difficult to recover.

2. “I didn’t communicate openly about my motivation and needs.”
Candidates will often withhold or give misleading information about why they want to make a job change, or why they may be interested in a particular opportunity. Motivations vary, but most often they are related to opportunity for career growth, location, travel, money, company culture or supervisory mismanagement. If a candidate isn’t clear that, for example, he / she needs less overnight travel, a more empowering manager, or more money than a job offers, then they will often be disappointed in the new role. This regret is particularly common when a candidate is leaving a perceived poor culture and work environment – they don’t want to bash their current management because they fear being perceived as complainer or a whiner. But that’s the exact time when clear communication is vital in order to ensure a good “fit” with the new employer.

1. “On my deathbed I don’t think I’ll look back and say ‘Gee, I wish I would have played it safe.’”
Change is always difficult, whether it’s learning a new operating system, buying a house or taking a career-enhancing job. For those who have ambition and career aspirations they know they need to be open to the right kind of change, but sometimes fear overrules that knowledge. That’s a natural, common tendency, and one that can be overcome with thoughtful analysis about risk and return and self-introspection. We can also look at the examples of role models and other well-known professionals who have built successful careers: they recognized those times when it was important to take a chance, and they acted upon it.

As they say hindsight is always 20/20. We can never be absolutely sure we’re making the best decisions, but for every regretful experience in an interview process or job change there are just as many decisions made by candidates make that work out wonderfully. Hopefully this short list will help others avoid pitfalls and provide career enhancing direction. As always, I encourage your comments and questions.