What are the necessary skills to work in the biotech industry and how to leverage them?

Biotech skills

The biotech job market was set back last year and may only see a full recovery in 2025-2026, meaning the competition in the industry is fierce for candidates who might have to compete on fewer job opportunities for a while. Building a career in the industry can be tricky whether you recently graduated or are an experienced professional transitioning toward biotech, it is not only about skills but how to leverage them throughout the process. 

We reached out to Kyle Elliott, a high-tech career coach with specific expertise in the Silicon Valley job market to better understand which skills and strategies can make the difference in your biotech career aspirations.

Table of contents

    The job market evolves as much as the biotechnology industry does, both in terms of the type of roles available and the areas of the industry where they are becoming available.

    Contract roles: A stepping stone in the biotech industry

    The biotechnology job market is undergoing significant changes, particularly in response to broader economic uncertainties. Kyle Elliott notes, “As the economy begins to cool down, we’re seeing a shift in companies hiring more contractors and fewer permanent employees.” This trend is partly driven by companies’ need to maintain flexibility in staffing and reduce long-term commitments amidst financial unpredictability.

    Contract hiring is increasingly seen as a strategic response, allowing companies to adapt quickly to the evolving needs of the industry without the long-term financial commitment associated with permanent staff. Elliott advises those entering the field, “If you’re trying to break into the biotech industry or targeting a different niche within the industry, you might consider pursuing contract roles, as they can often be a stepping stone to permanent employment down the line.”

    In terms of strategic hiring, there’s a marked focus on specialized roles, particularly in gene and cell therapies and artificial intelligence (AI)-driven biotechnology. The approval of novel therapies and advancements in AI are prompting companies to seek out specialists who can navigate these cutting-edge areas. The approval of the first CRISPR gene therapy, Casgevy, in December 2023 opens the doors to unlocking the full potential of CRISPR-based therapies in 2024​. This regulatory milestone confirms the growing importance of gene-editing technologies and the need for expertise in this rapidly advancing field.

    Biologics safety testing is another area experiencing significant growth, with the market expanding as stakeholders continue to prioritize safety in biologic development. According to recent market analyses, biologics safety testing grew to a market size of  $4.0 billion in 2023, up from $3.7 billion in 2022​​.

    Furthermore, regulatory bodies globally are showing increased interest in gene-editing therapies, further influencing hiring trends in the biotech sector. This regulatory focus is driving demand for professionals who not only understand the scientific basis of these therapies but can also navigate the complex regulatory landscape that governs their development and commercialization.

    What are some essential skills in the biotech industry?

    Building a successful career in biotech requires a blend of technical and soft skills, particularly as the industry continues to evolve and integrate new technologies. “Data analytics is nearly critical if you want to build a career in the biotech field. Generative AI and machine learning are also nice to have and may even become essential in the near future,” said Elliott.

    Technical Skills

    • Data Analytics: In biotechnology, data analytics is an indispensable skill for analyzing vast amounts of biological data, leading to discoveries and innovations. This skill is crucial for roles in research and development, where data-driven decisions are paramount.
    • Bioinformatics: This field combines biology, computer science, and information technology to interpret biological data. Bioinformatics is particularly important in genomic research and personalized medicine, areas that are seeing rapid growth and require specialists who can manage and analyze complex datasets.
    • Regulatory Compliance: Understanding the regulatory environment is critical, especially as new biotech products and therapies undergo rigorous review processes before hitting the market. Professionals with expertise in navigating these regulations are in high demand to ensure that innovations comply with local and international standards.
    • Generative AI and Machine Learning: These emerging technologies are transforming the biotech industry by accelerating drug discovery and development processes. AI tools are used to predict molecule interactions, optimize clinical trials, and personalize medical treatments, which enhances efficiency and effectiveness in biotech operations.

    Soft Skills

    • Cross-functional collaboration: Elliott emphasizes the importance of being able to work across different functions within a company. “While cross-functional collaboration is important for many industries, it’s particularly important if you’re aiming for a role in biotech,” he stated. Many biotech projects involve teams from diverse scientific backgrounds, making the ability to collaborate effectively across various disciplines a critical skill.
    • Communication: Effective communication is essential, not just for presenting ideas and findings, but also for writing grant applications, publishing research, and explaining complex scientific concepts to non-specialists. “Given all the stakeholders you’ll be collaborating with, strong communication skills are also a must if you’re hoping to land a role in the biotech industry,” said Elliott.

    How to develop these biotech skills?

    Internships and Fellowships are traditional and effective pathways for gaining hands-on experience in biotech. Internships provide crucial industry exposure and practical skills that are often not fully developed in academic settings. Fellowships, often more research-oriented and for longer durations, can offer deeper insights and specialized skills in cutting-edge areas. Both avenues are excellent for networking and can sometimes lead to full-time positions.

    As mentioned by Elliott, pursuing contract roles can be particularly beneficial. These positions often allow professionals to work on specific projects with defined timelines, providing exposure to different technologies, methodologies, and corporate cultures without long-term commitments.

    The biotech field is highly dynamic, with discoveries and technologies continually reshaping the landscape. Professionals need to stay updated with the latest developments, especially in high-demand areas like bioinformatics and AI. Online courses, workshops, and certification programs in these fields can help biotech professionals keep their skills current and relevant. However, in Elliot’s opinion, nothing compares to hands-on experience: “Continuing education, certification, and advanced training can only complement, but not replace, relevant, on-the-ground biotechnology experience.”

    The biotech industry’s reliance on rapidly advancing technologies like AI and bioinformatics means that what is cutting-edge today may be standard tomorrow. Keeping up with these changes through continuous learning and practical experience is crucial. “Don’t underestimate the value of volunteer work, especially if you’re looking to build your skills in working with diverse people,” Elliott adds, highlighting the importance of soft skills alongside technical expertise.

    Building a professional network is essential in biotech, where many opportunities are found through connections. Attending industry conferences, joining professional associations, and participating in online forums can help professionals stay informed about the latest industry trends and job openings. Moreover, these networks can provide mentorship opportunities and advice on career development.

    Challenges and strategies for overcoming them

    The biotech industry is characterized by intense competition for roles, making it crucial for professionals to distinguish themselves in a crowded market. Elliott highlights this challenge: “Although the biotech industry is continuing to grow, so is the number of job seekers hoping to break into the profession. Consequently, you must clearly identify and communicate what sets you apart from your hundreds, or thousands, of fellow applicants.”

    With many candidates possessing similar qualifications and experiences, distinguishing oneself becomes crucial. “It’s no longer enough to simply be qualified for the roles you’re targeting. Rather, you need to articulate your unique value proposition throughout the application and interview process,” said Elliott.

    Elliott suggests using platforms like LinkedIn to benchmark against others in the field. “One strategy worth trying is using LinkedIn to identify people in your target roles and see how you stack up against them. You can then use the platform to compare your background, experience, technical skills, education, and certification.” This approach not only helps biotech professionals understand where they stand but also identifies areas where they can improve or highlight their unique skills.

    Building a personal brand that reflects one’s expertise, accomplishments, and value in biotech can significantly aid in standing out. This includes maintaining an up-to-date and engaging professional profile, participating in relevant discussions, and publishing articles or papers that showcase one’s knowledge.

    Beyond online presence, effective networking remains crucial. Building and maintaining relationships with industry professionals can lead to opportunities that are often not advertised publicly. Attending industry conferences, seminars, and webinars, and actively participating in industry groups can help in expanding one’s network. “Competition is fierce for entry-level roles in the biotech industry, as so many people are qualified for these roles. Building a robust network of contacts at your target companies can increase your chances of securing first-round interviews. As you climb the ladder, fewer roles will be available and they will likely not be posted publicly. This means you must continue to cultivate your network as you grow in your career,” said Elliott.

    Advice before launching into the biotechnology career path

    Whether biotechnology is your primary career choice or you are considering transitioning into the field, there are a few things you can consider before making the leap.

    Before chasing a bleeding-edge technology or skill, consider whether it’s something you’re truly passionate about. The biotech industry is broad enough that you don’t need to be an expert in every niche technology or skill to be employable.”

    Kyle Elliott, HighTech Career Coach

    If you are transitioning toward the field, the best advice would be to learn more about the field before making the jump: “The biotechnology industry is broad, and it helps to have a clear idea of the type of company and position you’re targeting before sending out resumes. Speak with people who are in your ideal role to learn more about their day-to-day, how they got there, and what they would do differently if they could,” said Elliott.

    Elliott also advises newcomers to be open to trying out different functional areas and types of business. “Don’t expect your next job to be your forever job. You’ll likely transition between functional areas and companies several times throughout your career. Use each position you hold as an opportunity to learn what you like in a job, as well as what you want to avoid in your next one. One of the gifts of being earlier in your career is that it’s often much easier to make a transition or pivot without it impacting your salary or career trajectory.”

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