Ask the Biotech Recruiter: The Top 10 Pitfalls in International Recruitments

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Are you recruiting talent for the top levels of your company? Ask the biotech recruiter! It doesn’t matter if you’re a small-time biotech or a big-time pharma – it’s a tough process. Pact & Partners, a leading international headhunting firm, has your back with this advice on the most common mistakes and how to avoid making them.

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Pact & Partners is one of the leading executive search firms specializing in life sciences. Founded in 1987 and operating in Europe, the USA, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, the company recruits the best talent for its clients’ businesses – whether they’re small innovative biotechs or established pharma giants.

Need a Business Development Manager? Spearheading an international recruitment for your firm, looking to hire the best medical director in America from Europe (or vice-versa)? Need to find an expert in Life Sciences from across the Atlantic, or across the globe? What about a Clinical Development Expert? Maybe you’re building company leadership and seeking an entire C-level squad. But how do you convince these desirables to join your company?


Ask the biotech recruiter! With so many years of experience, Pact & Partners shared advice with us on how to avoid the top ten failures in an international recruitment process.


1 / Don’t Lose Sight of your Long-Term Goals.

Always keep in mind your company’s long-term goals, and ask yourself how a recruit would be incorporated into that specific vision. It is essential to match the person to the company’s needs and the target job description. In other words, don’t focus on the short-term so much that you forget the long-term. It’s great if you can see a recruit as an asset in the short-term, but what’s the long-term goal of the hire?

Say you need to increase revenues by a certain amount. You might reason that this can be solved by hiring a certain number of sales people; yet, it might be prudent and more efficient to outsource this labor or use distributors. In another scenario, if you’re dealing with a highly regulated field, you might need to hire an in-house regulatory or legal manager instead of using outside consultants. Look past your current business plan to gain a thorough understanding of the business practicalities further in the future and abroad.



2 / Don’t Be Culture-Bound.

If you’re looking to hire someone from a particular country, be aware that business practices may be different than those in your home country. You might run into trouble if you try to force European habits on an American, for example, and you risk losing a valuable talent! Be open-minded in your approach to recruitment, as different styles might bring the right result in the end. Be pedagogic in your management, and don’t be afraid to make tactical and sometimes disruptive decisions to meet your goals. The bottom line is, ask yourself what makes an outstanding candidate in the target country rather than in your homeland.


3 / Know Local Specialties & Markets.

Sure, there are considerable differences between countries, but also between cities! Feel out the lay of the land: you must be familiar with the average salary, talent supply, skill level and expectations for someone residing in the city from which you wish to recruit.

For example, Boston is replete with highly talented and competitive people in life sciences of all kinds. However, the city is fully employed and the demand for skilled workers outstrips the supply, so you would have to lure a recruit away from his or her current position – a tall order in the land of biotech dreams!


4 / Be Familiar with Interview Laws and Rules.

This can quickly become tricky: what are you legally allowed to ask? You’re not just risking a dead end in recruitment but also a losing battle with the law. In some countries like the US and France, you can’t ask for a candidate’s age or child-bearing plans. Know your rights, but also those of your prospective recruit.



5 / Have Realistic Timeline Expectations.

There’s no way around it: hiring someone takes time. Identifying desirable candidates is the easy part; validating their experience, assessing their personality fit and then negotiating an offer requires much more time and skill.

Also be aware that timeframes vary with the employment market: high unemployment makes for speedier recruitments than when everyone already has a job. Moreover, in a fully employed market, holding the attention of top candidates for several weeks during the interview process can also be a challenge


6 / Involve All the Stakeholders.

Pact & Partners says this is the easiest mistake to make, and possibly one of the biggest. Every decision maker in the recruitment process, especially if he or she is part of your board or Executive Committee, must be involved in the hiring process from start to finish. Imagine how frustrated you would be if a stakeholder vetoed the hiring move after you put in months of work and are finally set to make it final! Unfortunately, this is extremely common – don’t make the same mistake, make sure they give their assent early on!



7 / Consider the Personal Side.

You’re hiring a person, and while it may seem obvious, he or she has a personality, a cultural background and a psychology that are important to consider during recruitment. Pact & Partners illustrated how there are multiple facets to such a scenario with the examples of arrogance and humility as traits that can be perceived differently from country to country.

A firm may rely on the force of persuasion and professional ambition, but these qualities can be interpreted as pure arrogance or obnoxiousness depending on one’s cultural and psychological background. On the other hand, humility and candor can be seen as a lack of confidence and an indication of poor leadership. Obviously, there is a lot of variability across a wide spectrum; Pact & Partners offers the general advice of maintaining a fine balance between personalities in your teams to keep up a healthy team spirit.

Internal morale aside, it is also vital to adapt the company’s hiring environment to fit the recruit. That said, you may find yourself adapting the hiring environment too much to accommodate the recruit. At this point, you must reevaluate whether or not the candidate is a good fit for the company and its core ambitions.


8 / Understand Titles.

Assess what a title really means in a specific country and if it really matches the job description. Don’t be fooled by a professional advertised as a ‘VP’ or ‘Director’, who in reality has little or no management experience. Take the time to diligently double-check what the candidate’s previous positions entailed not only on paper but also directly with the candidate. This step could be the most time-consuming step in recruiting abroad, but a great shortcut is knowing the target arena as we discussed in Point 3.


9 / Prepare Adequately for Long-Distance Management.

Some companies don’t pay enough attention to remote employees, who then might end up feeling alienated or frustrated. A new hire should feel like he or she belongs to a company to produce the best work. “A recruit may be wonderful, but if he or she is poorly managed because of distance, the situation can end in disaster,” according to Pact & Partners. “Here the little things can make a huge difference to turn it around.”

As a shining example, the firm held up a company that not only mailed announcements of remote hires to the company’s employees but also set up a 4-week integration plan at the headquarters to welcome the new additions. These steps made the recruits really feel invested in the company and more likely to stick around. Sharing information with distant recruits is key to retaining the best talent.



10 / Mentor New Recruits.

Too often, a new hire is incorporated into the company and left to find his or her own way. After the recruitment, you must follow up to make sure that everything is in order with the employee – he or she may need help or more extensive mentoring to really be an effective part of the company. Remember, you’ve transplanted an outsider to the innermost part of your company, and there’s no guarantee it will be a smooth transition. The recruiting partner should be there for to support the new hire beyond the process – following up is crucial!


…but, why do you want to go through an international recruitment process?

Overall, Pact & Partners says that the most important point to consider is why you want to hire a person. Would their talent be good an asset to your company’s arsenal? Would he or she boost your business plan? Or is this just for the company’s image?

Answering these questions will help you clarify your commitment to recruiting the candidate and estimate how much time, money and effort you’re willing to pour into the process. Very often, you’ll underestimate how much and how long you have to invest in the recruitment. That is the most frequent pitfall, according to Pact & Partners, and it is critical to know as much as possible in advance in order to plan your recruitment campaign.

This is where Pact & Partners can help! As a leading international recruitment agency that knows both global and local hiring environments with decades of expertise, it can provide you with a powerful analysis of your needs and the sort of recruit that would best fit them. Drop them a line if you’re considering recruiting someone for your C-suite!

Do you still have questions for your Biotech Recruiter?

Find more information on the Pact & Partners website, or contact them via

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