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Five Lessons in Hiring From the Life Sciences


This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.

Five Lessons in Hiring From the Life Sciences

Ten years and a billion dollars. That’s what it takes, on average, to bring a new drug or medical device to the marketplace. What are the qualities people need to persevere through those metrics?

Helen Meldrum, associate professor of natural and applied sciences, put the question to 45 top executives in the life sciences. What she learned is good advice for hiring in any industry.


A deep emotional commitment to a mission such as providing life-altering options for patients is essential for staying the course through a long process like FDA review. Even in industries with very good salaries, executives want to hire the person who, as needed, will work superhuman hours out of a sense of passion, not because of a paycheck.


C-suite executives are looking for people who see setbacks not as obstacles, but rather as challenging problems to be solved. At the same time, it’s important they are realistic about the high chance of failure, and able to bounce back accordingly. Instead of “What’s your greatest accomplishment?” ask the candidate about a time when something didn’t work.


Diversity goes beyond hiring more women and minorities. Executives are also looking for people diverse in experience and temperament. This avoids groupthink, corrects for systemic biases, spurs creativity and more. When a group of people fastens on a product or service as the next big thing, they tend to report only good news. But to make the best decisions, executives need information from diverse points of view to be accurate.


An ideal candidate has self-awareness and insight, and takes ownership for their role. If a life sciences job candidate describes receiving a rejection from the FDA, and says their team members were terrible, that is a big red flag. A hiring manager should feel confident that an employee won’t be a barrier in what needs to be effective teamwork.


Executives should also turn the mirror on themselves: Are they doing a good job retaining star employees? In competitive, growing industries where people have a lot of options for work, organization leaders must set a tone and create a culture that keep employees engaged — or risk losing them to the company around the block.


by Kristen Walsh March 25, 2019

Brandon Samba '20 overcame his family's financial struggles and now helps kids learn financial skills to break the cycle of poverty.