Making the Transition from Large to Small Pharma

Author – Rebecca Bray, Director of Talent Acquisition, Clinical Development

The team and I at AXESS are often asked by Biotech and SME clients to find an individual for their Clinical or Medical teams with “small company” experience. In reality this often indicates a type of demonstrated characteristics that the business is looking for.

In the current UK recruitment market, the “golden triangle” biotech hubs (London, Cambridge, Oxford) are driving forward, expanding their teams as some of the medium to large sized pharma businesses restructure and redefine their business models. Therefore, it can be extremely frustrating to be looking to take that step from a larger business and to be told your CV isn’t a good match. In an ideal world, your capability working in highly structured businesses could be distilled to offer a smaller business huge value. So why is the transition often difficult?

When talking to clients AXESS will always aim to encourage (not always successfully!) our clients to think beyond simply recruiting a type of CV which best reflects their own business. Often the best candidate sits beyond this realm. Also, in the UK there are simply more people who have worked through large pharma businesses throughout their career. However, it is interesting to reflect on which behaviours the majority of the businesses are actually looking for.

To support this the recruiter guiding you through the interview process should have a clear idea of the behaviours and cultures of the company and this should inform your approach to interview. Although the smaller companies may not have such a formalised competency focussed interview process as the large Pharma – they will undoubtedly have a set of values they are looking to see.

  • Dealing with ambiguity – can you cope in an environment where change is a constant?
  • Managing pressure – similar and different pressures exist in a larger company, but the pressure in a smaller team will often be felt more acutely without the support of a wider team and a shorter communication ladder to senior leadership.
  • Courage – This does not necessarily have to have been within a role but often in the decisions you have made throughout your career or in your personal life.
  • The ability to be both strategic and hands-on – often juggling both sets of demands.
  • Supportive of others – at all levels, your cross-functional working experience will be tested in a micro setting here.

Additionally, you may have ALL of the above characteristics but also a little humour, a thick skin and ability to bear frustrations in a positive way is important. Those fantastic SOPs and processes you can inevitably roll out in this new role may play second fiddle to actually doing the day job. Persistence and a little patience is key.

Clearly any organisation will be assessing you on your technical fit but cultural fit is of paramount importance. How you present yourself in and around the interviews and the focus you put on certain aspects will offer the company insight into your true motivations. If you are interviewing with a smaller company, focussing on the training you will get from day one, or the structured career plan, or the administrative support or the hours and flexibility is obviously not a good idea!

Of course, some of these matters are extremely important, just be prepared for those to be not as visible with a company recruiting this role for the first time.

Do not worry though, a good recruiter working behind the scenes on your behalf would always ensure these aspects are dealt with sensitively and at an appropriate time. We have many recent examples of campaigns where we have worked with the client to successfully structure the training and logistical needs for the ideal candidate and this has happened after they have met with and been impressed with the individual.

So, in summary if you are looking to make this transition be prepared to be flexible, willing and really LISTEN to what the challenges are within the role. Lean on your recruiter, they may be on the same journey as you with the client business, but they should be an expert in acting as a professional intermediary.

Also, keep trying – every company is different and finding the right chemistry for you can take a few first dates.

As a footnote, we recognise that many large Pharma companies demonstrate the same agile, dynamic and ever changing cultural norms as smaller organisations, part of our role as recruiters is to help you demonstrate it!