Harrison Wright Affinity Biotech

Science Marketing Recruitment: An Interview with Harrison Wright of Affinity Biotechnology

Does recruiting talent in the science sector need to be so difficult? How can it be done better? We speak with an expert who provides his advice on how to get the best people to work for you.

By C&EN Media Group

No matter what industry, there is one thing every business shares: recruitment. Hiring the right person for a job can be a daunting task, but it seems to be particularly challenging in the science sales and marketing industry. At least this is the perspective of Harrison Wright.

We sat down with Harrison to learn more about his unique perspective and innovative approach to this perpetual problem. Yes, a bad hire is a risk, but Harrison sees that the real danger is the inability to tell the difference between someone who is “okay” versus someone who is better than average. And so far, Harrison believes no one has come up with a process to identify the differences that can determine success and failure.

C&EN: You’ve been a recruiter for almost ten years now – can you describe how this field has changed?

Wright: Over the past ten years, countless new tools and platforms have come to market making candidate data more freely available than ever. The entire recruitment landscape looks different.

Yet, one thing hasn’t changed—companies still struggle with hiring.

In fact, you could argue that hiring outcomes have actually gotten worse over the years. Complex jobs and long-term relationships require a human element. The industry simply cannot be disrupted by removing humans from the process.

C&EN: You use a unique method of recruiting. Can you tell us a little more about it and why you chose this approach? What kinds of results have you seen using this method?

Wright: To get the right answers, you must first ask the right questions. So, as Simon Sinek would say, “start with why”. The typical hiring process generally starts with the question what —“what criteria are we looking for in a candidate?” The most crucial step is missed entirely: “why are we hiring this person in the first place?”

And by skipping this step, companies develop inaccurate criteria which guarantee mediocre hiring results before they even begin to recruit.

When you start with why, you’re able to ask more accurate follow-up questions such as, “what tangible results must this person provide for us?” and “what specific tasks must they complete in order to achieve these results?”

Then rather than looking for someone who fulfills a checklist of skills, experience and qualifications, you can look for someone who has a proven track record of achieving similar results through executing similar tasks.

In short, you’ll be able to accurately identify someone who can do the work, irrespective of their experience level or the companies where they’ve worked. Every job and every company is different, and years of experience in the field doesn’t necessarily translate into results for you.

This is a method is borrowed from Lou Adler who advocates: “If you want to hire superior people, first define superior performance.” The starting point is to develop a Performance Profile. Essentially, this is a job description written like a performance review.

For instance, if you are looking for a Product Marketing Manager, rather than advertise for someone with X years of experience to come do XYZ responsibilities at your “fast-paced, dynamic and forward-thinking organization”, you would simply state what you want that person to achieve: we need someone to launch product X by this date; execute project Y within this timeframe and solve challenge Z by working with A and B departments. Period. Remove all of the years of experience, fluff, and yes even the education requirements.

This approach also makes jobs more attractive to candidates. It engages them at the day-to-day level of their work. I find that you don’t even need to “sell” the position when it’s written with a performance-based focus. Candidates get excited and inspired about the job itself—the things they will be doing for the bulk of their day.

And what are the results? Comparisons have shown us that this performance-based approach attracts between 100 to 400 percent more “A” Player candidates per vacancy, depending on the role.

C&EN: Glassdoor recently released survey results indicating that job seekers are focusing more heavily on employer brand. How has this trend affected your recruitment efforts? What steps do you recommend to elevate one’s recruitment brand or promote company culture?

Wright: This really depends on the size of the company and the available resources, as well as the number of people you expect to hire each year. As immediate ROI with low investment is likely a priority, small to medium-sized companies can really benefit from focusing first on integrating performance-based hiring methodology, because it differentiates their vacancy announcements from the rest. They stand out and get noticed, despite not necessarily having a strong employer brand in the traditional sense.

This is significant particularly for positions that are difficult to fill. For example, a reagent company was struggling to attract talent due to the fact that it’s a small family-owned company that couldn’t offer the big salary and fancy perks of the larger companies. So we dug into what they could offer on a day-to-day basis, and expounded upon that in the position description. We were explicit and detailed about things like the high level of personal autonomy of the position, the fact that the job was a blank slate and someone with an entrepreneurial mindset would thrive. There was also high potential for future mentorship. As a result we were able to recruit a very experienced candidate who was not getting all of these things in her current position at a larger, well-known company. In the end, she took a 30 percent pay cut simply because of the freedom and opportunity that the position entailed.

In the end, she took a 30 percent pay cut simply because of the freedom and opportunity that the position entailed.

It’s also important to keep in mind that it’s one thing to say you’re a certain kind of company, but it’s another thing to actually be that kind of company. So focusing on actually living up to the persona projected in employer branding makes a big difference.

While I don’t discount the benefits of employer brand initiatives as traditionally understood, not everything needs to be a huge, expensive project. Often the fastest and best way to the results you seek is right in front of your nose and much simpler than you might imagine. If you’re stuck and want results now, performance-based hiring is the place to start.

C&EN: What barriers are there to employing the performance hiring method?

Wright: In general, adoption of the performance-based method is primarily a case of mindset, awareness, and willingness to step outside of one’s comfort zone. I have found that some hiring managers have little to no training on how to recruit and are really receptive. Larger companies sometimes have rigid and traditional ways of doing things that are difficult to penetrate depending on the organizational culture and the people managing the process. If you work for such a company and see the value in this approach, then the best thing to do is get buy-in from your colleagues for a trial run next time you hire.

C&EN: In your experience, where have you found the best marketing talent? LinkedIn? Cold-calling? Referrals? Networking on or offline?

Wright: All of these are good options. Statistically the best candidates tend to come from referrals, although that is the hardest channel to scale. What’s most important at the end of the day is the ability to engage with candidates on terms that are attractive to them—the method used to find them is secondary. To attract the top candidates, one of the best things that small or mid-sized companies can do is to differentiate themselves by using performance-based job descriptions.

Once you’ve attracted a great set of candidates, there’s a specific interview process that goes along with the performance hiring approach. It’s something that is very easy to learn and I regularly coach my clients on using it.

C&EN: On the other side of this conversation, what can job seekers do to be better candidates?

Wright: This could be a whole essay all by itself! I’ll touch briefly on a couple of things.

There is no one right answer, other than to bear in mind that recruiting is marketing.

To be found, the best thing you can do is to optimize your LinkedIn profile. Choose one to three keywords for which you want to be known and include them in every field the LinkedIn algorithm searches, paying the most attention to the headline which carries the most weight. We offer a free LinkedIn training on our website that can help job seekers learn how to do this, as well as to learn how to leverage LinkedIn for your “personal brand”.

To win the job you really want, the best thing you can do is to stop thinking of skills, experience and qualifications, and start thinking about the results you can achieve for your prospective employer. Stop thinking of the responsibilities you’ve held and start thinking about your record of accomplishment. What specific outcomes can you deliver? How can you prove it? Do your resume, references and communications provide evidence for your claims?

C&EN: What’s your advice on preparing for upcoming recruitment efforts when the position(s) have not yet been posted? What methods would you use to develop a talent pipeline of candidates for future reference/hiring?

Wright: This really depends on your company, your available resources and how many people you plan to hire annually. If you’re only hiring three people per year, it’s probably not worth your time to build your own talent pipeline, so you may be best served by outsourcing your recruiting.

If you can spare the time and resources to do this, then there are a number of methods. In either case, the most important principle is to engage with the people you want to develop by providing them with something of value. For example, I host regular webinars with content of interest to the people I want to recruit. Registrants then come into our email list and are more receptive to further contact. Webinars may also work for you, but so may any other method of providing value to your prospective hires.

There is no one right answer, other than to bear in mind that recruiting is marketing. No one likes being “sold to”, but we all love to receive value.


Thank you to Harrison for speaking with us and sharing his insights. You can contact him at hwright@affinitybiotechnology.com. For more guidance on marketing to a scientific audience, and specifically for recruitment purposes, browse additional posts here. You can also tweet us at @CENMediaGroup.

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