4 Outside-the-Box Sourcing Tactics for Hard-to-Fill Positions

February 10, 2021

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While many industries continue to struggle and still haven’t returned to hiring at scale, the pharmaceutical and biotech industries are fiercely competing for talent. Recruiters can’t rely on a post-and-pray strategy. To be successful, they need to be more and more creative in their sourcing strategies, especially when it comes to recruiting for hard-to-fill positions.

I’ve been recruiting for over 15 years, including 10 with businesses in the life sciences. I’ve always believed deeply in the importance of building a network of strong relationships — and one of those led to my current role at EQRx, where I’m the director of talent acquisition.

Savvy recruiters have many tools at their disposal, including applicant tracking systems, niche job boards, and extensive personal networks, but at the end of the day even those don’t always get the job done. I wanted to share some real-life examples of slightly out-of-the-box approaches I’ve used recently to source candidates for hard-to-fill roles, approaches that may be useful as you source for your companies. 

Approach #1 — Don’t neglect the comments section

I had to hire a few senior level program executives this year — a challenging search for any biotech/pharma recruiter. As one recent hire put it, “If they want, these folks can have several job offers by the end of the week.”  

At EQRx, we routinely announce our new hires in posts on LinkedIn and Instagram. So, I scroll through the comments sections to see who was engaging with our content. I look at the names and job titles of commenters and then check up to see where they’ve worked and who they’re connected with at our company. I pay particular attention to whether they’re “Open to Work” and whether they’re viewing our stories.

And wouldn’t you know it? Someone with the title program executive had commented on a recent new hire announcement. 

This told me that: 

  1. this person has a friend or former colleague working at EQRx, and
  2. this person has gone out of their way to engage with our content.

I felt confident that this person would at least have an “exploratory” call with me. I was right. They were a passive candidate to start, but I moved forward with a little patience and some serious candidate care  — sharing links to relevant articles, videos, podcasts, and press releases about EQRx as well as letting them know that I was available to talk after hours. In the end, they became a critical hire.

Approach #2 — Phone a friend or, in this case, a former colleague

Recently, I was working on a search and called a former hiring manager from one of my past employers to do some networking. We had partnered together on comparable searches in the past and had built a strong rapport. I knew that it was highly unlikely that they themselves would be interested in the role — it wasn’t quite at their seniority level. That being said, I knew that they:

  1. would know talented people with the skill set I was looking for, and
  2. had interviewed people for that role regularly in the past.

This proved to be an effective strategy. Not only did my former colleague share their “silver medalist” from a recent search, but they also passed along the name of someone who had been highly recommended but didn’t fit with any of their current openings. 

I reached out to both people using LinkedIn. The silver medalist had recently accepted another offer, but the other referral will be joining us next month.

Approach #3 — Stay on top of the news about your industry, especially if you’re recruiting for hard-to-fill positions

Staying on top of the successes and setbacks in an industry is a fantastic way to keep a pulse on the talent landscape. A competitor just got acquired? A Phase 3 trial didn’t pan out? One company’s setback may be another’s windfall — reach out to folks at companies going through major changes to see if they may be open to exploring new options. 

Last fall, two local pharmaceutical companies announced upcoming reductions in workforce. I keep a LinkedIn template that is dedicated for situations like this, letting the prospect know that I’ve heard about the layoffs, sharing a bit about EQRx, and making it clear that we’re hiring. 

I know these kinds of situations can put employees in a difficult place, so I’m careful and empathetic in my messaging. I make sure to really target people who could be an immediate fit for openings we have. I’ve hired two people with seriously hard-to-find skill sets using this nose-for-news approach.

Approach #4 — Turn a reference into a hire

References are important. Sure, it’s extremely rare that a candidate’s reference is going to be negative. It has happened a time or two in my career, but it’s certainly not typical. Instead, I like to use reference calls for two purposes:

  1. To elicit information as to how to best set up a potential new hire for success in my organization. It’s a chance for me to learn how to keep them engaged and provide them with an opportunity to grow their career at EQRx. You may also learn how to get their relationship with their future manager off on the right foot. I’ve found that a conversation with a former manager or colleague always provides some good nuggets of information.
  2. To turn that reference into a networking opportunity.

Last summer while I was contacting references for a potential director hire, I had the opportunity to chat with a program leader who had been an internal stakeholder for the candidate at a prior company. It was a highly productive conversation and I received some fantastic information on the candidate, but I was also able to plant a seed. I mentioned to the candidate’s reference that we were going to be looking for someone with a background similar to theirs in the coming months. After a few follow-up calls and our normal interview process, this reference became a hire.

Final thoughts

These are just a few examples of often overlooked sourcing strategies. If there’s one thing I encourage you to take away from this post, it’s that there are always more stones to turn over — you just need to be creative. These four examples, each from a different sourcing strategy, resulted in five amazing hires for EQRx. Sometimes, a little creativity and some old-fashioned hard work can result in connecting with hard-to-find talent you otherwise wouldn’t have known existed.

*Photo by Erda Estremera on Unsplash

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