How to ensure your life sciences career thrives during and after this pandemic

By Chris Smith, Director of Life Sciences, Hays


Whether at the start of a STEM career in the life sciences sector, or in a global leadership role, this unprecedented time could be pivotal to your career prospects.

COVID-19 has changed the world. Disruption that would have been previously unimaginable in the life sciences industry has become the norm. The pandemic, while putting the brakes on many parts of the economy, illuminates the need for a thriving and growing life sciences sector. The sector has shown its best side in many ways – collaborative, innovative and dynamic. There is no doubt that this creates opportunities for those prepared to seize them.

What is the impact of COVID-19 on the life sciences sector?

As early as 25th March, a consortium of global life science companies, alongside the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced an important collaboration to fast-track the development, manufacture and delivery of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. Massive amounts of government funding have subsequently been pledged to support organisations on board with the agenda.

In a lot of cases, the big players have been able to mobilise the quickest. Gilead, AstraZeneca and Roche are just a few examples of companies who have begun to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19 in different ways and there is no doubt that the sheer level of demand for diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines in this area presents a massive opportunity for them.

By the start of May, there were over 100 confirmed vaccine projects in development globally, involving all of big pharma – GSK, Sanofi, J&J and Pfizer and others – working to much faster timelines than before the crisis. By mid-May, there were more than 1,000 clinical trials of treatments ongoing and 150 drug candidates being tested.

What does this mean for the smaller, pre-clinical phase innovators and those with a narrow therapeutic focus? Will they be left behind? As the COO of one of our London based biotech clients explained to me recently, it is too early to tell and will depend on venture capital (VC) confidence in the sector. Investment cycles are long, so those who have secured funding are not likely to slow down any time soon. As to future investment, early signs from the biotech IPO market are encouraging, with almost no slow down since last year, which is likely to give investors confidence.

Even as the life sciences sector holds up, there will be changes to the profile investors look for. The investment trend towards advanced therapeutics and immune-oncology is likely to accelerate. The diagnostics sector will also benefit, with high demand for testing kits. HiberGene is the beneficiary, for example, of a one million euro grant from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 initiative, awarded to enable fast track development of a COVID-19 diagnostic.

Given that the life sciences sector as a whole is characterised by skill shortages at all levels, I feel that we should be confident that a high level of demand for talent will remain and career opportunities will be there for those bold enough to seize them.

Five ways to boost your career prospects in the post-COVID life sciences industry

This will be a pivotal moment for many people’s career. No matter where you find yourself during this shake-up, there are several steps you can take that will help you continue to thrive.

1. Take control and be proactive. Research the changes that are taking place in your company and the industry as a whole. Speak with your manager or leadership team about how internal activities may be changing or pivoting as a result of the pandemic, and think about how your unique skillset can support the transition. Put yourself forward for a change in role or new assignments, to align with your mutual aspirations.

2. Look for innovation. Your skillset will develop at an accelerated pace over the next 18 months if your company is innovating towards the new normal. This will affect your market value for potentially the rest of your career. Think creatively about how you might spearhead innovation within your organisation and help the business overcome new challenges. If your company isn’t innovating, consider moving to one that is.

3. Upskill across the board. Ensure you’re proficient in using remote and virtual tech and prepare yourself for the hybrid world of work. Take advantage of the explosion in online courses, to learn new technologies that will assist in developing your virtual work muscles. Also remember to keep yourself relevant by working on soft skills for the next era of work; for example, critical thinking, growth mindset and emotional intelligence. Don’t forget to document new skills you’ve learned during the crisis – you may want to add these to your CV and LinkedIn profile.

4. Reflect on your career options. One thing most of us have been lucky enough to enjoy during the lockdown has been a little more time. This is the perfect opportunity to take a good look at where you are in your career trajectory, and perhaps answer a few questions like, am I happy in my current position? Am I utilising my skills? Am I heading in the right direction or do I need to change course? This excellent article by an Australian colleague is a helpful resource. This is also a good time to update your CV, including recent experience and quantifiable results generated.

5. Learn how to present well in remote interviews. Previously logistically daunting interview processes are now taking place without a flight booked or a single mile travelled. But computer-to-computer is not the same as face-to-face and you need to make sure you’re up to speed with the etiquette and technicalities of remote interviews. You’ll find great information on how to prepare yourself mentally, which questions to ask, how to create a sparkling screen persona, and many more tips in this set of posts on the subject.

The world has undoubtedly changed forever and all industries will take time to adapt to the new, post-COVID landscape. However, our sector is not only robust enough to weather the economic storm but, as part of the solution, has been thrown into the global spotlight on a massive scale. We must embrace the great opportunities this will create.

About this author

Chris Smith is the Operations Director for Hays Life Sciences UK. Chris graduated from Sheffield University with a BSc Psychology in 2000 and has 20 years of recruitment experience. He has worked for Hays Life Sciences since 2006, starting as a Biometrics recruiter for Pharmaceutical and CRO clients across Europe, before launching Hays Life Sciences successfully in the Netherlands and managing delivery teams in Switzerland and Scandinavia.

In 2012, Chris joined the Hays Life Sciences UK business as Permanent Sales Director and has since taken the role of Operations Director for the UK brand. Chris has managed executive search, RPO / MSP, perm and temp recruitment with a consistent customer focus across a broad client base.