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“Hiring is your most important task,” the late Steve Jobs, former chief executive officer of Apple, Inc., told his managers. The reason? “The team with the best players wins,” according to Jack Welch, a chemical engineer and former chief executive officer of General Electric.

John K. Borchardt

Dr. Borchardt is a consultant and technical writer. The author of the book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” he writes often on career-related subjects.

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Practical Tips for Efficiently Sourcing the Best Job Candidates

“Hiring is your most important task,” the late Steve Jobs, former chief executive officer of Apple, Inc., told his managers. The reason? “The team with the best players wins,” according to Jack Welch, a chemical engineer and former chief executive officer of General Electric. He agrees with Jobs that one of the most important duties of managers is to hire excellent new employees at all levels of the organization. Thus, laboratory managers should take hiring new employees very seriously indeed.

However, efficient candidate sourcing is a major issue for laboratory managers. This problem will become increasingly common as more laboratories ramp up their hiring while the job market remains crowded with candidates. Lab managers are often deluged with résumés from applicants. With unemployment rates among chemists, other scientists and lab technicians remaining high, many job hunters respond to these advertisements even if their qualifications don’t match the job openings. The last thing lab managers want to do in this climate is to hire new employees whose qualifications turn out to be a poor match for the position, resulting either in the new hire being let go or having to spend a lot of time in extensive training programs.

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Fortunately, there are six strategies laboratories can use to better focus their recruiting efforts on well-qualified candidates. We’ll now discuss each of these strategies.


Companies often use temporary staffing in times of economic uncertainty, a term that certainly describes today’s economy. According to Barry Asin, president of Staffing Industry Analysts, this is “an ideal economy” in which to use temporary employees. He notes that while there is some economic growth, economic uncertainty still reigns.

Lab managers can use a temporary staffing firm to screen candidates to find those with the appropriate qualifications. Hiring managers still interview candidates but save the time required to review large numbers of résumés. Temporary staffing firms such as Kelly Services, Lab Support and Olsten provide scientists, lab technicians, engineers, and clinical trial and regulatory specialists on a temporary basis. These individuals actually work for the temporary staffing firm while laboratory managers pay a fee to the firm for its services. Some firms, such as Kelly Services, offer temp-to-hire options that enable lab managers to hire temporary employees as their company employees after a set period of time.

Rehiring former employees

Former employees, sometimes called boomerang employees, are excellent new hires because they are known quantities. Lab managers know their strengths and weaknesses and their ability to work in the laboratory’s corporate culture. Former employees are also cheaper to hire because hiring managers can avoid sifting through firms’ large stacks of résumés. Hiring former employees is also cheaper than engaging the services of external recruiters.

Due to recent large-scale staff reductions at many laboratories, a substantial number of potential boomerang employees are in the job market. Formerly, making contact with these employees was something of a hit-or-miss proposition. However, online corporate alumni networks can now make it easier to contact former employees, inform them of job openings and hire well-qualified candidates.

Once primarily social in nature, corporate alumni networks now also provide a means for employee recruitment, according to Anne Berkowitch, chief executive of SelectMinds Inc., a company that hosts such network websites. Companies use the software developed by firms such as SelectMinds and Alumni Web Services (AWS) to develop databanks of former employees and their skills. Some are hired fulltime and others in part-time or other flexible working relationships.

According to AWS President Cathy Clonts, “Forward-thinking companies are taking advantage of the technical talent mature workers can contribute.” She notes that keeping in touch with former employees through online employee networks maintains a valuable connection, which industry leaders are utilizing today by rehiring former employees for full- and part-time projects requiring specific technical expertise and specialist knowledge. Some of these rehired employees also work as trainers and mentors for young hires and in long- or short-term assignments around the globe.

Today’s corporate alumni networks often include job postings, message boards and news of former employees. Former employees can also post their résumés. To protect this valuable information, these networks are often passwordprotected. Employers can also set up face-to-face activities, such as webinars, through their alumni networks. These can double as recruiting opportunities.

Contacting professors

Contacting professors in the same technology field as the job opening and asking them for recommendations is an inexpensive but often time-consuming strategy. This is often one of the initial search strategies adopted by lab managers. It is best suited for searching for new entry-level employees with specialized qualifications. Lab managers often use this strategy to hire graduating students and postdoctoral researchers trained in new and rapidly developing technologies.

The efficiency of this method depends upon the professional networks maintained by lab managers and their staff members. Large laboratories can often tap universities scattered across the country. When smaller firms employ this strategy, they often do so regionally or locally because they have fewer employees and these employees often have smaller professional networks of faculty members to tap.

University professors with outstanding research groups often develop “pipelines” to some firms. Once one or more hires from these research groups prove to be outstanding employees, lab managers often return to these groups when they need additional new employees. The industrial laboratory gains productive new employees while the professor’s reputation is enhanced as someone whose research group members go on to rewarding careers. Since this is a win-win situation for the lab manager and the professor (and, of course, the scientists hired), such relationships are prized by all parties.

However, the recession has weakened at least some of these ties. There are fewer job openings, particularly in some fields such as medicinal chemistry in which employers have greatly reduced hiring plans. The trend in some industries to transfer research to overseas laboratories can contribute to a continuance of these relationships if graduate students and postdoctoral researchers are willing to accept overseas assignments.

Employee recommendations

Asking current employees to recommend candidates for specific job openings has some of the same advantages as hiring boomerang employees. The staff members making recommendations screen candidates from their professional networks. The employer often pays the current employee a finder’s fee for identifying a qualified candidate. This sum is substantially less than an external recruiter would receive.

This approach works best when current employees are very careful about recommending qualified candidates and not led to recommend marginal ones for the sake of receiving a cash payment. Current employees may be tempted by a close social relationship with an individual to recommend that person for a job opening even if his or her subsequent job performance could be marginal. Hiring managers need to keep this possibility in mind and question individuals making recommendations about the individuals’ social relationships with the candidates they recommend.

External recruiters

Using external recruiters (sometimes called executive search firms or headhunters) can be an efficient option to find job candidates with highly specialized skills and experience. Recruiters often charge relatively high fees but do the time-consuming screening that would otherwise be done by the employer’s lab managers and human resources specialists. Because of these fees, some laboratories use external recruiters as a last resort after exhausting the other options listed above.

There are two types of external recruiting firms. Both are paid by the firm commissioning the search, not by job hunters. Contingency firms are paid a fee only when a candidate is hired by an employer. These firms are usually used by companies for low- and midlevel searches. Retained search firms have a contracted, exclusive working relationship with the employer. Their contract gives them a set period of time to identify a qualified person to fill the job opening. Employers reimburse them for expenses and receive a fee that is a set percentage of the employee’s salary whether or not the candidate they identify is hired.

Search firms are often industry-specific. Their fortunes rise and fall with the industries they serve. They work with candidates to customize résumés and coach the candidates on interview strategies to emphasize those aspects of their knowledge and experience that are of most interest to the employer.

Professional societies

Some professional societies, such as the American Chemical Society (ACS), maintain résumé databases as a service to their members. They charge employers a fee to search these databases by keywords. Costs are substantially less than placing job advertisements in print publications.

ACS and other professional societies also operate job fairs at their national meetings. Employers pay a fee to register to use the job fair employer services. They can review résumés of individuals who signed up to use the job fair services and schedule screening interviews with promising individuals. (Typically, professional societies also schedule workshops on job-hunting techniques. Other services to job hunters sometimes include one-onone résumé reviews and individual mock interviews.)

The Pittsburgh Conference operates an employment bureau for experienced professionals, postdoctoral researchers and recent graduates. Lab managers can schedule on-site interviews either during the conference or after.

The disadvantage of these job fairs is that participants must travel to the meeting. To overcome this, in 2011 the ACS began experimenting with virtual job fairs in which both employers and job hunters can conduct long-distance interviews over the Internet. These virtual events go beyond simple webcasting to include live or recorded video presentations, interactivity between job hunters and hiring managers or human resources specialists, whiteboards, and automatic archiving. As with conventional job fairs, employers pay a fee, while job hunters can use the services for free. There will be at least two ACS virtual job fairs in 2012.


These various options are usually less costly than placing advertising for new employees and often take less time to identify the most promising candidates. In addition, the time required for the entire hiring process (identifying and screening candidates plus conducting on-site interviews) can be reduced. Bringing qualified new employees aboard more quickly can reduce the length of the hiring process and enable work to be done by the new employee more quickly.

One reason some job openings are difficult to fill is that lab managers define a long list of skills acceptable candidates must have. The long time required to fill these positions can result in program delays and dissatisfied customers. So lab managers should be open to the possibility of hiring candidates who are a good cultural fit for the laboratory, have transferrable skills and are fast learners.

A final thought: The person you need to fill an important empty slot may already work at your laboratory. These individuals are already familiar with and successful in your lab culture. They may lack needed experience or knowledge. However, with their professional network in the laboratory, they may be able to learn the required skills quickly.