One recruitment agency, five years and a recession: a recruiter’s view

Liz Sutch

Carrot Pharma Recruitment

The year is 2006, the market is buoyant, roles are a plenty. Candidates are mobile and clients are hiring, a new recruitment agency is set up to offer a fresh and different approach to the pharma industry. Client teams are generally fit to bursting but still have a healthy recruitment policy.

Fast forward five years and Martin Anderson, founder of Carrot Pharma Recruitment, observes that the market is in a very different place. Of course, the changes are mainly economy related. “In August / September 2008, as Robert Peston of the BBC started talking about a recession and showing his big downward arrows every night, I noticed that clients became much more cautious and candidates became nervous. Nothing moved. We had to refocus and work cleverly from then through until around June 2009 when people started to relax a little and confidence returned to the market”.


“…and this indicates companies are being more cautious about each new addition…”

Specific sectors within pharma however, noticeably the market research sector, were affected in different ways. “Generally in late 2008 and early 2009 when the country was going into recession, the redundancies in market research were not too severe” notes Liz Sutch, Senior Consultant at Carrot Pharma. “They (redundancies) seemed to be done with an awareness of the bottom line, but not necessarily because companies were in trouble. As such they emerged from restructuring plans, but only with a few staff being made redundant and the rest moving roles to other roles within companies”.

More planning now does seem to go on before each vacancy is finalised, “we hear a lot more of vacancies ‘being signed off’ or ‘approved’, and this indicates companies are being more cautious about each new addition”, comments Sutch. Perhaps in the new economic climate companies are rightly more aware of their staffing costs and have to realise the value in who they hire faster. Companies are having to get creative to justify new recruits as redundancies leave gaps and teams feel stretched. Some corporates are getting around the recruitment freezes imposed on them by laying people off and topping up resources with contractors which cost more (but don’t show on the balance sheet to shareholders). On an industry level, the after effects of the recession are still there, clients are definitely being more thorough in their selection and candidates are thinking more seriously about potential new companies, checking out their pipelines and how secure they are.

Has the market changed the types of people who are interested in the industry or the types of roles available? Considering the influx of talented people onto the job market from all sectors of industry, the types of people entering or moving within the pharma sector are still the same: pharma on the whole, doesn’t appear to be open to considering people that have solid transferable skills from other industries. “Clients still want people who have lived and breathed pharma in their specific niches” notes Anderson. In a med comms environment Lisa Short, Head of Med Comms at Carrot comments that ‘it’s no great secret in the Healthcare Comms sector that there is a severe lack of experienced Medical Writers within the industry, let alone looking to move from their current posts. When there was a lot of uncertainty in the market, of course clients were reluctant to bring people into the company and train them up. This was the case for around 2 years, and consequently all our clients are really feeling the effects of that decision now. Whilst this has changed dramatically, it means there is a huge lack of writers with the ability to lead, train and mentor less experienced members of the team, and those who can are under enormous pressure in their current posts, and are in high demand presently. There were certainly very few writers made redundant due to the economic climate, and those that did were snapped up quickly. The only gaps in the market we are seeing now, is from a lack of experienced people who would normally be in a position to step into more senior roles”.


“Companies are having to get creative to justify new recruits as redundancies leave gaps and teams feel stretched…”

Clients are definitely in a different position of power than they were five years ago. There was certainly more room to manoeuvre and bend the deal round to a candidate’s requirements whereas now clients are not so flexible. To clarify, clients are still offering good packages to candidates, it’s just that the jump in salary and benefits from one role and one company to the next are not quite as large as they once were. Corporate companies sometimes have the edge, even if they may be offering less, because they can draw on their brand to attract good candidates, with candidates looking to them for more security. Sutch also notes that “Clients are in the driving seat, they now seem to have more confidence to say ‘no’: you may be the bees knees in your current company, but we don’t think you are right for us”.

What clients offer are not the only changes over the last five years. Looking at their recruitment strategies, back then, there was a lot of growth in client companies so the message was often to keep an open brief for good candidates. Clients were probably less picky and would look at candidates that were a little off-brief. Some clients went through massive growth but paid for that as the recession kicked in whereas others took a more measured approach to recruitment. “The main difference I see is that then, companies would recruit ahead of the curve, anticipating the resource requirement whereas now companies only recruit when they have the work signed off and the confidence to recruit to resource it” notes Anderson. The geography of candidates seems to have changed over the last five years as well. “I have noticed that we have fewer people from mainland Europe applying for jobs. In 2006 and 2007 a large proportion of the candidates applying for jobs seemed to be from overseas” commented Sutch. “Over the last 2 years it seems more common to hear of British workers seeking jobs in Europe or Europeans looking to move back home”.


“…the types of people entering or moving within the pharma sector are still the same”

So what is the future of recruitment within pharma? Companies are likely to continue to be cautious, and it will take time to get back to the recruitment policies and confidence of the early noughties. Once recruitment strategies have been put under the spotlight as they have been for the last three years it will be hard to open them up to the same extent they once were. The current belief system of the so called Generation Y workforce favours variety and factors such as ethical trading, good working environment, flexibility and progression over the stability of a job for life, but maybe with all the disruption of the last few years this will change and the trend for candidates preferring to stay with existing employers for longer will cross the generation divide and continue down the line. As for recruitment in general, “the methods of recruitment are constantly evolving. Social media is of course an industry changing phenomenon, and new sites are being set up where clients and candidates can weigh each other up directly but there will always be a need for specialists like Carrot” reflects Anderson.

About the author:

Liz Sutch is a Senior Consultant at Carrot Pharma Recruitment, she is an original Carrot Pharma team member and works on the Market Research and Business Intelligence Team. Carrot pharma is a UK and Pan-European recruitment agency specialising in placements within the pharmaceutical industry. Carrot works with leading and emerging brands to implement an integrated recruitment policy across multiple divisions and sectors including Market Research and Business Intelligence, Market Access, Pricing and HEOR, Medical Communications/Education, Marketing, PR and Advertising, Publishing and Digital.

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What changes in pharma employment have you noticed over the past 5 years?