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How to Find a Recruiting Agency in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Updated: Jun 11

Every company needs to hire eventually, and not all of them have the organization, the manpower, or the training to handle recruitment themselves. This is true in just about every industry but can be especially true in the pharmaceutical industry in particular.

Big pharmaceutical companies – the giants like Pfizer, Novartis, and Merck – typically have their in-house hiring departments. These hiring teams are forced to work as generalists, however, because they’re supporting the entire organization. They need to hire everyone who works for the company, whether it’s the biochemists, the IT staff, or the administrative assistants.

This is fine for a large company that can afford to take its time in making hiring decisions and can leverage its reputation to attract the top candidates in the industry. It’s a luxury that smaller pharmaceutical firms cannot afford.

It’s no wonder that many companies tend to turn to recruiting agencies to handle the recruitment process for them. Recruiting agencies can specialize in certain industries, including pharmaceuticals. The more knowledge and intimacy a recruiting firm has for their specialized industry, the better qualified they are to judge the skills and experiences of the candidates they build in their pool.

When hiring a recruiting agency, you’re also hiring their experience and their detailed interview processes and hiring processes. They add subject matter experts to their teams, so they have people uniquely qualified to judge and analyze the candidates with equally specialized resumes. With that judgment, a specialized recruiting firm can offer highly targeted and effective prospective employees for their clients to choose from.

If you’re looking for pharmaceutical recruitment agencies, you’re in luck. Here’s how to find them.

Determine Your Needs

Before you decide to seek out a specialized recruiting agency to work with, decide if it’s something you need.

For an industry like pharmaceuticals, you have a few options for posting jobs yourself, though this method isn’t without its downsides. Job boards are very competitive and may not be ideal for hard-to-find positions. Here are a few examples:

  1. Traditional job boards like Indeed, Glassdoor, or ZipRecruiter can host highly specialized jobs just as easily as they can entry-level positions. Skilled individuals still use these boards when searching for jobs, if for no other reason than that they have a large pool to choose from.

  2. Specialized job boards such as PharmaOpportunities exist for specialized industries, including pharmaceuticals. The cost to post a job listing on these sites is often less than what you would pay for a recruiting agency on a retainer.

  3. Networking still works. Whether you’re reaching out to connections through LinkedIn, asking your existing employees for referrals, or setting up a hiring booth at a trade show, standard avenues for reaching certain types of skilled individuals still work just fine.

On the other hand, you may not have the time to personally manage your hiring process. Recruiting firms may cost more per hire than doing the legwork yourself, but the costs balance out when you factor in the value of your time. A specialized recruiting firm can often present you with a pool of qualified candidates on short notice, simply because they have the resources and the candidate pool already built through their work with other clients.

HRDailyAdvisor adds another point.

“A [recruiting company] may also have the connections to be able to find passive candidates who are a perfect match for the position but would not have otherwise known about it. This means it’s possible to get an even better candidate for the role than the organization would have found on their own.”

On the other hand, they point out another pitfall.

“Depending on the situation, a [recruiting company] may place a candidate for interviews with several companies concurrently. This can increase the likelihood that your chosen candidate will have competing offers.”

Deciding if you truly need a recruiting company and can benefit from their access, experience, connections, and pool, or if you would rather do the legwork yourself, is the first step.

Pick a Model

The next thing you’ll want to do is pick a recruitment model. Recruiting agencies generally work in one of two models.

The contingent model is a model where the recruiting agency is paid contingent on their candidate being chosen. A company that works with a contingent agency typically works with many such agencies at once. Each agency is incentivized to throw as many candidates into the overall pool as possible, to maximize the chances that their candidate is chosen for a role.

This model is fine for filling low-level vacancies and entry-level positions but doesn’t always work as well for senior-level executive positions. If you need bodies to fill seats and can train them in the specifics of their jobs later, working with contingent agencies is just fine. If you’re investing heavily in a single candidate and want to choose the best possible person for the role, you’ll likely want to go with the other model.

The retained search model is a more exclusive relationship between the pharmaceutical recruitment agencies and the pharmaceutical companies. It’s a more traditional style of outsourcing; one company handles focused and dedicated recruiting for their client. The recruiting firm is paid on retainer and works to familiarize themselves with their client company. They end up as a hybrid of recruiting agency and brand ambassador.

Close familiarity with the client company ensures that a retained recruiting agency can pick candidates with a high chance of matching not just the skills needed, but the overall ethos and cultural fit as well. The downside to this model is, of course, the speed of the process. Recruiting with an emphasis on finding the right fit can take significantly longer than the wide but shallow approach of the contingent model.

Both models are perfectly acceptable and viable for a pharmaceutical company to use. It just depends on the urgency of the vacancy, how much the cultural fit matters, and how specialized the vacancy is.

A third option is hiring an Emerge Talent Cloud Recruiter. A cloud recruiter is essentially the same as any other full-time recruiter who you may hire, but in this case, you pay them an hourly rate rather than a base salary. 

As such, they are a contractor, and thus temporary employees. Hiring an Emerge Talent Cloud Recruiter to tackle a hiring spike can be a cost-effective and smart option, especially when they have experience recruiting in a specific domain such as the pharmaceutical industry. Some recruiting companies such as Emerge Talent Cloud also offer even more flexible, hybrid solutions that combine the best elements of a cloud recruiter and an RPO (recruitment process outsourcing).

Look for Specialists

For a highly skilled and specialized industry like pharmaceuticals, you can’t hire just anyone. You need to find highly skilled, trained, and knowledgeable individuals to fill your vacancies. Much like you wouldn’t hire a fresh college grad to be your lead biochemist, you shouldn’t hire a generalist recruiting agency to fill specialized roles.

Scott Kabo, a client partner for Klein Hersch, agrees.

“It’s really important that hiring managers look for firms that have specialization in specific disciplines, true subject matter expertise, and a track record of success. The pharmaceutical recruiting agencies or headhunters will be the brand ambassador for the company. Therefore, they need to know what they’re talking about when it comes to candidates being a good fit for a position.”

There are dozens of recruiting agencies out there that specialize in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, biochemistry, medical devices, and other related niches. Finding them is a lot easier than you might think.

Find Lists

There are three ways you can find and build a list of potential recruiting firms to interview for your recruiting needs.

First, you can find online lists. If you can dream up something, there’s probably someone online already doing it. Such is the case with aggregators for companies.

These lists provide large directories of recruiting firms with details about the companies. You can see excerpts of who they are and who they serve, their contact information, links to their websites, and other relevant information. It makes finding and comparing firms a lot easier.

Second, you can ask around. While the pharmaceutical industry is cutthroat, networking is still possible, and there’s no reason not to simply ask other business owners or HR managers how they handle their recruiting. You can do so privately via email or another contact method, or you can turn to public Q&A sites like Quora to see what their readership has to say.

Another source of networking is an industry event. Wenny, from Women in Pharma Careers, says this:

“Relevant trade shows and conferences in your field are a great place to meet with recruiters.”

Third, you can find them manually. Google is useful for more than just finding aggregators; you can find recruiting agencies directly as well.

One thing to keep in mind is that the most visible recruiting companies are not necessarily the best. The names that keep coming up everywhere you look might be popular because they’re good, sure, but they might also simply have the best grasp of SEO and reputation management. Often, the largest companies don’t always need to promote themselves so widely and may take some digging to find.

Analyze Potential Pharmaceutical Recruitment Agencies

Much like hiring an employee, contracting with a recruiting company is a multi-step process. The first step is to build a list of potential candidates. The second step is to analyze them.

What’s important to this analysis?

  1. Their business model. Some companies work on retainer, some work on contingency, and some offer both options. Filter companies that suit your needs.

  2. Their scale. Some pharmaceutical recruiters only work with companies that have million-dollar annual budgets for hiring and have dozens or hundreds of positions to fill each year. Others work on a per-position basis.

  3. Their location. Some recruiting agencies only work in specific regions, states, or countries. Others have offices around the world. A larger agency can offer a wider range of candidates but they may be more costly to retain.

  4. Their specialties. Some recruiting agencies have narrow specialties within the overall pharmaceutical industry, such as medical device design, biotechnology, or novel pharmaceutical research. Others cover all the bases on anything related to the niche.

  5. Their reputation. Much like how you would perform a background check for a candidate employee, you should research the background of a recruiting agency you’re interested in contracting. Pay particular attention to reviews and complaints left on industry-relevant social communities and discussion boards.

  6. Their attitude. We’ve all had times when a recruiter looks good on paper, but actually talking to them reveals an arrogance, hesitance, or another flaw that turns you off. It might be nothing more than a bad day for the representative you talk to, or it could be a systemic problem with the company. Conversely, if the recruiter exudes confidence without arrogance, personality without ego, and competence without hesitance, they’re much more likely to be a valuable ally.

It also helps to talk to representatives of the agency as part of an interview. If an agency looks promising, talking to a representative can give you a closer view of what they’re good at and where their weaknesses are.

Make a Choice and Make a Hire

Analysis paralysis is a problem facing many companies. Building a list and checking it twice is fine, but if you get stuck deciding between close-match companies, and you’re getting deep into the weeds of minor points, just pull the trigger on one of them. If they don’t work out, you can always change your mind.

At the end of the day, what’s really important is that the recruiting company you work with manages to help you hire the skilled, talented employees you need. Whether it’s a pharmaceutical chemist, a bioengineer, or simply a knowledgeable administrative assistant, filling your vacancies with high-quality employees is the most important part. Everything else is just details getting from A to B.


In the dynamic and intricate world of pharmaceuticals, the challenge of recruitment is as complex as it is critical. Hiring the right people isn’t just about filling vacancies; it’s about advancing your company’s mission and solidifying its place in the industry. Whether you’re a burgeoning startup or an established name, understanding the nuances of pharmaceutical recruitment is essential.

The journey to finding the ideal recruitment agency is paved with decisions — from determining your hiring needs to selecting a recruitment model that aligns with your company’s ethos and objectives. It’s a path that requires careful consideration, a keen understanding of your industry’s landscape, and a clear vision of the talent you seek.

As we’ve navigated through the intricacies of pharmaceutical recruitment, from the merits of various job boards to the strategic approach of specialized recruiting agencies, one thing remains clear: your decision can shape the future of your organization. It’s not just about hiring an individual; it’s about embracing a partnership that fosters growth, innovation, and success.

As you stand at this crossroads, pondering your next move in the recruitment chess game, remember that your choice will set the stage for your company’s future. The right recruitment partner can be the catalyst that propels your organization forward, bringing in not just employees, but visionaries who will drive your mission with passion and expertise.

Are you ready to take the next step in refining your recruitment strategy? Contact our team today and learn how we can help you grow your team.

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