A life science recruiter's blog on placing R&D professionals.

Blog/Career Advice for Life Science Professionals

Submit a CV Online or with a Recruiter?

A question I am often asked is whether someone who is interested in a new position should submit their CV or resume to a biotech recruiter exclusively or send it directly online to a company’s web site or a job board. Because my firm, Clark Executive Search, recruits only scientists and doctors for the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and other life science industries, my answer is somewhat different than what it would be for a more general audience. I believe it is better for people with a highly technical background, like the candidates I recruit, to submit their CVs exclusively with a biotech recruiter.

First it is important to understand that the way a search firm is paid is directly related to the question of submitting a resume to them or online or both. A recruiter, who is working on a contingency basis, is only paid when a company employs a candidate he has submitted. And  there is a first come, first served premise involved. A company will not pay a search firm if they already have the resume of a person in their database.  So a recruiter competes not only with other recruiters who may have sent in a person’s CV to a company but also with the company’s own web site. Therefore a search professional will not touch a person who has already sent their resume in to a online site or through another recruiter. There is no financial incentive because the company will say, “We already have Candidate X’s CV. Sorry, Charlie.”

A candidate might think it a clever idea to submit a resume to both a biotech search firm and online and just not tell the recruiter that he is doing this. It would double his chances of having the resume noticed, right? This is not a good idea for not only is it unfair and dishonest, it will backfire. When the recruiter sends in the resume to the company he will be promptly told the resume is already on file so he will learn of the candidate’s deception very quickly. But why would this matter? First of all the candidate loses all credibility with the recruiter and you never know when that recruiter might have a great opportunity for you in the future. Don’t burn your bridges. Second, when a company gets a resume from many sources, the candidate just looks desperate for a job and this reflects poorly on the candidate and puts them in a weaker position.

Another point to consider is what happens to your CV after it is submitted online to a company directly or to a search firm. With today’s software a submitted resume is scanned into the company’s database and depending on how sophisticated the program the company is using the resume is tagged for keywords. So whether a CV is identified as a good match for a particular job depends on a machine and if the right keywords are present. But remember scientists and physicians applying for highly technical positions within the pharma and biotech industries can’t always be pegged to a few keywords. And this is one reason why it is better to send a CV to a company through a biotech recruiter who specializes in all the technical aspects of the pharma industry and will be much better qualified to discern whether a candidate is right for a particular position.

Remember that the first people to see a CV submitted online to a company’s web site or a job board is a person working in human resources or HR. It is not always the case but generally these people do not have a college degree in science and so many of the technical terms are not something they understand or can grasp as important. An example will illustrate this point. I once had a client in the tissue engineering field. I came across a hot shot newly minted postdoc from a top graduate school and also from a renowned Professor’s lab that specialized in cutting edge tissue engineering research. I told him I would speak to my client about whether there might be a position for him at the company even though I didn’t have a search at the time. I mentioned the person to someone in HR and they did not recognize the name of the Professor and were not interested. I was dumbfounded as this person’s work was highly relevant to the company’s research area. So I called the VP of Research and told him about the candidate. He wanted to give a phone call to the candidate immediately. Had I not called someone with the technical know-how in the company, the connection never would have been made.

Another factor to consider is the massive number of resumes a company’s web site receives for any given position that is listed. Many of these resumes are way off target as people out of work send their resumes in bulk all over the web. These piles of resumes must be sorted and in this process a highly qualified candidate can be lost. However when a candidate sends a CV to a specialized biotech recruiter who is trained too spot resumes with the proper background for a particular search he is working on, there is a much less likely chance of the CV being lost in the pile. And related to the problem of sending a CV both to a search firm and a company’s online site is the following example. A candidate sends in his CV for some position. Months or years go by and the candidate forgets he even sent his CV to the company. He is working with an executive search firm and the recruiter sends in his CV to the company. The company immediately looks up the candidate’s name in the database and realizes they had the CV all the time, but THEY DID NOT KNOW IT. It was the recruiter who brought attention about the candidate to the company even though they had the candidate right there in their database all the time. Unfortunately the search firm will not get paid if the company goes on to hire the person, the person they never would have found on their own if it were not for the recruiter.

One more reason to send a CV to a search firm is that a candidate has a clearer path to the hiring manager through a recruiter than through the online process. Even if the CV surfaces in HR it still is up to a HR employee to make the connections and send the CV on to the hiring manager. But a good recruiter is normally working directly with a hiring manager and if he thinks the candidate a good match he will email the CV directly to the hiring manager. And even if the recruiter has to send all CVs through HR, the HR representative will quickly forward the CV to the hiring manager if the recruiter has a good reputation for only sending well screened qualified candidates to a client.

If a candidate agrees it is a better idea to go through an executive search firm for a particular position that they see posted online, how do they find the biotech recruiter working with that particular company? And what if the position is not assigned to a search firm but is only listed online? These are difficult questions to answer. First I would simply ask as many search firms in the field if they work for the company you are targeting. You need a list of trusty biotech recruiters on hand who know you and will take your call. This is another reason it is always a good idea be cooperative with recruiters and help them with leads whenever possible.( see my post about this subject here). Sometimes even if a recruiter does not have the position in question they might know a hiring manager in the company who they can forward your CV to. There can be complications with this procedure because some companies have approved lists of agencies and will not accept an unsolicited resume. However every search professional knows that a company will make an exception if the hiring manager really wants a particular candidate even if the search firm is not on the HR list of approved agencies. Usually VPs and other hiring managers have higher clout than HR personnel and get what they want.

If a person absolutely cannot find a recruiter who has an “in” with a company that has a position a candidate is interested in, then the next step would be for a candidate to try to reach someone within the company on his own. He might know someone at the company who will be happy to forward his resume to the right person. There are employee referral incentives at some companies so this angle might work well. Additionally it is easy to connect with people through LinkedIn. Hopefully the actual hiring manager will be recognized and the person can reach out to him directly. But a candidate has to be careful and not spam a lot of people at the company at the same time through LinkedIn or any other social media. Again this will make the candidate appear desperate. Regrettably if a candidate doesn’t know anyone at the company and gets no response from someone through LinkedIn, then, as a last resort, the candidate will have to submit his or her CV online and hope for the best.

One last point regarding whether someone should submit his resume online or not is that some companies like to have a steady flow of candidates and therefore will list positions for which there are no current openings. They do this especially for very hard to fill positions such as Medical Director positions in clinical development. The company also wants to appear as though they are hiring when in fact they really aren’t. In addition some search firms also list positions on their web site for which they do not have an actual search in order to appear as though they are busy and to ensure a steady stream of candidates into their database. Candidates who submit their CV are duped into thinking they might have a chance for a position but are of course never contacted.

In summary a candidate should be very careful where he sends his CV, be it online or to a search firm. The candidate should ask questions and not just shoot the CV out with the click of a mouse. A candidate should keep a list of all companies he has sent the CV to and note whether they were sent via an online site or through a search firm. When a recruiter asks if the candidate has ever sent his CV to the company on his own, the candidate should tell him whether he has or not. But for all the reasons mentioned above I believe it is still best to work with a biotech recruiter before sending a CV online. The online route can lead to a vast black hole.

For Related Career Advice, check out an interview of Ellen Clark in Genomeweb

For more on Online Submittal