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Job Hunting in a Declining Pharmaceutical Industry

Red Bank Pharmaceutical Recruiter Bonnie Featherstone identifies issues facing the pharma industry.

In the pharmaceutical industry it’s known as the patent cliff, a period of steep decline when drug patent protection lapses and, as Bonnie Featherstone says, the wolves of the generic world lay in wait. Profits are lost, stock prices go down, and the jobs of those no longer needed are cut.

At her home Wednesday night, a space tucked away at the end of a dead end street in Red Bank that doubles as her office Bonafide Staffing, Featherstone talked about an entire industry teetering on the edge of a cliff. It’s her job to fill positions for pharmaceutical companies in the tri-state area, but, amidst a sea of decline, it’s a job that has become more of a challenge every day.

“It’s a difficult time for job seekers,” she said, noting that she was due to try and place an employee who has been out of work for close to 10 months with a client the following morning. “People who are employed in drug development are more cautious about leaving their positions than ever.

“They don’t know what’s out there; they’re holding on.”

When she founded her company in 2007, eschewing retirement plans in favor of giving it the start-up go, things were still booming. Despite the reality of outsourcing, pharmaceutical companies were still hiring and talent pools included recent college graduates and experienced workers looking for new challenges.

But, things are different now. One of the first things Featherstone tells people looking for placement, many of them trying to get back in to an industry that expelled them as it’s slipped down the side of the mountain, is to not hold out for a similar salary to the one you made previously. It’s just not going to happen.

Getting in, simply being employed is the key now.

“Most of our candidates are well educated in health sciences. They are serious scientists. They are very interested in the work they are doing, work that can benefit humankind, rather than making the bucks,” she said.

Though salary is important, Featherstone said it should not top a jobseeker’s list of requirements. When candidates come to her, she lays it out: the three things you should consider, she said, before taking a job, are if it’s the type of work that gets you out of bed in the morning, if you enjoy the people you’re working with, and then the amount of money you make.

In this economy, especially, the order isn’t too flexible.

Though reports of economic recovery are being touted on a regular basis as the stock market continues to find gains, reality paints a different picture. In pharmaceuticals alone, the decline has been persistent and job losses severe over the past couple of years.

According to a report released by outplacement company Challenger, Gray and Christmas, the pharmaceutical industry lost more jobs in 2010 than any other private industry.

The job cut report, released on Dec. 1, showed that the pharmaceutical companies lost 50,168 jobs in 2010. In 2009, the industry lost 61,109 jobs, coming in second to the retail industry in number of job cuts.

New Jersey is one of pharmaceutical's largest centers.

There’s no one thing that’s contributing to the decline, Featherstone said, but a combination of problems. Not only are several drug giants facing the patent cliff for many of their best selling drugs, but company mergers are creating redundancies in every department. When you have two people doing the job now required by one, the answer is simple: cuts.

“I say it’s hard, it’s hard every day. I would roll out of bed and I would have all of these requirements and I would fill them like that,” she said, snapping her fingers.

Bonafide is a small company currently with four employees – Featherstone’s husband and daughter-in-law are counted among that number – but at times it’s had a roster with as many as two-dozen different clients, all looking for help in finding employees.

To set herself apart, Featherstone recently earned accreditation from the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Companies are looking for more diversity among their staffs, she said. Johnson and Johnson, she said, spent over a billion dollars last year on salaries for women, minorities and veterans.

Still, promoting diversity isn’t always enough. Sometimes, the 68 year old said, you have to get creative. If you’re looking for a job, she said, don’t give up, just find ways to make yourself stand out.

“I have a big saying, it hangs on the wall in my office that says ‘Fall in love with the word no.’”

Marjorie Smith April 15, 2011 at 09:32 PM
I think the problem is a lack of highly qualified individuals with specialized skills. A friend has had headhunters after her for years and never lacked for work in the pharma industry. She has lots of trouble filling positions reporting to her however.
KDU November 30, 2012 at 03:40 AM
Hi Marjorie! Any chance you have that friend's contact info? Id love to know what skills. Im looking into breaking into the pharmaceutical industry as a MD, MPH. THANKS!

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