Andy CurlewisAuthored by Andy Curlewis, SVP Brand, Digital & Comms

In a time of COVID-19, the life sciences industry has been very much in the spotlight. How can companies in the sector make the most of this opportunity and leverage the full power of their employer brand? And why is this increasingly important? 

The life sciences sector has experienced huge disruption as a result of the pandemic, with delays to product development and clinical trials, a reduction in lab capacity and all the attendant difficulties of a rapid transition to remote working for many of its staff. 

But it has also received a huge boost in the way it is perceived externally, both by the general public, and within the employment market. For a range of audiences at all stages of their career, interest in pursuing a career in life sciences is rising. Amongst the next generation in particular, it is climbing up the ranks, and beginning to challenge big tech, professional services and finance as the sector of choice.  

A recent survey* of over 10,000 students across business, IT, engineering, natural sciences, humanities, law and health revealed that graduates are increasingly ranking pharma and healthcare companies as the most desired places to work. 

Interestingly, the biggest shift was seen amongst business and tech students, with positive implications for recruitment into hard-to fill IT, digital and corporate support roles. Companies who achieved early success in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine did particularly well. 

A pivotal time to develop a purpose-led employer brand 

This movement is typical of a more general trend, which has seen employees place more and more emphasis on working for an organisation with a strong sense of purpose. Increasingly, people want to be part of a company which acts to benefit all stakeholders – from employees and customers to regulators and society – rather than just shareholders alone.  

What does this mean for the life sciences sector? That it’s a vital time to seize this opportunity. Positioning your employer brand as one that is both purpose-led and people-oriented isn’t just a nice to have – it’s essential to drive engagement, attract the best talent and avoid losing staff to competitors. 


Whilst PwC research showed that 56% of consumers have a more positive impression of the sector because of its work combating COVID-19, a survey for Ipsos Mori for Takeda showed that even now, only 48% trust big pharma to act in the best interests of society. So, there is still much work to be done to inspire a new generation into the sector.  

It begins with the evolution of an employer brand that can tell compelling stories about the underlying purpose driving life science companies – and how this benefits everyone from employees to patients. Moving the narrative on from COVID is important, too. During the pandemic, there have been hugely exciting developments, from a new malaria vaccine, to the development of a potentially game-changing blood test for the early diagnosis of 50 cancers. Now is the perfect time to raise awareness of the wider purpose of your organisation, and your important breakthroughs. 

People-oriented working  

Creating a working culture that looks after the people you’ve got – and is attractive to those you want to join – is also vital. Whilst a sense of purpose is central, it is not sustainable for this to be sacrificed in the medium and long-term to wellbeing. Explaining how you safeguarded the physical and mental health of your employees during the pandemic whilst still maintaining a real R&D drive – and how you will continue to do so moving forward - is vitally important. With the danger of staff burnout leading to both retention and reputational issues, creating a support framework and making sure your people know about it is also a key part of developing your employer brand. 

Both internal and external audiences will want to understand what the future looks like at your organisation. Will they retain the flexibility of hybrid working and will you provide the support and structure necessary to make this a success? Do you offer real flexibility to parents and other caregivers? What are you doing to protect and boost your people’s wellbeing? Are you at the forefront of driving the Women in Science agenda? Providing key information in these areas at every stage of the candidate journey, from initial talent attraction marketing to onboarding and internal communications is vital to engaging and keeping the best people. 

Innovation first 

Inextricably linked to the employee’s desire to drive purpose is the need to innovate. It is life science companies’ ability to provide a huge range of opportunities to do just that which is helping them to challenge finance, professional services – and even big tech companies as employers of choice. Building awareness of the many areas of innovation that professionals of all sorts can be involved in at your organisation should be a key part of your talent acquisition strategy, as you seek to differentiate your offer from competitors in your sector and beyond. At Becton Dickinson (BD), they are utilising Cielo Talent Cloud which enables self-scheduling for candidates and offers chat Bot AI on the careers to help support the overall candidate experience, as well as engaging candidates via virtual career events.  

From using AI to prove hypotheses using real world data sets, to advanced robotics in the manufacturing network and disruptive product design, there are many areas in which the life sciences sector is leading the way. Not least in the revolution that is putting the individual patient front-and-centre, with everything from personalised treatments to contracts that put outcomes at the centre of payment for medicine. Who wouldn’t want to work on digital solutions that can cut the time taken for drug trials in half, or use AI to unlock breakthrough biological insights? 

This is a time of huge flux and opportunity – but also one of risk. 40% of the global workforce surveyed by

 said they were considering leaving their employer this year. Partnering with a Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) firm that has extensive knowledge in the life sciences sector can help you use the full power of your employer brand to optimise opportunities and avoid the pitfalls of this momentous transition period.  

*Survey performed by and Universum.