What do employers want? What are employers struggling with? Here, a trio of execs — one an esteemed placement specialist, the other two renowned for their work within the agency environment — share insights, secrets, worries, and everything else in between.

Read more from John Challenger, CEO, Challenger, Gray & Christmas (left); Lisa DuJat, chief talent officer, FCB Health (center); and Rob Rogers, co-CEO of the Americas and chief creative officer, Sudler & Hennessey

Read the 2016 Career and Salary Survey here. 

What’s your big-picture assessment of the pharma/healthcare job climate?

Challenger: The lock big pharma had on the best and the brightest no longer holds. You’ve got an explosion of startups, smaller biotech and medical-product companies, and venture money chasing it and pushing it forward.

What do current or would-be agency employees want to hear from people like you now?

DuJat: They want to know that it’s about them. You need to build conversations so they’re about career development — “while you’re here, we’re going to focus on you and get you the skills you need.” When people know that, they’ll stay.

Rogers: Despite some hubbub to the contrary, both creativity and opportunity are alive and well in healthcare. This is not the dry, impervious environment portrayed in some circles. It teems with passionate, smart and clever folks.

Many clients today are willing us to challenge their assumptions and asking for work that is powerful and provocative. They realize creating brand difference can hold the key to their success. We would like to talk with anyone whose approach is to use ideas to create opportunities for brands in healthcare. 

What can pharma and healthcare marketing agencies do to attract better candidates?

Rogers: Acknowledge that healthcare is a broad church, and stop trying to fill every square hole with a square peg. Just because someone has a background in a particular therapeutic area doesn’t mean they want to spend the rest of his or her career in that space. Some of the best hires we’ve made have come from atypical sources. Our apprentice program has shown that if you build a curriculum based on creating a great experience for graduates — you will have no problem attracting talent.  

DuJat: We’re also up against what it means to be loyal to a company or a career. Five years ago, maybe you were happy to have a job. Now people have more options. They can, and do, pick up and move across the country. So while they’re here, we need to give them everything they need. We need to help them bring their regular and work lives together so that there’s not as much of a distinction between the two.

How has the climate changed from, say, five years ago?

Challenger: People in this business have a much wider array of options — they’re not as confined to a smaller population of companies. Also, jobs are more spread out than they used to be. So if you take that and add in the number of companies competing for the same talent, it’s really changed the hiring dynamic. It’s pushing up compensation.

Rogers: Global warming aside, our clients and their brands are increasingly under pressure, and these issues are reflected in our business. In particular, the time given to bring therapies to market has shortened and the window to show performance has narrowed. Unsurprisingly, this has led to greater focus on efficacy and process, but I believe the real opportunity is to create smart ideas that can create an impact quickly.

What approaches work best with younger employees? Are millennials really that different from preceding generations?

Challenger: They want work that has meaning. They want a work–life balance. They want a workplace culture that’s fun and that makes them want to get up in the morning and go to work. Is that unique to them? Probably not. People share so much more information about their companies today. So companies that don’t do these things well get found out. People compare notes.

In light of that, how do you evolve the conversation with current and prospective employees?

DuJat: People on this team are almost becoming career coaches. One of our jobs now is making sure a certain job or role is the right one for them.

What are companies’ biggest challenges and frustrations now?

DuJat: A lot of the challenges you can’t really do anything about. People are so much more willing than they used to be to try new things. “I’m moving across the country” has become a thing lately. “I’m moving to Barcelona.” “I met someone.” It’s a more global world and the younger generation travels a lot. No matter how good we’re doing, we’re going to lose people for that reason.

What can, or should, companies be doing?

Challenger: Companies have to be very clear about the employees they view as having high potential and act accordingly. People at company headquarters have to take ownership of their best people. They have to think very hard about their employees’ careers and exposing them to new experiences and giving them responsibility.