For many, the days of looking forward to a yearly review, full of back-patting and congratulations on a job well done, and more importantly, the extra dollars to validate the praise, are over—at least for the moment. Those fortunate enough to have a job, and hoping for that promotion or raise, might catch themselves glancing at an online symptom checker for generalized anxiety.

First the bad news, to be followed by the better, but still not terrific news: Average industry salaries were down a frightening 4.8% this year, according to MM&M‘s Career & Salary Survey 2009. This year’s decline followed an unprecedented march into the red last year, when the average salary decreased—for the first time in the history of our survey—by 3.7%. In 2007, the average salary rate across the industry—which includes manufacturers, agencies, media, service suppliers and others—was around $133,700, according to survey data. This year, it’s hovering around $122,600 (Fig. 1).

Nervousness about job security has fostered an increasingly risk-averse workforce. Recruiters have seen the pool of highly sought-after passive candidates—talented jobseekers already gainfully employed, but with a wandering eye—dry up. “This is the worst year I’ve ever seen,” says Shannon Peryea, VP, executive recruiter at Sheila Greco Associates. “People are afraid to be the last hired, first fired.” For those actively seeking jobs, the competition has stiffened. “Lots of clients have done some house cleaning” in light of the economic circumstances, says Peryea. “There are some vice president and senior vice president roles popping up, but companies are being much more selective. I’ve been working on filling the same positions for the majority of this year.”

Despite decreases in industry-wide salary averages, manufacturer salaries actually went up a tick—by 2.4% to $140,279 (Fig. 2). After an 8.1% decrease in manufacturer salaries from 2007 to 2008, this is a step in the right direction, albeit a small one, and should be heralded as good news.

“We’re looking at things a little more carefully this year, as everyone is,” says Joyce Fannon, talent acquisition manager for UCB. “But salaries are up a tad, and we’re seeing promotions.” Fannon says staffing positions that require an intensive scientific background, such as medical directors and managed market specialists, continues to be a difficult task. 

Other areas, like sales positions, have been comparatively easier to fill, due to a surplus of available talent.
“I haven’t had to use a recruiter [for a sales position] since the very beginning of the year,” says Fannon, adding that the volume of candidates and applications in sales has spiked this year.

To the extent that they’re available, other incentives beyond base salary have aided the hiring process on the manufacturing side. Jodi Allen, global recruitment manager at Shire Human Genetic Therapies, says “generous relocation programs” and signing bonuses can help seal the deal, a sentiment echoed by Fannon.

Additionally, employee referral programs have grown—at UCB, employees can score an extra $2,000 to $4,000 for a successful referral. Employee referrals can help to lay the groundwork for relocation, sometimes a difficult proposition, according to Fannon. Belgium-based UCB has its US headquarters in Atlanta—not exactly the epicenter of biopharmaceutical activity—and potential employees are not always thrilled by the prospect of moving.
“We can’t buy their houses outright, unfortunately,” says Fannon. “We do help them try and sell their house [for relocation] and we offer great relocation packages, but it can be a big burden [to relocate].” UCB also offers stock options for “assistant directors or higher,” says Fannon.      

Despite a salary uptick and other incentives, “passive candidates are playing it closer to the vest—they’re a little bit more cautious,” says Fannon, adding that many are waiting to see how the current administration’s healthcare reform efforts play out, and how that will affect the industry.

Other candidates currently in the market for a job are having to wait longer for open positions, and that causes a lot of frustration, says Peryea.

“Clients are weirded out by applicants that previously earned $175,000, and that are now asking for $150,000,” says Peryea.

Fannon says she has seen candidates asking for less than they might have a year ago, but says UCB tries not to allow that kind of situation to happen. “We don’t want to hire someone and lose them six months later when a better opportunity comes along,” says Fannon. “It’s not desperation that I’m seeing, but more of a flexibility. We also have to be a lot more sensitive when we don’t offer a candidate a job this year; it could very well be their third rejection in a row.”

Within the manufacturing sector, OTC pharmaceuticals and dental products and equipment were the only areas where salaries increased collectively. Average prescription drug salaries were down 7% ($125,716), compared with a 2.7% drop last year. Biotech salaries fared slightly better, down 6.7% ($143,090) in 2009, after a 9.1% increase between 2007 and 2008 (Fig. 4).

Gigantic mergers in the pharmaceutical industry over the past 12 months have shaken up the job landscape, as companies attempt to assimilate and reeducate new staff on the prevailing corporate cultures. Several large pharmaceutical companies involved in the recent mergers, including Pfizer and Merck, declined to comment for this article.

Agency salaries were down by 5.8% this year, according to MM&M‘s Career & Salary Survey. “In the past, a lot of people [at CommonHealth] were making over $150,000…we’ve had to scale that back,” says Susan DiDonato, executive vice president, chief talent officer at CommonHealth. “We can’t hire as many senior people anymore.”
That said, DiDonato notes that “very senior people” are becoming available—or a least more available than six months ago. “A lot of people on the street that previously earned high salaries are taking a job to do almost anything—I’ve seen people that have worked in the industry for 25 or 30 years that are out of job, although that has slowed down in the last six months.”  

Allison Formicola, vice president of recruitment and resource management at Harrison & Star, says the talent pool is two-fold. “You have people that have been laid off after the elimination of a department or office, or staff was trimmed, and you have people who are working but disgruntled—they may be facing a promotion freeze, or they might not get the money with the promotion,” says Formicola.

The health of an agency’s business reflects the successes and pratfalls of its manufacturer clients. With consolidations and job shuffling at many major pharmaceuticals, agencies are wise to spread out their accounts, or risk breaking a lot of eggs when one basket drops. Agencies that have been hurt the worst are shops that depend on one or two clients for the bulk of their work.

“If everything is at GlaxoSmithKline or Merck, then some of the layoffs have been more dramatic,” says DiDonato.
“It’s not always the lowest performing staff that gets laid off—it could be the head of the brand team all the way down,” she continues. “If you’ve got a group working on an ADHD drug, and there’s no other product [in that therapeutic class], the whole team goes…you can’t just cut four account coordinators and a copy writer” to recoup a one million dollar account loss.

Two important factors for bringing in talent, aside from strictly financial incentives, are training capabilities and the opportunity to work on high profile brands, says Alison Lalli, an in-house recruiter at ghg (Grey Healthcare Group). “We hear from new hires all the time that are surprised to have a formal orientation and training” says Lalli.

“A career development plan with reviews at six months or a year, and training opportunities, are key selling points for passive candidates,” adds Antonette Poli, a recruiter and colleague of Lalli at ghg. 

At the entry level, applicant numbers are growing exponentially. Lalli was surprised this year when ghg’s annual summer internship program brought in candidates that had been out of school for a few years, and even a couple that already had master’s degrees.

“In years past we’ve had rising juniors and seniors that leave at the end of the summer to head back to school,” says Lalli. “This year, the majority were graduates…they just want to get a foot in the door.” Formicola says the influx of entry-level applicants has made screening a little more difficult. “We only hired three entry level positions last year, out of thousands of internet submissions,” she says.

Employees like to experience different aspects of the business at an agency, while at the same time building their resumes, but training isn’t enough for every job.

“People that have worked in pharmaceuticals or at insurance companies get the jobs in managed markets…the experience required is very specific,” says DiDonato. “You can’t fake that knowledge—people can train even for some medical education positions, but managed markets is a different animal.”

In the digital world, DiDonato says Qi—CommonHealth’s digital shop—picks up staff right out of school, although dealing with young and inexperienced employees is not without its difficulties.

“Younger people tend to know more about the technology, but they are young, and there can be some growing pains,” she says.

Should I stay or should I go?
Hypothetically speaking, there’s a new start-up biotech in town, with a promising experimental drug or two in the pipeline. After a string of successful clinical trials on one of the products during phase 3, they start hiring. Or maybe there’s an agency across town that’s on fire and doing really innovative stuff, and they’ve just won a huge chunk of business from a top 10 pharma. You have a relatively stable job and are friendly with your colleagues, and have said more than once recently that you feel lucky to have a good job with unemployment rates so high. But then you answer the phone and a recruiter is on the other end. Do you stay or go?

“A lot of people are sitting tight,” says Peryea. “People that have a job aren’t interested in moving. People are afraid of what’s ahead.”

Not necessarily, counters Fannon. “[UCB] is known for its CNS portfolio, and we won an approval for rheumatoid arthritis in immunology…and hired an entire staff,” she said, presumably referring to UCB’s Cimzia injectable.
Perhaps Peryea and Fannon are both right. According to MM&M‘s survey data, 37.1% of respondents on the manufacturing side said they plan to seek a new job this year, while 38.6% said they would not—24.3% abstained from the question (Fig. 8). Similarly, 36.6% of staff working at an agency said they would look for a job this year, while 38.4% said they would not, with 25% of agency respondents abstaining. No matter where respondents work, the number one motivation for going versus staying was salary, at 29.2%.

Writers tend to be outliers—many are still able to maintain a satisfactory level of security as freelancers. “If you can write well, you can name your ticket,” says DiDonato of medical writers. Assuming a good reputation, “medical writers and editors can always get jobs,” although some are beginning to ask for full-time positions, says Peryea.

Media & Publishing
For MM&M’s Career & Salary Survey 2009, media respondents were divided into three categories: print, digital and a combination of both. None of the three categories earned average salaries in the six figures. Companies that publish digitally and in print garnered a higher average salary, at $93,874—roughly $4,000 more than print ($89,656) or digital ($89,854)-exclusive publishers (Fig. 2).

According to Jay Getto, director of human resources at Elsevier, publishers aren’t necessarily seeing salary or promotion freezes, but they have taken “a more conservative approach to increases.” As publishing companies become less stable, some people are more willing to move, says Getto. When asked about the potential for career advancement, workers in print media were more pessimistic than any other group—77.8% said their prospects were “poor,” compared with 22.2% at “excellent or good” (Fig. 7).

Digital media staffers were optimistic about promotions—61.5% said their prospects for advancement was excellent or good, compared with 30.1% at poor. Companies publishing both digitally and in print had mixed feelings, with 38.8% at excellent or good, and 26.5% at poor.

“Folks are asking for lower starting salaries,” says Getto. “There is pressure on wages at the entry level.” Marketing research roles within the publishing industry are at a premium, says Getto. “It’s a competitive segment…and there’s a lot of emphasis on experience.”

It’s hard to pack up and move when the house that is left behind could easily sit on the market for months. “Candidates are looking very carefully at the benefits [of a move],” says Allen. Relocation packages and sign-on bonuses can be enticing, but talented individuals aren’t as prone to take a chance on a small start-up, especially if they’re uprooting a family or selling a house.

“Candidates with an entrepreneurial spirit are more likely to be attracted to mid-size companies” with a solid story to tell, says Allen. Boston-based Shire Human Genetic Therapies picks up most of their workforce from home, and taps the New York/New Jersey market, Philadelphia and California markets when necessary, but relocation can be a hard sell.

Fannon says the buying and selling of homes are top concerns for her candidates. “It’s difficult to relocate, but in some cases, people in the San Francisco Bay area or San Diego—or really anywhere on the West Coast—are surprised to find out that they can buy a house in Atlanta for a lot less,” says Fannon.

For Harrison & Star, located in New York City, Formicola says it isn’t necessary to go outside of the tri-state area very often. “I can tap Chicago if I need to,” she says.

Getto also cites the housing market as a barrier to moving people around, but says “people that can deliver certain things” have a license to work remotely. “More and more people are working from home,” he says.

According to Peryea, belt-tightening has caused employers to scale back some of the financial incentives for moving. “There are more stipulations on relocation,” she says. “People just aren’t willing to jump ship. In the past, you got three years [from an employee] if you’re lucky. For now they’re sticking around.”

Data for the MM&M Career & Salary Survey 2009 were collected using online questionnaires emailed to MM&M subscribers. Responses are unique and confidential. For additional insights and data, including figures for more job titles, refer to the MM&M Career & Salary Survey 2009 Premium Edition, available now