The Life Science Hiring Manager's Guide to Staff Augmentation

If your time is short:
  • Life science hiring managers are often forced to hire FTEs for roles that don't justify permanent staff.
  • The traditional process of recruiting, onboarding, and training is often slow and arduous, putting critical schedules at risk while deterring top talent.
  • Many hiring managers are forced to hire into new roles with untested job descriptions, which can lead to re-hires and expensive trial and error.
  • Staff augmentation (contracting with full-time consultants) offers a flexible, cost-effective alternative to FTE recruitment that better reflects cyclical or project-based demand while infusing new skills and experiences into your team either on-site or remotely.
  • 17 of the top 25 life science companies in the United States partner with The FDA Group to augment their staff—easily increasing or decreasing specialized workforces as needs fluctuate while finding cost efficiencies in recruiting, screening, and onboarding staff.
  • Read our staff augmentation case study PDFs—here and here—to see how teams like yours are using this engagement model. Learn more about our staff augmentation engagement model and contact us to discuss your next project and see if staff augmentation is a fit.

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Introduction and Summary

When life science companies need to access new talent, they typically see themselves having two options: hire full-time employees or bring in consultants or contractors.

What’s often overlooked, however, is the option that sits somewhere between these two workforce models: staff augmentation, which practically means interim full-time contracting. Hiring full-time consultants to plan and execute projects and roles/ job descriptions for what might eventually require permanent full-time hires.

When a short-term project arises, or a personnel gap needs to be filled temporarily, most hiring managers are comfortable calling on consultants and independent contractors to augment their staff. But filling permanent roles with full-time employees (FTEs)—especially when those roles are complex and new to the company—isn’t so simple. As top talent becomes scarcer and roles become less familiar and more complicated, the traditionally slow and arduous FTE recruitment process can (and often does) end up getting in its own way.

In an effort to be thorough and diligent with each hire, employers often inadvertently exhaust candidates with layers and layers of screening and deliberation. The ensuing frustration ends up undermining the search process itself when exasperated candidates fall out to pursue more decisive employers—all while important projects sit paused, waiting on people to emerge from the hiring gauntlet.

These hiring challenges have breathed new life into interim full-time contracting, a staff augmentation model that’s by no means new, but worth revisiting given how well it’s suited to address these concerns.

As most professionals involved in hiring decisions already know, interim full-time contractors provide a way to rapidly access the competencies a company needs to keep work moving. What’s often not top of mind, however, is how this model can be used to address some of the challenges of hiring into permanent full-time positions; namely by allowing the employer to refine the job description for an eventual permanent role while an interim contractor or team of contractors tackles the project work immediately.

  • If the initial job description developed for a new permanent role doesn’t need to be refined—and the contracted professional is open to the full-time position—the contract can end in a traditional contract-to-hire outcome.
  • If the initial job description does need to be refined (perhaps with the help of the consultant or contractor), those refinements can be communicated to the external staffing and recruitment partner, who can search for more appropriate permanent candidates concurrent with the remainder of the interim period.
  • And of course, if the initial job description is way off, and the contracted resource isn’t qualified for the project, another contractor can be brought in likely far quicker and less painfully than replacing an FTE.

Using interim full-time contractors this way—as a means of “feeding” a full-time hiring program without pausing projects—enables employers (particularly department hiring managers) to circumvent the challenges posed by the traditionally slow and arduous hiring process.

The easiest way to utilize the staff Augmentation model is to work with a resourcing firm whose recruiters can tap an active and extended network to source hard-to-find and specialized talent, deliver them on contract, and provide active project management if appropriate and preferred throughout the engagement.

The right resourcing partner—one whose recruiters are qualified life science subject matter experts themselves—can also help evaluate job descriptions for specialized roles and draw on experience to make helpful recommendations as to what you really do and don’t need in a resource given the needs of a role.


 

HubSpot Video

 

Here at The FDA Group, we help companies augment their staff with full-time consultants to tackle project work in just about every stage of the product lifecycle—from clinical development to commercialization—and across various functional areas, including Quality Assurance, Regulatory Affairs, and Clinical Operations. 

Given that no two life science companies find themselves with the same goals, needs, or constraints in their hiring program, the way employers utilize staff augmentation varies from one company to another. Connect with us to discuss the applicability and best use of this engagement model in the context of your organization.

Learn more about our staff augmentation services »


Why Staff Augmentation? Revealing the Value of Full-time Consultants

We know most people involved in hiring decisions understand interim contracting. Again, it’s nothing new. What we’ve noticed, however, is that it comes up as an option in resourcing discussions a little less than it should. And when it does come up, its utility tends not to be fully realized. 

To expand on the overview we just offered, here’s how we see the model working to its fullest: A company has a project and perhaps a full-time role to fill. They borrow consultants and contractors from a resourcing firm’s trusted network to get work started, fine-tune the job description, and validate the need for a full-time employee. Depending on the outcome of this interim project, the employer then has some options that make life much easier: 

  • If it turns out an FTE isn’t needed, but there’s more work to do, they can extend the existing contract or bring in another contractor to do the remaining work. 
  • If an FTE is needed, and the now-trained and onboarded contractor is suitable for the role, they can be offered the full-time position. (Contract-to-hire.) 
  • If an FTE is needed, but the lessons learned during the interim project changed the job description considerably, the employer can now hand their recruiter a refined job description and execute a permanent placement search for more precise candidates—radically improving the quality and speed of the eventual permanent hire. 

💡 The takeaway is this: Beyond just getting work done in the interim, contracted resources can help employers better understand exactly who they need to hire, and even step in to fill that role at the end of the contract in some cases. The work doesn’t have to wait on an arduous recruitment process that turns off great candidates, and the employer can sharpen their job descriptions by watching the work get done.

Why is Staff Augmentation Especially Advantageous in the Life Sciences?

With so much rapid growth happening throughout the pharma, device, biologic, and biotech industries, companies are scaling their frontline and back-office operations—sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. 

Unfortunately, finding the skilled people needed to support this growth isn’t nearly as easy to scale as companies would like. Demand for highly specialized talent is outpacing its supply in the labor market. Securing competent and driven specialists in areas like Quality Assurance, Regulatory Affairs, and Clinical Operations is arguably one of the biggest hurdles to bringing innovative healthcare products to life and keeping them there. 

  • According to CBRE's Life Sciences Research Talent 2022 report, "A furious search for talent presents challenges as the industry seeks to meet growing demand for its products and services."

Staff augmentation as a workforce strategy is especially well-suited to overcome project bottlenecks common in highly interdependent, timeline-driven life science projects and expedite the hiring process by enabling companies to support these projects with a specialized group of contracted resources that can:

  • keep work moving forward;
  • validate the need for FTEs, and
  • refine the job descriptions used to attract them.

Full-time consultants that can work in and on a given role can be especially advantageous when leaders are tasked with finding talent with specific and competitive skills in very little time.

When an FTE is needed after a contract/project ends, this approach can morph into a traditional contract-to-hire outcome or go on to enhance a new candidate search. The contractor, who’s now been trained and integrated into the work, may simply be hired full-time. If, however, the employer needs to change the job description based on its experience with the contractor, it can refine the details and pass those updates on to its recruiter, who, in turn, can improve the quality of the candidates they deliver once the contract ends.

This clever linkage between borrowing and buying talent is more often stumbled upon than sought out intentionally. Here at The FDA Group, we see it happen nearly every day:

  • A hiring manager may engage us looking to hire an FTE expecting to wait as long as 90 days to find one—only to come away with a full-time contractor who can hit the ground running in days while they continue to work on the role.
  • During this time, we may continue to narrow our search based on lessons from the contractor if another resource will eventually be needed after the contract.

Two Huge Problems Solved by Staff Augmentation

Before we dive deeper into fully flexing the staff augmentation model, it’s important to touch on two underlying hiring problems that make it advantageous in the life sciences.

1. Current workforce strategies are often misused to the detriment of everyone.

All life science companies, regardless of size, need specialized skills. They may not require specific skills all the time, but when they do, they’re critical. Some companies hire FTEs for basically everything—regardless of whether a skill is needed temporarily or permanently. 

Most of the time, this turns out to be a short-sighted and ultimately costly strategy. If the role isn’t permanent enough to justify an FTE, employers almost certainly end up paying more without any upside. 

  • They pay for the time it takes to find, hire, and train someone. 
  • They pay in overhead and payroll expenses.
  • They pay for the project delays that invariably happen when they learn too late that the hire isn’t the right fit and have to go back to square one.

They incur all of these costs just to end up laying someone off a few months later when the project wraps, and there’s no longer a need for them.

Immediately hiring an FTE and ignoring the benefits of the first round of interim contractors, as we’ve alluded to a few times now, also often means halting some or all work projects while the role gets filled and failing to fine-tune the position that should be captured in the job description, thereby keeping the door wide open to the risk of a bad fit.

Of course, misusing contractors and consultants causes problems, too. The classic case here is relying on temporary resources for what ought to be a full-time role and paying more in hourly rates than an FTE.

Since the staffing provider factors the costs of benefits into the rate, keeping contractors on for too long can lead employers to pay more out of pocket for contingent staff when full-time employment would have been a more suitable and cost-effective choice. Also, working too long with a contractor can become a legal liability with co-employment laws.

There are, of course, many situations that do call for either FTEs or contractors.

  • In the former case, a company may be scaling up manufacturing for the first time following market approval or simply building out one or more of its teams.
  • In the latter case, the demands of a project—whether skills-based or personnel-based—may simply be three to six months long, in which case, hiring an FTE would be comparatively costly and labor-intensive. 

But as we’ve seen firsthand, many resourcing needs that arise inside pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device companies aren’t so clear-cut for contracting or full-time hiring—at least initially. Hiring managers are too often forced to choose a model before knowing everything they need to know about the role. 

  • Interim contractors solve this problem by enabling hiring managers to test-drive their job descriptions and see the work get done before they have to make a significant commitment one way or the other. It offers a degree of flexibility and responsible experimentation that a more “rigid” workforce strategy can’t.

2. The traditional recruitment and hiring process is too slow for the fast-paced life sciences labor market. 

This problem is worth lingering on because it’s so insidious and widespread. When an employer needs to fill a permanent role, finding and hiring good people quickly is obviously a massive challenge, especially in the hyper-competitive life science industries.

The simple fact is, the time it takes to land the right hire when going through the traditional hiring process is often too slow to keep pace with the speed that specialized life science talent moves in and out of the labor market.

  • In the time it takes to execute a search, review resumes, conduct interviews, check references, and make an offer, a more innovative and fast-moving recruiter and employer will have very likely stolen that opportunity right out of your hands.

Over time, no one should be surprised if we see the best talent migrate to the organizations with the most to offer candidates and those with the most innovative workforce strategies, leaving others behind. 

In addition to offering hiring managers more flexibility and the ability to experiment with how they build their teams, an interim contract can also expedite time-to-hire. While most companies “sit in traffic” waiting on recruiters to deliver candidates the traditional way, companies using this new model get to dip into the fast lane—getting quick access to experienced contractors who can get work done and, again, refine the role while they work. 

The Role of the Consultant or Contractor in the Modern Life Science Organization

Borrowing talent—whether through traditional consulting or staff augmentation—isn’t new to the life sciences. Consultants and contractors have been around for decades. The problem is, they’re still often perceived as temporary or “dispensable” resources—outsiders you bring inside for a short time to work on a specific project. 

While there’s no shortage of project-based work to do, these specialized workers, as we argue here, have more utility outside of this narrow use case. Today’s most innovative (and successful) resourcing professionals are making contractors an integral part of their broader workforce strategy. 

Employers are realizing just how well an interim strategy can address both the cyclical project-based labor demands and enhance the traditional hiring process with something much faster and more reliable than the standard “hurry-up-and-wait” approach. 

In addition to staffing up during busy times and staffing down during slower ones, companies with short- and long-term staffing needs are using interim resources to execute short-term projects and keep that necessary—and now proven—talent on board to fill permanent roles. 

As we mentioned earlier, the interim or augmented work provided by contractors and consultants gives teams the ability to challenge their assumptions about exactly who and what they need, too. Rather than hiring FTEs based on brand new, “untested” job descriptions, teams can validate their assumptions and make important adjustments for their eventual FTE search if a contractor’s output reveals needs beyond their skillsets, experience, or long-term availability. 

Here are a few advantages of bringing on full-time consultants in the service of improving a full-time hiring program.

1. Teams can start executing project work immediately.

With experienced consultants and contractors used to being thrown into the deep end with a new team, employers can keep their projects moving and get work done on time and within budget. There’s less stagnating while the team waits on a candidate search. In this labor market, you could be waiting more than two or three months for an employee.

The question is, how long can you afford to wait? 

2. Teams can save time and resources on hiring.

Working with a resourcing partner, employers outsource the expensive and time-consuming recruitment process. Their participation and duties in the process are more or less limited to selecting the best candidates from a shortlist of perhaps one or two candidates suggested by the resourcing partner. They get talent hand-selected for their project and based on their unique requirements. 

Building such a team on its own can demand incredible effort, time, and resources. And in the fast-paced, competitive life science world, employers simply can’t afford to lose time gathering a team that would fit every new project. 

3. Teams can spend far less time managing (and more time doing). 

In many cases, a project manager will control the workflow day-to-day and report to the employer or an in-house project manager. The entire process is transparent but doesn’t require the team’s constant attention—freeing them for other business tasks. They’re always aware of the project progress, development schedules, deliverables, and the process overall. They stay in control without spending time on direct management. 

4. Teams can fine-tune the description of their role.

While a contracted resource or team is working, there might be parts of the job description listed as requirements, but they are turning out not to be requirements. Or sometimes it’s just the opposite.

It’s discovered that something needs to be a requirement but isn’t listed in the responsibilities. Employers can glean an incredible amount of practical insight about a role—especially a new role—simply by observing and interacting with a skilled contractor who’s providing intelligence and suggestions while also delivering immense value to a project.

5. Teams can determine the requisite soft skills and personality profile that fit the role.

Many roles require much more than a skill set.

  • Is this somebody that needs to be very direct and authoritative, or will they need a softer touch?
  • Will their work be siloed, or is it something that requires them to wear many hats?

Seeing the role played out with a contractor allows the employer to see precisely which personality traits complement the role—something that’s almost impossible to pin down based on assumptions alone. 

6. Teams can detect strengths and weaknesses and accelerate training and eventual onboarding.

Using interim contractors this way also helps improve the interview process of an eventual employee. As an employer, you might detect things you see as a precious asset in that individual, and vice versa, spot red flags early. This approach also provides in-work training for someone after being hired, which accelerates their ramp-up speed.

Summary, Final Thoughts, and Next Steps

The traditional approach to FTE recruitment has multiple drawbacks and limitations in the fast-moving life science industries—some of which are severe enough to be deal-breakers in searching for top talent.

At The FDA Group, we take every opportunity to help life science companies realize which workforce model is most advantageous to them, and then connect them with top talent through that model. 

After helping many organizations use various workforce strategies, we’ve seen staff augmentation emerge as a natural linkage between the benefits of consultants and the need for FTEs. This approach to recruitment enables companies to hire flexibly and refine their searches—a great option for those spearheading new program development and helping to augment a company’s internal team during busy times or when a company is just building out a part of its workforce.

The approach we present here can help you avoid these challenges. However, if you’re unsure of its applicability to your organization, we encourage you to contact us to discuss it in context. If you’d like to learn how this model can be implemented into your operation, use the links below to get in touch with us and get the conversation started.

We connect you to top life science talent, wherever and whenever you need them—guaranteed.

Need a better way to find top talent through the workforce model that’s right for your organization? We rapidly identify qualified consultants, candidates, and contractors and connect you to them through the most advantageous strategy for you. 

Whether you need to fill a single role or multiple roles on your team, we connect you to life science professionals with experience and expertise across functions, product lifecycle phases, and locations to augment and scale your team through consulting projects, staff augmentation, and FTE recruitment

We can fulfill resource placement needs in a variety of roles and functions including, but not limited to: 

We help thousands of firms, including 17 of the top 25 global pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device companies, find the resources they need, when and where they need them, through the optimal workforce model. Our resources are located in several dozen countries and have expertise throughout the life sciences. All of our services are backed by a Total Quality Guarantee. 

Contact us to schedule a meeting »

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Long-Term Quality System Staff Augmentation

Learn how The FDA Group partnered with a large clinical service company to manage its QMS remediation efforts and fulfill long-term staffing assignments for two vital roles in the management of the company’s quality and pharmacovigilance functions.

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Topics: Staff Resourcing