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UK Scientific Recruitment Trends (2012 Report + Infographic)

Written by: on  December 5, 2012

With the UK government investing about £5.5 billion a year in the science sector and pledging to increase the amount, science jobs are on the rise. Adding momentum to the argument that the science sector is the strongest way to grow the GDP and leave the recession behind, Physicist Brian Cox challenged the UK government to help make Britain the ‘best place in the world to do science’.

Over the last 6 months, working with Cranleigh Scientific, we interviewed 20 HR managers in UK science companies (incl. Abbott Diagnostics, Johnson Matthey, Siemens, Givaudan, SC Johnson and Synergy Health) to discover how scientific companies are finding and hiring the finest talent in this growing sector – and what 2013 holds for the industry.


The Top Two Recruitment Findings:



[ONE] Although there is great interest in social media as a method of recruitment, “filter failure” has kept the medium on standby.

Social media plays a role in background checks and the creation of passive candidate networks, but as a direct recruitment tool it delivers too much noise and a poor ratio of quality job candidates. Repeatedly, HR managers expressed the need for a way to filter the crowd of online profiles. Too much time is spent trying to shortlist the top candidates. This is something that technology may help in the future, but in its adolescent stage, social media often costs too much time and frustration as a primary recruitment tool.

Traditional advertising is considered the least valuable recruitment method while job boards are considered slightly more valuable  – yet the problem of filter failure strikes again. Digging deeper we find that while online profiles do an ok job of qualifying a candidate’s experience, there is little insight into cultural fit, which in turn influences retention rates and general productivity.


[TWO] All the companies interviewed are using outside recruiters, on average 1-3 agencies – but wish for partnerships instead of client & vendor type relationships.

The main ROI that recruitment agencies bring is the shortlisting of qualified candidates, saving time for the in-house HR team. Evolving, companies now desire long-term relationships with fewer recruitment agencies that not only provide qualified candidates but understand company culture nuance.


Scientific Recruitment in 2013:

Following the report (infographic and details at the bottom) we interviewed Cranleigh Scientific to explore growing trends for scientific recruitment in 2013:


Introducing Alex Salmon, Recruitment Director at Cranleigh Scientific. Clients include: Pfizer, Abbott, ThermoFisher, Procter & Gamble, Genzyme, Biocompatibles, Hexcel, Sara Lee, Firmenich, Pira International, TMO Renewables, Vertellus and The Carbon Trust.

Enter Alex:

Q. How strong is the candidate market in the science sector currently?

Alex: Confidence has come back into the market in 2012, so candidates are coming out of their hiding. Now there is an abundance of candidates available compared to the past few years because employees were more scared of job safety – confidence renewed, many are looking for alternatives to their current jobs. I’d say on average 25% of employees are passive candidates – not necessarily actively looking for a job but open to hearing about options.


Q. What do you think about social media, will it become the recruitment method of choice?

Alex: About 75% of the time we use LinkedIn as the initial touch for head hunting to connect with passive candidates: only 25% are through phone. Social media is a great initial way to connect, but it’s got to lead offline, there is no way to replace face to face communication. It’s all about meeting the candidiate in person and vetting if they are a good fit.

The pain I keep hearing from in-house HR is dealing with the mountains of CVs. Last year, many clients tried cutting out outside recruiters but found the increased time requirement to be an ordeal – and came back for assistance. Even for junior roles – we vet and reference them in-house. It’s a case of having that resource of time to compile a shortlist of real candidates. Usually clients want a top 3 shortlist of candidates – any more than three solid choices and it wastes time.


 Q. Where are relationships between recruitment agencies and in-house HR teams going?

Alex: HR teams may downsize opting into preferred supplier lists (PSLs), which are growing in popularity. Bigger companies are carefully partnering up with one to three agencies, instead of using ten. This saves time for the in-house HR team and provides better service from the recruiter because it’s much more competitive with 10 agencies and the ability to have quality relationships is low.

At Cranleigh Scientific we are proud of being on quite a few PSLs. The future success of small to medium sized recruitment businesses will depend on the quality of the client relationship, and how much is invested into it. This is ultimately how Cranleigh Scientific has been able to thrive during a difficult economy.


Q. Any dangers of PSLs for scientific companies?

Alex: Recruitment agencies can get complacent when reviewed on an annual basis and the service level can slip due to the comfort of being in an PSL.

To avoid this and court great long-term service I recommend:

  • Recruitment agency side – There should be an account manager put in place to keep the service levels high.
  • Company side – An account manager interacting with the agency AM. These two contact points create a strong partnership.
  • Also, if possible, it’s best to have just one AM on each side, for example we have one account manager for Afton Chemical, it keeps it streamlined.


Q. Any thoughts for 2013?

Alex: In this economy, what makes us competitive and can drag us out of this recession is the cleantech energy sector – the key industry we predict will grow, taking us out of this recession. This is heavily supported by universities such as Oxford and Cambridge attracting the best international science talent.

The great news for the science industry is the level of funding allocated by the government in 2012. Over £1 billion will be committed through the UK Research Investment Partnership, which will have a huge effect on nurturing groundbreaking technologies from incubation through to commercialisation. We are working with cleantech businesses that have benefited from this investment and require the brightest minds to drive their businesses forward. The future looks very bright for technology innovation in the UK.




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  • Hi, great article, really enjoyed reading this.

    With regards to the methods of recruitment I noticed direct sourcing isn’t there.  During the interviews were there any examples of companies that have developed recruitment functions based around proactive ‘strategic sourcing models’; where they have built dedicated teams of specific recruitment experts as opposed to the recruitment responsibilities being with HR in general?

    The social media and ‘filter failure’ points are no doubt a problem across other industries also.  Roche look to have a pretty successful social recruitment strategy.  I remember seeing their head of recruitment present it at a conference a year or so ago.  It’s pretty comprehensive covering multiple platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Blogs, LinkedIn & Twitter.  A lot is more to do with branding, promoting the stories of employees etc rather than purely for recruitment.  

    Best Regards


  • Hi Jean-Paul, do you have a link by chance to the Roche social recruitment strategy (not sure it’s publicly available)? I’m hunting to find examples of real return on social media investment and that sounds quality.

    Guess the trick is how to measure platform ROI when you are dealing with different social media. For example, LinkedIn is naturally positioned for finding candidates whereas effective Youtube mainly impacts branding. But a job candidates journey often includes multiple touch points such as hearing about a company from a friend, then finding their website, watching a Youtube video which makes them interested in applying and finally getting in touch with HR through LinkedIn.

    I believe Taryn Grossman Sheldrake of Siemens is deep in this space. I’ll ask her if she can comment / give her take.

    RE Direct sourcing, good point, I’ll check to see if any examples were brought up.

    Best, FIlip

  • Hi Filip, in response to you
    and Jean-Paul we do operate a proactive recruiting model made up of experts
    with many avenues, one being an emphasis on direct sourcing which covers
    numerous platforms that we utilise for both branding and strategic sourcing simultaneously.


    Agree on the difficulty with
    measuring ROI in certain circumstances. We aim to combine tight process with
    meaningful data and innovation, some of what we do focuses on measuring
    ROI for a more specific part of a site’s activity to enable us to drill down
    efficiencies and gaps and readjust strategy in order to reinvest.

  • Hi Filip. 

    I’ve tried to find the one I saw, it was a while back but I can’t find it online.  Ted Meulenkamp was the man driving it and I still think he’s at Roche. You could try contacting him.  Otherwise the conference was hosted by Crexia & RCEuro (Vic Okezie & Alan Whitford) who may have the slides, a lot of the other presentations from that conference I’ve noticed are online.  

    Their strategy looks to have developed a long way since since the presentation I saw, it’s likely they will have some good ROI metrics.  Agreed on your ROI point, with social media it’s often worth thinking about focusing on the brand first anyway, the staff stories, what your life looks like at work etc, rather than immediate ROI in the traditional recruitment sense. 

    Jean-Paul Smalls

  • Hi Taryn,

    Thanks for your reply, I thought that might be the case.  I’ve seen some really great examples recently of companies beginning to build strategic recruitment functions around passive candidate sourcing and the commercial business plan, which seems to be how more and more in-house recruiting teams will look in the future. 

    On ROI I’d be interested to know more on instances where you are using combining the process with data & innovation, that sounds really interesting (of course I understand you can’t give up all your secrets!)

    Jean-Paul Smalls

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