October 4, 2023

The State of the Industry with Jeff Caskey

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I'm a Career and Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech. I've been where you are, and I help you create the career you want without working more hours or settling for good enough.
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Join me today for a conversation about the state of the Pharma/Biotech industry with Jeff Caskey. Jeff is the founder and CEO of Nexagen Search, a talent solutions company for the life sciences industry. Tune in as we talk about the difficult changes that have happened in the industry this year, what the data tells us, and Jeff’s prediction of where the industry is headed.

We talk about everything from growing your career during a downsize to when not to listen to the news feed and what is really important if you want to make a pivot in your career in this climate. This is an episode with candid conversations about the real downturn that has happened but also an episode of hope and positivity.

What you’ll learn:

  • Why the industry has had so many layoffs and restructures this year
  • What the financial data can tell us about the future
  • The functional areas and business priorities that are growing
  • Tangible career advice for navigating your career in the industry when the future looks bleak

Mentioned in this episode:




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Melissa Lawrence (00:05)

Welcome to Your Worthy Career, a podcast with me, Melissa Lawrence. I’m a career and life coach with all the corporate credit and talent development and organizational psychology. I help women like you get extraordinary results by being more you. Not less. I won’t just help you have a career experience worthy of you, but I will help you build your self-worth to shift what you think is possible and take the action that will create the career you’ve always wanted, whether it’s more meaningful work you’re passionate about, making more money, getting to your next level, or being more effective as a leader. 

We are shattering the glass ceiling here, the one that exists for women at work and the one we put on ourselves with our doubt and inner critic. Each week, you will get practical teachings grounded in neuroscience and effective career development strategies. You’ll experience deep mindset shifts and the perfect amount of woo. So you can run your career with ease rather than your career running you. You were born for more, and I’m going to help you get there with maybe a few dance parties along the way. Your up-level begins now.

Melissa Lawrence (01:15)

Hi, Jeff. Welcome back to the podcast.

Jeff Caskey (01:18)

Hey, Melissa. Glad to be here. How’s everything going?

Melissa Lawrence (01:21)

Good. How are you?

Jeff Caskey (01:23)

Doing well. Doing well.

Melissa Lawrence (01:25)

Good. So for those of you that are not familiar with Jeff, Jeff was on the podcast earlier this year, and we had a really hot episode called Secrets from a Recruiter, which we talked about everything from figuring out what you want in your job to navigating the interview process, how to tap into the hidden job market, how much your resume matters, all of the things. You can get a deep dive on that conversation by going back to that episode. But today we’re going to be talking all about the current state of the industry. There’s been a lot of reorganizations, a lot of layoffs, a lot of changes. Understandably, there’s a lot of people that are concerned, wondering whether they’ve been impacted or not, what the future of the industry is, if there are certain parts of the industry that are growing or not, and trying to get that career stability or security even with all of this change going on. Jeff and I are going to be having a conversation about that today. I’m excited to dig into it. Let’s just go ahead and dive right in. Jeff, if you could just refresh everyone on who you are and what you do.

Jeff Caskey (02:36)

Sure thing. I am a recruiting consultant. I specialize in the biotech industry. I have been recruiting in this industry for almost eight years now. And prior to being in this industry was in pharmaceutical sales. So in totality, I’ve been in the pharma biotech industry for about a decade now. I am the founder of Nexogen Search. Nexogen Search is a biotech specialized recruitment firm. We help primarily startup and growth stage companies in the United States with building out their R&D, clinical, CMC, and leadership teams.

Melissa Lawrence (03:15)

Great. So as far as who you work with and the geographical area, just because there’s people that listen to this podcast from all over the world, do you provide a little clarity on the geographic area that you work in?

Jeff Caskey (03:27)

Yeah, certainly. Primarily East Coast. I am located now in South Carolina physically and lived in Maryland for many years. So I typically work with companies in the Southeast to mid-Atlantic region for the most part.

Melissa Lawrence (03:42)

Okay, perfect. And so what have you been hearing? What’s been the buzz in the industry around what’s going on with all of the different restructuring and changes that are going on?

Jeff Caskey (03:54)

Yeah, good question. So I think, especially since last fall, second half of this 2022, really, we’ve obviously seen a lot of layoffs across the industry, a lot of restructuring. A lot of jobs have been impacted by that. So I don’t want to discount that fact whatsoever. One of the things that I’m seeing now coming into now we’re in the midst of September, starting to roll into Q4, is I’m seeing a lot more of a positive outlook from the industry as a whole. September is really loosening up, it seems like, in terms of job opportunities. Many of the clients that I work with that may have been in a hiring freeze or are very conservative about their hiring in the later half of last year, the beginning of this year, are starting to open positions back up again. They’re starting to make both strategic as well as operational hires. And really, I think, starting to prepare for what 2024 brings in terms of their headcount. I’m also seeing that companies are still being somewhat conservative in terms of their hiring. I think when you look back at 2020 and 2021, we saw this big growth in the biotech and pharmaceutical community.

Jeff Caskey (05:09)

And there’s a number of reasons for that. I think one of the biggest is that there was just a huge influx of funding that came into the industry. A lot of that could have been tied to the global pandemic and COVID vaccines. And so you really saw from 2018, 19 to 2021, this funding just really ballooned. And with that, there were a lot of job opportunities, there was a lot of hiring going on. And much like other industries, it’s not that the bubble has burst, but I think that it has started to recorrect itself. We have not gotten completely past COVID, but we’ve definitely moved on from that in terms of a lot of the development efforts that are going on, and there still are some. And I think as a whole, you’re starting to see the market recorrect itself. So anytime a market balloons up like that and then tapers off, it doesn’t mean that it’s dying. It doesn’t mean that it’s bursting completely. It just is self-correcting itself. And unfortunately, that results in job losses and it results in less hiring for a period of time. What I’m also starting to see is companies that maybe have hired more aggressively in the past are learning from that.

Jeff Caskey (06:19)

I’m seeing a bigger demand for subject matter experts and consultants, especially in recruitment. They may not need full-time resources on every project or they may have very specialized projects. I’m seeing a bigger demand in that space. And overall, I think it is loosening up. And there’s some things to be excited about from a macro perspective.

Melissa Lawrence (06:40)

Now, that’s really interesting. I wanted us to have this conversation because I know it can feel really scary when there’s these changes going on, whether it’s happening to your company or it’s happening to your friends. I know I’ve seen a change in the last several months where as far as the clients that I work with were we use what I call an industry disrupt strategy, which is doing what is against traditional career advice to get your foot in the door, to build relationships, to figure out what it is that you want, and then make sure that you’re positioned well to get that because there are a lot of changes that are going on in the industry. But also I’m having more people reach out to me that are impacted by a layoff or a re-org. And sometimes they’re taking that news with the perspective that this is an opportunity to start fresh. It’s an opportunity to recover from burnout and figure out what I want next. And sometimes it’s scary, like, Is this the future? Is it always going to be hard for me? And I think when it’s the first time that you’re experiencing that or if you haven’t experienced it very frequently, it can feel really scary.

Melissa Lawrence (07:47)

But I do want to acknowledge that the nature of this industry is to have ups and downs, but there’s always going to be a need for development and discovery. There’s always going to be a need for medicine for our population. The industry isn’t going away. It’s also a lot larger than we can sometimes see because you’re in the Mid-Atlantic region. I also live in Maryland, but I work with people all over the world. The industry is just so much bigger than what we see day to day. There’s actually a lot of opportunity. But when you’re getting that real-time negative impact or having some of that fear come up, that can feel really real. I want this to be a conversation that’s realistic on what’s going on and acknowledging those things, but also showing some hope that there is a way to navigate it and still make job changes if that’s really what you want or to recover from a displacement.

Jeff Caskey (08:43)

Yeah, I think you’re exactly right. One of the big points there is this industry has historically always been very cyclical in the terms of their ups and downs. Oftentimes because of how quickly innovation moves and how quickly we have to respond to certain things within the global health space, it can happen pretty quickly and it can seem like a lot in the moment. But as you look back at some of the data that even from the most recent downturn, I mean, the 2008 time frame obviously was a pretty big downturn. There was a year or two after that that it stayed pretty consistent in growth for the biotech community. But then it came back and it grew even more from that. And I am not thinking that as we look at the next 3-5 years, we’ll see a similar turnaround overall. I think positivity and where you focus your mind when taking in all this information, LinkedIn is a great tool, but it’s like information overload. Much just like the big news channels, what we see the most of, how the algorithms are developed and how they’re created, is to put bad news in front of us.

Jeff Caskey (09:54)

We need to be aware of that. We need to be aware of what the industry is doing. But there’s also a lot of positive signs that you can also focus your attention on. That’s one of the things I try to do in my day-to-day in recruitment. When the industry is bad, when it’s down, when there’s layoffs, it affects my business. It doesn’t allow me to have as much going on as well. I really try to focus in on what are the positive outlooks? How can I be realistic about the market and know what’s coming next, and continuing to sharpen our tools to be ready for that.

Melissa Lawrence (10:24)

I love that you brought that up because my son is 16 and he’s just been telling me this last week that I need to stop watching so much news because I’ll watch the news in the morning while I have coffee most days. And he’s like, You need to stop watching this because it’s just giving you things to get fired up about, and it has such a negative spin. And that’s true because if you think about just relationships in general and the way that we communicate, and you mentioned LinkedIn, people are often more likely to speak up or complain when something’s wrong as opposed to just call up a friend and say, I just want to let you know I’m so happy right now. You’re telling me it’s, Oh, I need to tell you my boss sucks, or like, There’s this awful thing going on. So that’s such a good point that there is… I mean, our brains already have a negativity bias, but then that’s just the way that we get a lot of information is just fueling that even more.

Jeff Caskey (11:15)

Yeah. And unfortunately, in the way that these platforms work too, that’s what they’re putting in front of us the most. I mean, how the news industry has always worked historically. I personally don’t watch the news. Like big news outlets, like my parents, my dad watches news a few hours a day, and I would go into his house and I would turn it off. I’m like, Nope, not watching this. Unless these are good news stories, I don’t want any part of it. Your mind can just get attached to that stuff. And you start to forget that… You start to forget that you need to be aware of what’s going on in the world and not everything is rainbow and sunshine, but at the same time, being able to control that, being able to put your resources, your time and effort in something that’s productive versus just getting on the bandwagon of what’s not. Yeah.

Melissa Lawrence (11:59)

And that’s a good point because you can seek out news sources, whether it’s for the industry or anything, that are positive stories. I follow a number of different accounts that their job is just to put out. Here are all the good things that happened this week that you might have missed, just so you don’t get so stuck in everything that’s going wrong. You can do the same thing with this industry. If you’re working for a company that was impacted by any change that was negative for you, you can go and say, Well, let me look at those companies that are growing and let me look at all the potential. Let me look for the people on LinkedIn that just got promoted or just got into a new job just to diversify the perspective that you have. So what are some signs that you could share that the industry is actually doing well and not dying?

Jeff Caskey (12:46)

Yeah. No, good question. I’m a big numbers guy. I’ve always liked to follow trends. And one of the trends that I obviously follow is where the money is leading. And so as we got into September, one of the interesting data points that I’ve been tracking is VC funding. And looking at rounds that have come in north of 30 million for the startup industry now, I can’t track everything out there, but I tend to play in more of the startup space. September right now is on track to be in the US, the highest amount for the year. I believe that VC funding, looking at above 30 million rounds from C to Series D, was about one point-eight billion in March, which was the highest so far. And we’re already at close to 1.4 billion here in September, just a couple of weeks in. I’m seeing that it looks like these venture capital investors are starting to loosen up. I think as layoffs happened and as the pandemic slowed down and some of that influx, people took a pause, reallocated that. The general market was a little bit more shaky as well. But it’s starting to seem like this fall is loosening up a little bit from a funding standpoint, which equals more jobs and more opportunities.

Jeff Caskey (14:05)

Also, just personally, and I touched on this a little bit earlier, a lot of the companies that I’ve worked with or hiring managers or executives that I stayed in close contact with, in the first half of this year, really, in my outreach to them and understanding where their company was going in the next two, three, six months, a lot of the companies were saying, Hey, fall, end of year, we’re going to probably start picking up hiring again. We’ve got certain clinical data readouts coming. We are expecting funding to loosen up at that point. Over the last three to four months and just really being out in the market and finding out what’s what, a lot of the executives out there had really mentioned this fall and year end where they’re going to start picking back up on some strategic hiring for their different programs. I think on that side, it’s showing signs of hope as a whole. And I think as we turn into the new year and even in Q4, we’re going to see an uptick from what we saw during the summer and spring this year.

Melissa Lawrence (15:10)

Yeah. From what I’m seeing also, I’ve had a number of clients either get promoted or move into positions that were more aligned with what they wanted to do, some more of a lateral move, or even get a new job with multiple competing offers, all in just the last few months. It’s definitely not without opportunity or hope or potential for you to continue to grow your career during this time. I think part of it, and I think we’re going to get into this a little bit, is around really knowing what it is that you want so that you can position yourself to get that. Because if you’re looking for just any movement or I just want a promotion and you’re looking for the next title up from where you are, then you could probably go on LinkedIn or Indeed and see, okay, there’s really not that many of an associate director and cleanups, so therefore there’s not opportunity. But there’s so many different titles for the same role. You might be looking for the wrong thing that also might not be the type of role that you want. It also might be something that isn’t posted.

Melissa Lawrence (16:11)

A lot of the jobs that I help my clients get into, I get them created for them. They didn’t exist before, or we negotiate a current job opening for something that’s better aligned. There’s so many different creative ways that you can get into the job that you want and still get that growth, even when you’re not seeing your ideal title listed on a job page.

Jeff Caskey (16:34)

Yeah, that’s a great point regarding title. And I think you have to react in this market to… A little bit differently than you may have reacted a couple of years ago. Companies, when they’re in big hiring, there’s a lot of hiring momentum, you’re able to get more of what you want, honestly. You can take leaps and bounds in compensation or job title or whatever it may be, much easier than you can in a market that’s a little bit more constrained. And so a lot of the candidates I’ve been working with as well try to take, hey, let’s take job titles off of the table for a second. In this type of market, you don’t have to look at it as a lateral move, but sometimes you have to take a step sideways to take a step forward. And there may be a barrier that might exist in your current company or there is a fear of restructuring or a layoff or whatever it may be. And so it’s not to say that you are giving away the farm on that or you’re making a sacrifice on that, but trying to remember what’s really important and what’s going to propel your career over the next 3-5 years versus the next one year.

Jeff Caskey (17:41)

I think you just have to have a more forward-thinking approach to that. Again, the market right now is not quite as flexible as it was for candidates two years ago because there was more opportunity. So you have to react to that market from different perspectives. I love the fact that creating jobs that you mentioned as well. I know we’ve talked a lot about writing your own job description for your clients. That’s awesome. That takes a little bit of a different approach. But I think when you position yourself that way for either your current company or for a prospective company that you’re going to work for, still focusing in on what you want and really not sacrificing what are the actual responsibilities, what’s the leadership opportunity, what’s the growth opportunity? And that’s a key one. Where can I grow from here without always just thinking about the now?

Melissa Lawrence (18:35)

Yeah. We talked about before knowing your why, it’s really important when there’s limited opportunity. If the industry is really booming, it’s like the housing market. There’s like a million houses available that you want, then it’s a lot easier to get it. You’re not going to have a bidding war. But when you have more limited options or your company is maybe tightening up their wallets a little bit and not just handing out promotions based on tenure, then knowing what you want and having those skills to influence and position it to be a winning outcome for the company and not just, Well, I’ve put in the hard work. I’ve put in the sweat and tear, so give me the title. When you’re able to just like… Because that’s more of an entitlement attitude that some people can fall prey to, which I think used to work. That used to be a thing. You just work hard, you get all the education, and then after a certain number of years, you’re just going to get these promotions every couple of years. But now when you have the skills to be successful and make it just a no-brainer for your company to promote you or to give you a different job, it’s so much easier to do when you do that in an industry or with what’s going on right now with the industry.

Jeff Caskey (19:44)

Yeah. Going to the housing analogy, I love that. Think about it as a fixer-upper or a remodel. So you may not get the perfect house that you want, that’s walk-in-ready, but you may need to put a little bit of work into it. You may need to come in there. Essentially, by bringing your value to the table once you get in that role, you may be able to remodel a little bit and make it that more perfect job for yourself. I think in this market you’ve got to be able to bear a little bit more risk than you’re getting for. Where everyone could be super picky on what they wanted because there was every company hiring and hiring at a quick pace. But sometimes getting into a role, a hiring manager company may not realize all the skill sets you have coming into that, but you can create those opportunities by just seeing the opportunity coming in and having a plan to how could I remodel this particular role for myself once what’s in the role, if there’s the right stuff to do that.

Melissa Lawrence (20:45)

Yeah, that winning angle, that’s how I talk about it, is like having this winning angle or positioning yourself to stand out to get that. We could just make this all about real estate. Because I did this with our house that we have now. There was limited houses on the market. I really wanted this house. We had already lost three houses. What I did is I wrote a letter to the sellers and sent a picture of my family and said, We love your house, and this is how we want to live in your house, and this is how we’re going to use this space, and this is how my children are going to grow up here. And that got us the house. The sellers really liked the idea. They were an older couple. They didn’t have children, and they really loved the idea of passing this house. They had it since it was built into a family. That was the reason that they gave it to us over the other people, even with a higher bid. That’s a housing example, but it’s the same thing in the job place, too. The workplace is looking at what is it that I can offer that other people are offering?

Melissa Lawrence (21:52)

How can I show the company how me being in this role or me being promoted is going to benefit them just as much as it’s going to benefit me? Yeah.

Jeff Caskey (22:01)

And it creates another thought in my brain that one thing I’m seeing too is that as companies are tightening their wallets a little bit or being more conservative, those other things that you can offer to an employer are very important right now. You may have a skill set in X, but you also know a good bit about Y. And so being able to say, Well, I can also help out in this particular region, or I can also make an impact here, they may be looking at this. Okay, now we’re getting additional things that we didn’t have in the job description. So again, you’re creating opportunity for yourself, but you’re also creating more value for the employer and the other areas of the business or other functions that you can also impact. I like that analogy back to, Here’s how we’re going to utilize your outs. This is what it’s going to mean to us. You can take the same approach to an interview. Well, here’s how I envision the role. Here’s also where I can make an impact that you guys may have not already thought about.

Jeff Caskey (23:01)

And that’s huge. I think again, you’re getting more bang for your buck as a company. And you’re also getting to expand yourself as an employee. You’re getting to step into new fields. And when the next downturn comes, it’s going to be useful to have an additional skill set outside of just what your key expertise is.

Melissa Lawrence (23:21)

So let’s just continue on this since we’ve just started this conversation. If people are looking for another job, either that they were laid off or maybe they’re just looking to make a pivot right now, what would you tell them is important for them to focus on given the state of the industry?

Jeff Caskey (23:37)

Yeah. So one of the things, whether you’re actively or not actively looking, say, your position has been eliminated or you’re just hearing the rumblings in your company or the industry as a whole. I think that we’ve all learned, and even outside of biotech, we’ve all learned that you need to really pay closer attention to what the market is doing. You also need to pay close attention and always keep an eye out for what’s next. We don’t usually get the heads up in these cases where our jobs can be eliminated or they’re going to be pulling back on certain areas or there’s restructuring happening. One of the things that we all need to be doing is always continuing to be networking, always keeping your doors open to new opportunities. Whether the timing always works out for those or not, you do have the right to not take a job offer, but have conversations. If it’s recruiting or hiring manager or colleagues or whatever it may be, I think just hedge your bets and continue to learn from this market so that in future cases you can be most prepared for whatever comes your way. One of the things you touched on before, and I’m a big advocate of this, is to know your why.

Jeff Caskey (24:50)

And what I mean by that is remember why you got into this industry, what impact you want to make, whether that’s on patients or or processes or whatever it may be, know your why coming into the job search and really make that the core of what that next step is. We talked a lot about job titles and promotions and things of that nature. But at the end of the day, to find, I think, true happiness in your role, it’s got to be backed by more than just a paycheck or a job title or what’s on your responsibility list. For my personal case, my why in recruiting is because of the impact this industry makes on patients and on medicines. I’ve personally been impacted by a lot of diseases in my family and loved ones and friends. I like the people in this industry because they are genuinely passionate about the impact that their work is going to do on the greater population or even smaller populations of individuals. And so whatever your why might be, jot that down and build that mold around that because that’ll give you a lot of perspective into what’s really important in your next step.

Jeff Caskey (26:03)

For other people, I think work-life balance, it might be their why or it may be the ability to be challenged in the role, whatever that is, I think if you can nail that down, the rest is to dominate, to dominate, to dominate. It’ll start to fall in place more naturally for you and you won’t find yourself in roles just for things that are a little bit more granular.

Melissa Lawrence (26:23)

Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s so important to know your purpose, your zone of genius, what you really want to do, the impact you want to have. That’s really great. And the networking piece, there’s other episodes on this podcast around networking. We talked about it in our last episode together. But I did want to mention just a courage piece. Sometimes people hear networking and they get a little hesitant of what does that mean? And so I suggest just reaching out to people you already know, that you’ve already worked with, or that you already like, and just saying, Hey, how was your summer? That’s all it has to be right now. It doesn’t have to be anything more than that, and it can build from there. But it does take a little bit of courage. I will have people just like I’ll offer to connect them to other people in my network just to get to know each other. Sometimes they’ll feel really hesitant like, Oh, I don’t know. It’s like there’s a little bit of fear, a little freeze response of maybe what will happen in that conversation. But it’s really with anxiety or anything where you have nerves like that, it’s so much bigger before you actually take the step.

Melissa Lawrence (27:28)

So we build it up and it’s like 100 % anxiety, but compared to what it actually is when you do it, it’s like 10 %. So you make it so much bigger. So just have the courage and take the step to reach out, network, have those conversations. And going back to what we said earlier, just to get a bigger view if for nothing else, I’m like, What’s going on? Asking people how they’re doing.

Jeff Caskey (27:49)

Yeah. And I think you’re exactly right. For a lot of folks, including myself, my job is to network, but I get anxiety about it in new relationships. You build relationships for a long time and you feel comfortable in that circle. But there are times where you need to expand that circle. One of the best things that I do, if I write my message or whatever my outreach is, and I just close my eyes and hit the Send button, I’m like, All right, what’s the worst thing that can happen? My house, is it going to fall down because that happened? Or whatever may be. But yeah, I think it’s uncomfortable in a lot of ways. But if you do it in a way that’s genuine, unless somebody is just not happy or wants to be rude for no reason, usually you don’t get a negative response. You might get no response and that’s not abnormal.

Jeff Caskey (28:39)

But I think if you’re genuine in your approach and you take that approach to it, it usually can be something that pays dividends down the road. Yeah.

Melissa Lawrence (28:47)

Okay. All right. So if you had a crystal ball, what would you say is the future of the industry?

Jeff Caskey (28:55)

Oh, man, I would love a crystal ball.

Melissa Lawrence (28:59)

Magic eight ball.

Jeff Caskey (29:03)

Yes. So a couple of things that I’m seeing in terms of trends. I think that one of the things is just the biotech industry is quickly changing. It’s changing at a quicker pace than it did 10, 15 years ago. I think that where I’m seeing a higher demand for people, what I’m also seeing a lot of the capital flow into our space is AI-driven drug discovery is huge right now. Obviously, there’s cost-saving models to that. There’s some back and forth, obviously, anything with AI right now on the epics. But that’s seeming to grab a lot of attention, a lot of funding. Next generations of cell therapy, I think, are huge. Car T and TCR platforms and all different platforms have seen a lot of commercialization. There’s a ton of clinical trials going on, but there’s still a lot of gaps in manufacturing, supply chain, and a number of others. You’re seeing a lot of different platforms roll out right now, a lot of next-generations, second, third-generations that are seeing improvements from prior. I think that’s still a sector of the industry that’s going to continue to see a lot of growth. Gene editing is huge.

Jeff Caskey (30:20)

And then, bio manufacturing, I think that in the next generation of bio manufacturing is going to grow a lot. From a position standpoint, and I don’t have a ton of data to back this up right here, but it’s more of an educated guess, I think after this market and maybe in the short term, you’re going to see a larger influx of jobs for contract organizations, companies that overhired maybe on the sponsor side, BioTek, Pharma, maybe overhired internally, whether it was in manufacturing or clinical or research and development. I think for a shorter period of time, or I’m maybe going to outsource more to protect themselves from future layoffs or at least hope they are. I think that you’ll see your CDMOs, your contract research and clinical organizations. Those companies may be seeing a higher influx of business because there will still be a number of programs that need to be supported but maybe don’t have the in-house resources. And then one of the things I’m seeing right now is a higher demand for consultants. I think that when you have a heavy load of FTEs, it is a bigger impact when projects get cut and you may see a lot more of a specialized need to come in for temporary six-month-a-year type of consultancy to get projects through certain cycles.

Jeff Caskey (31:38)

Those are some of the areas that I’m starting to see and some of the areas that I’m taking some educated guesses in.

Melissa Lawrence (31:45)

Yeah, that’s really good. I think that’ll be really useful for people to really think about is if you want to make a pivot and you know what it is that you want, there’s more than just the traditional way to get it. I had a client at Swarthia on my podcast a few weeks ago, and she was a bench scientist and she wanted to move into management. She wanted to work for a large pharma company. And so the way that we did that is she became open to a contract role with the potential to become permanent. And that worked out great because she could go in. It lit a fire under her to demonstrate that she had these transferable skills that she could hit it out of the park. And she very quickly got moved into a full-time position and she loves it there. Or I’ve had clients go into consulting and do that on the side and then go into that full-time. Some have just made the leap when that’s something that they really want. So there’s a way that you can figure out what are those non-negotiables. Is consulting right for you? You don’t want to just jump ship without being really clear on what that takes and what’s involved in that.

Melissa Lawrence (32:50)

But I think it’s good for people to hear that opportunity and that potential. I also have people that I work with that are really into data science and AI, and I think it’s cool to see the growth in that area too. That’s not a subject area of expertise of mine in any way, but I have someone on the podcast that’s coming up this week at the time that we’re recording this episode. This is the live episode that’s going to be coming up this week. Her name is Katherine, and she’s really passionate about data science and AI and bringing tech to biotech. I just think that that is such a cool niche and a cool area to see this industry go into. That’s part of the reason I love being in this industry is my background is in organizational psychology and career development, but I’m with all of these brilliant scientists and data-driven minds. I learn a lot just being in the atmosphere with everyone that we work with.

Jeff Caskey (33:49)

Yeah, I’m the same way. I think that one of the things that keeps me in this industry, no matter what the market does, a lot of recruiters pivot as well. I mean, you buy a text down, let me go here. And I’ve always just been pulled back because of just the amount of things that you learn. It’s fascinating. I’m not really technical. I didn’t really enjoy the bench when I was in college. I knew that I wasn’t going to write code, probably, any of that, but I love learning about it. And in every conversation I have with people, I just try to be a sponge and just learn something new. And the same goes for networking. As you’re talking to people, maybe they’re not your exact field, learn some other new things. Learn where their industry or their space is going. You never know what might pique your interest and where there’s transferable skills for yourself and what you might become passionate about. So yeah, I think those are great points, Melissa.

Melissa Lawrence (34:43)

Okay. So let’s pivot a little bit to something that’s going on that I’m hearing people talk about, which is feeling afraid or nervous when their company is making a lot of changes. So we’ve had a number of companies in this area, but I think even globally lay off 20% of their workforce, 40% of their workforce, and those that were not impacted, as in they still have their position, there’s a lot of chatter going on around, I feel like I need to get out. I feel like I need to explore something else because I don’t know if this company is going under, I don’t know what’s going to be happening, and I don’t feel secure in my role. I feel like knowing what to do in that situation may be a little bit more of my wheelhouse, but I would love to know your perspective on it as far as what you would tell someone in that situation.

Jeff Caskey (35:32)

I think I would tell them the same thing I would tell them in a good situation is always keep an open mind, always keep your eyes open for whatever it may be. You don’t have to say yes to everything. You don’t have to talk to every person that pops up in your inbox or gives you a call or whatever. But I think this market and previous markets have taught people that at the end of the day, no one is immune, really. Whether you are impacted or your performance or whatever, there’s things outside of our control in companies and corporations that we just can’t predict. I think you need to always protect numeric first and whatever that may be. You don’t always want to jump the next week and make a rash decision. But I think you need to always be prepared that in this industry, it’s probably just a matter of time before you might be impacted, whether it’s now, 5, 10 years down the road. I’ve talked to some great leaders and I’ve seen thousands of resumes and a big common thing, at some point everyone’s been hit with it whether it’s through restructuring, an acquisition, just a general cut of resources.

Jeff Caskey (36:50)

I think that you just need to be prepared. The other thing I would say is pay attention to the signs. Even if the layoff hasn’t happened yet, knowing where the market is, knowing where the industry is right now, pay attention to what’s happening around you. If you’re getting pulled back on some things or projects or things aren’t moving as quickly or you’re noticing that that promotion that you were out for keeps getting pushed and pushed and pushed. I mean, those are sometimes signs that there is maybe something coming down the pipeline. So even if it hasn’t gotten there yet where you’ve had colleagues impacted and maybe you survived that way up, just keep your eyes open for what’s going on around you because I think there are signs in any company that things might be heading to the south direction.

Melissa Lawrence (37:39)

Yeah. I would also say to be loyal to yourself more than you’re loyal to a company. I think a lot of us, myself included when I work for companies, it’s just human nature. When you work somewhere for a long time, you get to know the people and maybe you really like the company. It can feel scary to move away from that or to or feel like you’re betraying them in their time of downfall or something to move on. But at the end of the day, you have to look out for yourself and what’s really important to you. This really goes back to what we talked about earlier with your network and keeping your network warm is when you keep your network warm, it’s a lot easier to always have opportunities to pivot to and to have those conversations and say, Hey, I’m exploring something else just to see what your options are. One of the assessments that I do with clients is we figure out their non-negotiable, like their anchors for their career. For some people, security and stability is number one. For those people, it’s going to be more important for them at the end of the day to feel secure and to feel stable.

Melissa Lawrence (38:45)

If they can’t achieve that during whatever is going on with their company, then for their own mental health and wellbeing, it may be better for them to move on to something else. Really knowing what’s important to them and what it is that they need, they can then make a decision. But exploring your options doesn’t mean you’re deciding to leave. I think it’s always good to know your options so you don’t feel stuck. Okay, so as we wrap up, is there a piece of advice that you would offer to someone who is concerned about the future of the industry?

Jeff Caskey (39:18)

I think the biggest piece of advice is just keep learning new skills, keep putting extra tools in your toolbox. The industry is quickly moving. It has its ups and downs and the best way to prepare for what’s to come is to keep making yourself valuable as much as possible. So never quit learning. Most people in this industry are lifelong learners. And I think if you can just keep learning new skills and keep adding value to whatever organization you might be next, you’ll be more immune to things like this in the future.

Melissa Lawrence (39:50)

Okay. And I will add one more thing to that, which is just to have a community of support around you. So whether that’s reaching out to people, your friends and family, getting a mentor, getting a coach, finding a community like Women in Bio or something like that, just to have other people around you so you don’t feel alone and you have a safe space to really talk about whatever you’re feeling. I also have another podcast episode that I’ll link to in the show notes for this episode around survivor’s guilt. So if you’re someone that is still with the organization, but you’re struggling in that area, then you will have that resource. And then there was a lot of great insight here around how to navigate a restructure. But I also plan on doing another episode around if you’re laid off and some specific advice for that circumstance also. So before we close here, how can people get in touch with you?

Jeff Caskey (40:53)

Yeah. So I’m pretty present on LinkedIn. Always a great way to connect with me on LinkedIn. My name is Jeff Caskey, C-A-S-K-E-Y. Follow Nexagen Search as well on LinkedIn. We also have a website: nexagensearch.com. Contact information, including email and cell phone number is located there as well. If you don’t make it there, my email is jeff@nexagensearch.com. Pretty simple. I look forward to hearing from some of the listeners. Last time we did this, I was able to connect with a lot of great folks in your network that follow the podcast. So don’t don’t hesitate to reach out to me if there’s anything I can do to be a resource to you.

Melissa Lawrence (41:33)

Perfect. Well, thanks for coming on. I’ll put all of your contact information in the notes of this episode also so people can easily find you.

Jeff Caskey (41:41)

Perfect. Awesome.

Melissa Lawrence (41:44)

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Hi, I’m Melissa.

Career & Leadership Coach for Women in Pharma/Biotech

I'm a former Talent & Development leader in Pharma/Biotech turned CEO and Certified Professional Career & Life Coach. I also host the podcast, Your Worthy Career.

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