Written by
Maggie Spong

23 Feb 2018

Scouting talent at AstraZeneca

23 Feb 2018 • by Maggie Spong

Global pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is transforming its approach to senior level recruitment, explains global vice president for talent acquisition, Maggie Spong.

For decades, senior level hiring has largely been done differently to other areas of recruitment. Experienced talent has always expected the ‘tap on the shoulder’, and a high touch candidate experience, while the contacts, networks and knowledge required to identify talent were mostly found within the executive search world. 

Over the last ten years or so, many multinational businesses have either established in-house recruitment teams or partnered with recruitment process outsourcers (RPOs) and managed recruitment providers.

In general, however, senior level or business critical recruitment has continued to be contracted to external headhunting firms or the executive search arm of an RPO – even with the rapid rise of LinkedIn and other technology platforms that have changed the experienced hire landscape.

The case for change

Globally, AstraZeneca makes c10,000 hires a year. Even with only a small proportion of these at senior level, our bill from third party recruitment firms runs into millions. So, we are changing our ways of working.

This includes optimising HR services for administrative activities, ensuring a great candidate experience and developing talent acquisition expert leads with globally aligned recruitment strategies. Another big part of this transformation is a switch to in-house headhunting which clearly makes commercial sense if viewed purely from a cost perspective.

But to create true business value we need to look beyond just cost and think about what it takes to build longer term pipelines of business-critical talent. For us, hiring the right people, in the right place, at the right time at the right cost is the key.

And for us, this means looking beyond short-term needs towards building pipelines of talent to support succession planning and to fill gaps in our workforce.

The transformation of our talent acquisition function will shift the balance from reactive to strategic hiring activity. Our goal is to develop sustained talent pipelines across all levels of recruitment, aligned closely with workforce and succession planning teams.

We want to deliver highly-skilled diverse candidates, while improving efficiency alongside the candidate and hiring manager experience.

For this approach to succeed, it is essential that senior level and critical hire recruitment is fully integrated into this new proactive and strategic approach. This integration is impossible if senior recruitment is largely in the hands of external providers.

Switching to talent scouting

Switching to in-house headhunting is not something that can be done overnight or wholesale. We hold our partnerships with external suppliers in very high regard and will continue to use trusted partners as appropriate to ensure we can maintain quality of delivery and expectations during periods of high demand and growth or recruitment campaigns. We will continuously evaluate our partner relationships to ensure optimum outcomes for AstraZeneca and the patients we serve.

If you are planning on switching to a new way of working, it’s important to analyse the specific needs of your own business, then build the basics well, ensuring the right systems and processes are in place. Crucially, you then need the right team who can make the new approach work.

Within AstraZeneca we have built our new model around talent acquisition lead and 'talent scout' teams, initially focusing on business critical roles at a senior level.

Global talent acquisition leads will translate business need into recruitment strategy. They will collaborate across the business as the single point of contact for senior leaders and HR and build the strategy for their area of the business.

Talent scouts then work in partnership with talent leads to build critical pipelines and deliver the best external candidates. They are experts in their field, dedicated and passionate about the people they attract and source and committed only to AstraZeneca.

Each talent scout has three key tasks: pipeline development, direct search/headhunting, and market insight. There are also clear goals and KPIs around numbers, quality and diversity – which is closely linked to our wider business strategy.

This approach is energising for our talent scouts because they get to take ownership of more than a series of hiring assignments. They are responsible for their designated job area and get to work with a strategic mindset while contributing to an overall transformation. As a global team they are also motivated by a desire to build a best-in-class function.   

Scouting the scouts

If your business is interested in a talent scout style model, it has to be confident it can find the right talent scouts. The role itself is an attractive proposition to recruiters who want to work strategically, to specialise in one diverse company and to diversify their career and experience.

They also want to feel part of something bigger, and dedicated to the build and success of an organisation with a bigger mission – in our case bringing in the best people to help AstraZeneca do what we do best – pushing the boundaries of science to deliver life-changing medicines.

The challenge is to ensure these recruiters will fit into your intended in-house model – and be passionate about making it work. We look for seasoned recruiters, with scientific backgrounds who know how to optimise technology and social media. They also have to be relationship builders, persuaders and influencers, dedicated to improving the candidate and hiring manager experience.

Scouts can come from different backgrounds and roles. In our case, internal executive recruiter, head-hunter, senior researcher, scientist or consultant.

The key is to look at their experience and talent network in relevant sectors. We operate in highly specialised fields like pharmaceutical technology, biologics and R&D.

Our scouts need to be deeply connected in these worlds and have credibility within them to add to our strong employer brand. They should also be able to put themselves in the shoes of the candidate - to remember how it feels to be involved in the recruitment process, and what could have made it better.

Assessing the success of talent scouts

Ultimately, talent scouts have to show a return on investment – that’s why it’s so important to build robust KPIs into your model.

Our talent scouting team is now taking its chance to prove its worth to the business. We are making good progress, with internal teams getting used to the new approach.

We have seen success with talent delivery standardisation and capability uplift, we are proactively building pipelines that will position us to provide active and ready-now candidates in critical areas when needed and we are building an enhanced research capability to ensure we have a complete view of the talent pool.

Our goal for 2018 is to continue to demonstrate the value of the new approach and take the next step on our journey to grow the team.

We believe we have some of the best talent in the industry working for us and are proud of our mission and values as well as our career opportunities and want others to recognise our potential too.