I didn’t start out in recruitment. Or executive search, or talent acquisition or whatever else you call it.
Back before STEM was a thing, and no-one was pushing an agenda of getting science more embedded in education, I took the road less travelled and became an Immunologist at university level (and Microbiologist…the two fields were seen as kinda the same sort of stuff back then).
A degree and some work experience, and I must admit – some family connections – led to my first steps into the world of career, in the biotech field.
Monoclonal antibodies, polyclonal antibodies, protein purification, tissue culture, micro testing, packaging development, formulation chemistry, laminar flow, tangential flow filtration, lyophilization, TGA, GMP, FDA and all of a sudden, I’d become a pharmaceutical R&D guy.
I was handed a brilliant ‘apprenticeship’ at this point with a small Hospital Specialty drug company based in Australia, virtually unknown internationally – the little engine that could. (They’re still brilliant by the way – you can check them out here)
Over the coming 10 or 12 years, the company expanded significantly, brought new products to market and ducked and weaved around Big Pharma IP and patent rights. All to ensure the Australian population had the same access to medicines they take for granted in the USA, Japan and the EU.
It was a rollercoaster, with high margins, and high expectations – but a great deal of fun.
So what happened?
My wife and I were trying to have kids around this time, but my travel schedule was making things a little tricky…let’s say logistically-speaking, that it was not going according to plan. It was time to make a choice. Something that, if I’m honest, I hadn’t really done for myself up to this point in time. I’d always gone for the easy pathway – bioscience is something I’ve always been good at. It always came naturally.
But kids? They seemed to be a bit trickier.
Something had to change, so in the end we sold our house, and a business – I packed in my R&D job and we headed for my wife’s home country of Ireland. Dublin to be more precise – Dalkey to be entirely accurate! Fabulous place it is – even Bono approves.
And guess what?
Ireland is FULL of pharmaceutical, biotech and life science organisations. Pretty much every single pharma company has a presence there, many a European HQ. And lots of R&D divisions to boot. So we’d be fine, right?
Would any of them give little old me a job? Nup.
Not for 18 months of tireless doorknocking, networking, interviewing, chatting, drinking etc. The answer was always the same…
“Who’s this company in Australia you were working for? We’ve never heard of them.”
“Your CV is excellent, and you seem like a nice guy, but we only take people with Pfizer training.”
“If only you had a top ten in your career history, we’d be good to sign.”
And lots of other stuff just like that. And a bit of swearing, and a 3 minute interview with Northern Ireland’s richest man – Lord Ballyedmond, but that’s a story for another time….
Our 18-month gap year was a failure in the sense that it did not lead to gainful employment. A career dead-end.
But it did lead to reconnections with my wife’s family, new friendships forged, a curious fondness for the ‘black stuff’ (Guinness). Even kids came along somewhere in that turbulent period.
So now, back in Australia, I’ve been rebranded as an exec search guy. Everyone hates recruiters, we all know that.
Well guess what?
Those very same big pharma giants (and lots of other biotech types) now come to us, to ask for advice on how to attract the best people, and how to adapt as they change from vertically integrated to virtually mobile – how to get the best from their staff internally. (Ironically, I keep telling them to stop only considering people with Pfizer training for some reason).
I think now that my gap year was part of this process – my very own self-directed outplacement program.
We hear from people every day who’ve hit a roadblock in their career and don’t know what to do. The answer is to change the story. Remember that it doesn’t have to all click into place RIGHT NOW, but rather think of your career as a journey.
Enjoy the ride, but be willing to pivot, especially to get around a roadblock. Let alone a dead-end.
Dead-ends, bah! They’re for doing donuts or burnouts in, so smoke those tyres on your way out!