Salary Survey

2014 - Fifteenth Annual Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey

By Agnes Shanley, Editor | June 5, 2014

Hiring is up, recruiters say, and soft skills are in short supply. Survey respondents say they’re happy now, but will likely change employers within five years.

In the pharma job market, it may not be the best of times, but it’s far from the worst. The industry has recovered from the economic slump of 2011 and 2012, and, even if salaries are not going up, companies are hiring again, recruiters and placement specialists agree. “Employment came back in 2013, and, so far, this year has seen a remarkable increase in activity,” says recruiter David Jensen, managing director of Kincannon & Reed Executive Search.  “But it matters what niche you’re in. For instance, bioprocessing is still a good niche, and manufacturing and process development.” Chemical engineers face fairly strong demand, he says.

But some traditional career tracks may soon be disappearing, or silently moving offshore.  “Here in the U.S., demand for workers in pharmaceutical sales will continue to shrink due to industry mergers, increased use of digital marketing and stricter regulations that limit sales reps’ contact with physicians and healthcare providers,” says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an executive placement firm based in Chicago. “Meanwhile in R&D, big pharmaceutical companies appear to be cutting their budgets and staffs, though they still remain large, and concentrating them into specialty drugs,” he adds.

Today, there is increased demand for experts in drug development and commercialization. In fact, there is a shortage of professionals with the ideal skill sets. Often, companies have had to hire foreign graduates to fill these positions. But, as the U.S. government restricts the number of H1B visas it grants to foreign professionals, some positions have become quite difficult to fill.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), for the first time since 2008, 124,000 H1B visa petitions were received for 2014 by the first week in April.  A lottery was hold to meet the cap of 65,000 and masters cap of 20,000, USCIS reported.

All this change is having an impact on the way that pharma professionals approach their jobs and career planning.  Where, 10 years ago, few people were willing to relocate, even to another state within the U.S., today more people are moving to other parts of the world, recognizing that global experience will add luster to their resumes.

Pharma’s huge mergers have taken their toll (Box, p. 74), and recent news of Pfizer potentially buying AstraZeneca has led to some wild speculation on the impact that a merger of that size could have on the industry. Some are skeptical that real change is taking place. “We keep hearing that the market is improving,” says Maryellen Ruvolo, CEO of PharmStorm, an employment website launched last year,  “but we keep forgetting that companies laid off thousands and are now hiring hundreds.”  Layoffs at Actavis and Forest Labs had a huge impact on professionals based in her area, the northeastern U.S., in New Jersey and Long Island, she says.

However, even if the numbers are not huge, hiring is on the rebound, and respondents to Contract Pharma’s 2014 Salary and Job Survey describe themselves as rather happy in their positions, and relatively secure, if somewhat stressed. Most expect to be moving on in the next five years. This article will look at hiring trends and summarize results of this year’s survey.

The brightest spot appears to be biopharma. “The biotech boom has been going on for the past two years and isn’t letting up,” says Megan Driscoll, president and founder of PharmaLogics Recruiting, whose Boston-area-based company has doubled revenue every year since 2011.  “Today, we see a lack of good candidates.  It’s a strong labor market,” she says. 

However, the emphasis is on the “D” rather than the “R” in R&D.  In addition, the skills required today have changed considerably. (For a sample job description, see Box, p. 76)

Unfortunately, what is lacking in most job applicants today is the “soft skills,” recruiters agree. Especially important is the ability to lead and influence others, Jensen says. 

“Today, companies are using a matrix employment structure, so people don’t typically manage a large number of employees. However they need to be able to demonstrate influence and authority.”

“Success today has less to do with technical acumen than it does with emotional IQ,” says Driscoll. “There are a lot of niched experts out there, but what employers are looking for is the ability to work on teams, unusual skills and leadership. You have to be able to present your subject of expertise well, and to communicate to people varying backgrounds,” he says. “Social skills are very important.”

Challenger blames the industry for allowing a mismatch between needs and skills to happen. “There may be a shortage of workers with the right mix of technical and nontechnical skills to ‘hit the ground running’, he says.  “However, the industry may be partly to blame for not spending the time and money to develop its own workforce.”

He quotes a 2013 industry blog on talent shortages:  “There are specific skill sets such as regulatory affairs, alliance management,  that are not learned in a classroom environment but are acquired on the job. Companies are looking for these skills but only want to hire people that already have experience in these areas, ignoring the simple fact that a very smart person (i.e. layed-off [sic] scientist) could easily be trained in these skills…”

Soft skills are always important in any industry or workplace, Challenger says. When they are lacking in technical positions in pharma, he says, the result can be difficulties communicating with colleagues, superiors, and subordinates. “Lack of communication or writing skills, poor leadership due to lack of training, all can lead to instances of low morale, or worst case, a talent drain,” he adds.

Jensen suggests that industry and universities work together to solve this problem. “Universities are slow to change, and some grads emerge as if they were miniprofessors, and aren’t prepared, don’t know how to handle projects,” he says.  “Universities and companies need to coordinate training and to focus on soft skills.”

There is no more “on the job training,” Jensen says. Maybe someone gets hired to the cGMP group and gets sent to a course, but then they need to dive in.”  In short, job seekers need to educate themselves, he says.

Another change is that pharmaceutical companies are seeing themselves as more global, Driscoll says.  This may be ironic since pharma has always been considered one of the more international industries.  But this has brought change to the way pharma professionals view relocation.

“Mergers and acquisitions, as well as exploring untapped markets, have made the pharmaceutical industry global. It may not be a given that top executives need to work abroad, but those with international experience and expertise will be viewed as more attractive as more and more companies bring their products overseas,” Challenger says, noting that this trend cuts across all industries.  “Our economy is shifting, and all industries will want leaders who know the ins and outs of international business.

In the past, relocation was a big deal, Driscoll says, and people stayed in one place for a really long time. Today, the mindset is changing. “U.S. employees used to be confined to a state or country, but now our discussions are much broader and people are more open about moving overseas. I see that as a shift, “she says.”Even if companies aren’t offering any tangible incentives such as cushy relocation packages, candidates are willing to make the move, seeing that it makes them more marketable,” Driscoll says.

But what do Contract Pharma readers have to say about their salaries and jobs? Most of you say you feel great, good or pretty good about your job. (Figure 1).  Nearly 40% of you said you are satisfied or very satisfied with your compensation levels (Figure 2).  72% of you say you have received raises (Figure 3), Only 4.7 of you say you’ve taken pay cuts (Figure 4) and roughly 7% say their benefits were reduced (Figure 5). 

96% of respondents said they were not layed off last year (Figure 6), 16% say they have had to lay others off, and around 31% say their department’s budget has been reduced (Figure 9).

Responses were quite interesting on the topic of life-work balance. Only 7% said it was extremely easy to achieve. Some readers describe having to do more with fewer people.  Most respondents describe having three weeks of vacation each year, but half of the respondents say they didn’t take all their vacation last year. “At my level, it is a given that one never takes all one’s vacation,”  writes one respondent.

Many describe a high level of stress. Complains one respondent, “I’m taking work home at night and on weekends.” Another describes always being  “on.”

Recruiters say this level of stress is a given today, and it’s a phenomenon that goes well beyond pharma. Some of this may be due to globalization, says Driscoll. When you are working with colleagues, especially in Europe, who have more work holidays than we do here in the U.S., who turn off their cell phones during vacations, and who may not use instant messaging that frequently, it can remind one of cultural differences and exacerbate stress.

Challenger notes that smart companies will provide incentives to attract and retain talent. That may mean allowing flexible work schedules, telecommuting, or fostering an environment where one would want to come every day, including free meals, a gym, day care, and other perks. If these kinds of perks are not available and the worker feels overworked or underappreciated, they may look at other opportunities,” he says.

Jensen sees this as inevitable, and a trend that affects us all. “Access is far more than simply 9 to 5 today,” he says.” This is a new phenomenon. We’ve always had workaholics, but now a majority of people are affected.”  

The Mad, Mad World of Pharma Mergers
There is no question that pharma mergers have reshaped the hiring landscape (Table). A trend that was once seen only in Big Pharma is also moving to generics, with several of the leading generics drugs manufacturers, such as Teva, Actavis and Forest Labs announcing major layoffs recently.

Opinion is divided on whether or not these mergers benefit the industry. A recent McKinsey study1 suggests that they do, although a paper published by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government found them to have a negative impact on innovation.2

Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca provoked negative reactions from most industry professionals, and AstraZeneca’s CEO, in his response to the bid, specifically mentioned the potentially negative impact on pharma professionals.

“We’ve seen mergers of this nature in the past, specifically in 2009/2010 when Pfizer merged with Wyeth and Merck merged with Schering-Plough,” says Challenger. “These combined companies caused thousands of layoffs, near 40,000 between the four entities.”

Professionals at the acquired company are often in the greatest jeopardy, says PharmaStorm’s Ruvolo.  Challenger  suggests that employees from both the companies involved in a merger prepare themselves for the possibility that their jobs may be in jeopardy. “Surviving a megamerger isn’t always easy even if your job is secure,” he says. New leadership, policies, and expectations may not gel with an employee’s work style and he or she may decide the situation is no longer a good fit.

“Merging companies need to assess where their strengths are in their new employee base and avoid the exodus of talent, while employees need to be able to express, both verbally and with hard evidence, how the company can benefit from their work,” he says.

Sometimes, CMOs and contract services firms offer an alternative for professionals changing jobs. Jensen mentions industrial biotech and nutraceuticals as potential outlets for displaced pharma professionals.

But being proactive is key, and pharma professionals need to think about this long before a merger happens, Driscoll says.

1. Cha, M. and Lorriman, T., Why Pharma Megamergers work, McKinsey & Co Insights & Publications
2. Scherer, F. and Comanor, W., Mergers and Innovation in the Pharmaceutical Market, Harvard Kennedy School, 2012. 

Could You Handle This Job?
A recent biotech job posting provides insights into many of the requirements for professionals today.  Would you have the soft skills required for this position

Global Head, Development, Biologics Contract Manufacturing
  • Build, lead and manage a team responsible for global clinical outsourcing activities across the contract manufacturing and process development lifecycle for Biologics and Antibody Drug Conjugate (ADC) drug substance (DS) and drug product (DP).
  • Establish and maintain a reliable, agile network of clinical contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) with the capabilities and capacity to produce biologic/ADC Phase I-III clinical supplies and provide other product/process development services needed to support Company X’s  early- and late-stage product pipeline.
  • Establish strategic plans and objectives for Biologics/ADC clinical operations at our CMOs that are aligned with the clinical supply chain strategies and plans defined by Company X’s Technical Development Teams. 
  • Provide a single point of accountability for identifying and managing timely resolution of business, operational, and quality issues through the established CMO site governance structure.
  • Adapt and/or develop practical, robust business and risk management processes in close collaboration with key stakeholders to manage the lifecycle of clinical Biologics/ADC contract manufacturing and process development operations. 
  • Manage the performance and development of direct reports to achieve organizational / department goals, employee development needs, and a productive work environment.
Major Responsibilities:
  • Build and lead a world-class biologics/ADC clinical contract manufacturing and process development operations team to support the development and realization of clinical outsourcing strategies for Company X’s pipeline products, especially delivering of biologics/ADC DS/DP for clinical trials, and conducting due diligence activities for in-licensed development compounds.
  • Lead, manage and coach the global biologics/ADC group, including recruiting, retaining and developing talent and fostering an environment that encourages ongoing professional development.
  • Establish and implement training and development plans for staff, ensuring each employee receives appropriate opportunities for knowledge and skills development, and career growth.
  • Manage and ensure the setting of realistic personal goals for staff and provide regularly scheduled feedback throughout the year.
  • Establish and maintain a reliable, agile network of clinical CMOs to deliver early- and late-stage clinical products and scalable manufacturing processes in collaboration with key stakeholders in Technical Development, External Quality, Biologics Manufacturing, and Procurement/Category Management.  Responsible for identifying, selecting, negotiating with, directing technology transfer to, and managing day-to-day operations for biologic/ADC clinical CMOs. 
  • Lead and/or support CMO selection activities and decisions for project-specific manufacturing of a clinical compound, in collaboration with the Technical Development Teams and Category Management. 
  • Collaborate closely with members of the Biologics External Manufacturing community to ensure a smooth transition of biologics/ADC pipeline products from clinical to commercial manufacturing.
  • Develop mutually beneficial, long -term relationships with Company X’s clinical CMOs, and be accountable for the operations, quality and business aspects of CMO performance. 
  • Establish and/or and maintain effective governance to direct, coordinate and oversee clinical manufacturing and other contract services at our CMOs.  Serve as Company X’s chair and manufacturing representative on Joint Steering Committees.
  • Track, monitor and drive adherence to Company X and CMO contractual commitments, obligations, and processes. 
  • Work collaboratively to establish strategies, priorities and goals for clinical outsourcing activities.
  • Lead and/or support department business initiatives and facilitate their implementation.  Develop and implement practical, robust, phase-appropriate business processes across the contract manufacturing lifecycle in collaboration with key stakeholders and operational excellence groups.  
  • Foster a culture of high performance, trust and collaboration across all biologics/ADC development stakeholders
Who You Are
  • B.S. degree in Life Sciences Engineering. MBA preferred.
  • 15+ years of experience in the biotechnology and/or pharmaceutical industry preferably with significant experience in Process/Technical Development and managing global contract manufacturing networks and 3rd party relationships.
  • Strong demonstrated people leadership and management with experience in hiring, training and developing outstanding talent and ensuring robust succession planning. Greater than 5 years’ experience managing direct reports and cross-functional, global teams. 
  • Effective cross-functional collaboration skills with proven ability to build and maintain strong and sustainable relationships with cross-functional, cross-cultural project teams, internal and external customers, and business partners. 
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills with success in working across organizational boundaries at all levels to bring together people of diverse backgrounds and skill-sets to create, influence and negotiate win-win solutions.   
  • Demonstrated ability to lead within a matrix organization and to manage multiple organizational interfaces and stakeholders.  Ability to set and achieve aggressive milestones through cross-functional teams.
  • Strong business and functional knowledge of the disciplines involved biopharmaceutical and/or pharmaceutical process development and manufacturing
  • Demonstrated outstanding business acumen and operational leadership capability, including expertise in diagnosing and structuring ambiguous business problems, devising creative, pragmatic solutions, and translating implementation plans into sustainable results to improve reliability and agility.  Strong project management, organization, facilitation, problem solving, quantitative analysis, and financial skills.  
  • Experience developing, negotiating and administering clinical or commercial contract manufacturing
  • Ability to travel (international/domestic) approximately 25-50%.


Survey Demographics
This year, 285 people responded to the 2014 survey, 44% of them working for contract services sponsors and the rest for contract services providers.  73% of respondents work in pharma, the remainder in biopharma, and most are in R&D, QA/QC and sales and marketing.  Most of those who responded this year (47%) say that they supervise one to four people.  In addition, 70% of respondents were men. Most (37%) have M.S. level educations. Full survey results will be available on