Demystifying HEOR Recruitment
Siddharth Jain, PharmD, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA; Soham Shukla, PharmD, MS, Rutgers Center for Health Outcomes, Policy, and Economics, Piscataway, NJ, USA; Gareth Lee, BSc, G&J Lee Recruitment, London, UK
Setting the Stage
Health economics and outcomes research (HEOR) is a progressive and exciting field in the biopharmaceutical industry. Newer than other functional areas such as medical affairs or regulatory, HEOR is evolving at an accelerated pace due to the surge of specialty medicines, rare disease research, single or short-term high-cost technologies (eg, gene therapies), and the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare systems around the world. These changes manifest with increased use of performance-based agreements, focus on healthcare inequities, and advancement in formal and sophisticated health technology assessments (HTA) processes in an ever-increasing number of countries. All this has spurred increased awareness of the sector and expanded demand for people to work in HEOR on a global level and as the field evolves, so too will the candidates.
Building the Team
One basic criterion used to recruit HEOR talent is level and type of education. As the industry and payers realized the need for formal economic and comparative effectiveness research, HEOR was born out of biostatistics, epidemiology, and public health into the robust, complex field it is today. This history is reflected by the educational backgrounds of senior leadership in HEOR, contrasted with the requirements needed to enter the field now. Traditionally, HEOR professionals had a master’s degree or preferably a technical doctoral degree (PhD, DrPH, ScD) in fields such as mathematics, statistics, or epidemiology accompanying a bachelor’s degree in a life science subject. Nowadays, while technical doctoral degrees in a core technical field may break into HEOR roles, there is a strong preference for graduate education explicitly in health economics.
For candidates with clinical doctoral degrees (PharmD, MD, DO) entering HEOR, an increasingly popular and direct pathway is an industry fellowship in conjunction with a master’s in HEOR. Fellowships provide an accelerated bridge between didactic and applied HEOR experience, often condensing 3 to 5 years of experiences into a 2-year program. A successful HEOR career will require a strong combination of both clinical and core technical skills; preferences vary by employer and job function as to whether candidates with a primary clinical background or technical background provide greater utility to the organization.
"Regardless of other factors, it is always a good idea
to develop a professional relationship with any recruiter you work with as an experienced recruiter will be able to provide good industry knowledge and will have a strong contacts network that will be valuable to your career over time."
Doctoral degrees, technical or clinical, may be preferred for candidates entering HEOR; however, the value of a specific degree loses its utility for senior-level positions. It is very rare that employers will screen out candidates if they have enough working experience in the field but lack formal HEOR training. Additionally, for niche roles within HEOR, such as modeling for HTA bodies, employers will often prioritize what they perceive to be a less risky option of hiring people with the exact experience needed for the position, creating a barrier for less-experienced candidates to enter the field and also restricting the career development opportunities for modelers who wish to progress away from technical positions (companies are eager not to let good modelers move away from “hands-on” positions).
Candidates with only clinical or only technical experience without past work experience within the biopharmaceutical sector may need to consider alternative paths into HEOR. Agencies and vendors that work with biopharma companies may be more willing to train candidates especially as the industry seems to be moving towards more of an outsourcing model with HEOR research. Additionally, contractor positions may open the door to full-time positions and provide valuable experience needed to advance in the field. While it is still possible to make transitions from HEOR adjacent fields such as medical affairs, market access, or marketing, many candidates may need to supplement their industry experience with specialized HEOR training to secure their first position in HEOR. Interdepartmental transfers or rotations are common ways to laterally transfer into HEOR within an organization to get the requisite experience. For employers it is key to be cognizant of varied HEOR experience in lieu of specific degrees as a barometer of expertise in this field.
Do’s and Don’ts in HEOR Recruitment
For candidates it is important to keep up with best practices when applying for HEOR positions. Gareth Lee, founder of G&J Lee Recruitment, shares his 12+ years of HEOR-specific experience with some of the recent trends in HEOR recruitment.
One of the first questions candidates have is, “Should I work with a recruiter?” Recruitment processes vary wildly between companies, especially as HEOR needs vary from company to company, with some companies now incorporating technical assessments, case studies, and presentations in their evaluation process. Furthermore, as some HEOR roles have a global focus, there is a need to understand international market differences and where access reimbursement considerations play a key role in commercial success. Most of these companies will want to see international experience if possible and may be less willing to invest in training candidates. Rather, they prefer “ready-made” candidates. However, hiring managers need to have realistic expectations because compared to more established markets, such as marketing or clinical research the number of eligible candidates can be significantly lower—usually 5 qualified candidates is an ideal target for most positions.
A good recruiter will be a very useful asset in the application and interview process helping candidates to secure a new position. Additionally, recruiters can potentially play a valuable role in presenting positions that are not visible on online job boards; however, there are several things to keep in mind when working with recruiters. They largely fall into 2 camps: those that work for large agencies, and those that work independently or for boutique companies. Large recruitment companies tend to have more resources and can reach out to a larger group of people but they may include in their scope many candidates who are not a good fit for the position. Metrics, such as number of applications submitted, affect a recruiter’s priorities and lead to a “quantity over quality” approach to recruitment. Smaller recruitment companies are often more selective in their approach but may not provide the same quantity of candidates as a larger company. Smaller recruiters often work more closely with candidates and have a better understanding where an individual candidate may fit within a specific organization. Overall, recruiters (particularly in larger agencies) are generally more attentive to senior-level candidates (as they can often become hiring managers when they move on to a new position and bring new business back to the recruiter), and so entry-level candidates entering the HEOR workforce need to be mindful of the recruiter’s motivations and whether they can offer them useful advice. Regardless of other factors, it is always a good idea to develop a professional relationship with any recruiter you work with as an experienced recruiter will be able to provide good industry knowledge and will have a strong contacts network that will be valuable to your career over time.
"Candidates can often be impatient early in their career or when breaking into the field laterally, but there is no substitute for experience, both on the job and educational."
On average, candidates should target 3 to 4 positions at a time. While it can be tempting to apply to any and all positions that open up, typically the time spent networking, reaching out to contacts, and brushing up on technical and clinical skills may prove more valuable than applying to a dozen companies blindly (especially given the increasingly complex and time-consuming nature of current interview processes). Once an offer comes a candidate’s way, it’s important to critically assess if it will progress their career goals rather than taking the first offer that comes their way, though for many entering the workforce, gaining experience in multiple positions can prove to be valuable as a way to develop in the sector. Hiring companies know this and may be less willing to negotiate for entry-level positions. As candidates progress in seniority, the power dynamic between employer and employee flips, and candidates can be more selective in their job criteria, applying to one or two positions, and waiting for a position that suits their own career goals better.
In the End
HEOR recruitment is not an exact science and there are exceptions to observed trends. Candidates can often be impatient early in their career or when breaking into the field laterally, but there is no substitute for experience, both on the job and educational. Candidates need to be flexible and link their technical experience to the commercial priorities of the company. Demonstrating technical mastery along with strong clinical skills is a typical first step, and there are many avenues to demonstrate both. But the journey doesn’t end there. As candidates apply for senior positions, softer skills become more important, with the understanding that these soft skills build upon a core technical foundation. For positions of any level, continuous professional development is important. Consistent training or education throughout one’s career in new technologies and methodologies to stay abreast of market and career trends is needed to excel.
HEOR is an exciting and ever-evolving field that will continue to offer excellent careers to those who invest in it. No two companies or jobs are the same but by developing a strong blend of technical and commercial acumen, candidates at all levels can put themselves in a position to become the leaders of the future.