Talking Talent with RenBio’s Dr. Neal Padte
Hiring is changing. Candidates are looking beyond salary and stability to find work that is meaningful, flexible, challenging, and supportive. Scismic helps companies navigate the changing landscape by applying scientific thinking to finding talent. Since the scientific process begins with observation, over the next few months, we will be talking with hiring managers in the biotech space to understand the challenges they are facing, and what they have found to work well.
Dr. Neal Padte has over 14 years of experience developing novel antibody and vaccine therapeutic candidates, both in start-ups and in larger organizations. Now he is the Chief Operating Officer and Chief Development Officer at RenBio, which works to bring DNA therapeutics to clinical trials and beyond.
Identifying the need
Scismic: How do you decide when it’s the right time to find and hire?
Dr. Padte: Biotech is a bit tricky because you're always thinking about deploying capital in the most efficient way while trying to create the most value as rapidly as possible. You can't hire so early that someone is not being fully utilized. But if you wait too long, there's not enough time to go through the screening, hiring and training process before a new employee is up and running. Finding that balance is important. My advice is to always think about hiring a little earlier than you think you need it so you can keep running at full speed.
Scismic: How do you identify the role you need to hire for?
Dr. Padte: In our leadership team meetings, we're always asking, “How are we doing on the scientific and business milestones we need to hit? Who do we need to achieve these?” We also ask our team members for their input in regular one-one-one meetings. Do you have all of the resources you need to be successful? Are you seeing something that could make it easier for you to achieve your objectives? If so, let’s try to implement it.
Compensation and Benefits
Scismic: You are hiring in a competitive landscape, how do you use compensation and benefits to attract talent?
Dr. Padte: We spent a lot of time developing our benefits plan, thinking about how we could create the best environment in which our employees could thrive, succeed and be happy both at RenBio and in their personal lives. Every year, we review the benefits we offer and ask, “Is there anything we can do to improve them further?” We look at what the industry is doing, and then tailor to what is right for us. It took us several years and some experimentation to hone in on a great set of benefits that meet our employees’ needs. We’re excited about the package we put together, and share that excitement with candidates during the interview process.
Scismic: What are the benefits you think are most attractive to prospective candidates?
Dr. Padte: We get a lot of positive feedback about our hybrid office / work from home schedule, as well as our flexible working hours. Great candidates are gravitating towards more flexibility in when and how they work best, and we are trying to meet them there. Prospective candidates are also attracted to our competitive health benefits and vacation policies, which reflects the value employees find in us as an employer promoting health and well-being both in and outside of the office.
Scismic: How do you decide on a competitive salary?
Dr. Padte: Scismic has been really helpful for us because they see much of what the market is offering. We want to make sure we our offering a competitive salary that would make someone excited to work with us, and having an outside perspective from a group like Scismic that sees a lot of hiring in our field has been really helpful.
Scismic: Where do you go to find talented applicants?
Dr. Padte: Scismic does an incredible job identifying high quality candidates for us, and the candidates sent to us are very well targeted for our job descriptions. Before Scismic, we would post job descriptions online and get hundreds and hundreds of resumes that we would have to sift through to find a few golden nuggets. That takes a lot of time that could be better spent focusing on our science and business. And like I said earlier, when you want to hire, you rarely have as much time as you’d like. Scismic sends us a downselected and highly targeted candidate list, which makes the process a lot more efficient.
The Hiring Process
Scismic: How do you approach interviewing?
Dr. Padte: An important part of our interview process is that everyone meets the candidate, and the candidate has an opportunity to ask questions to everyone at the company in small group settings. From science to engineering to finance to business, all of it matters and is interconnected in an early-stage biotech like ours. Everyone is part of the hiring process and gives us their feedback. And if someone on the team raises an important concern about the candidate we are interviewing, we take that very seriously, even if they are not going to be directly interacting with that person. We also want the candidate to get to know us better during the interview process. We want them to see everyone in the company, meet the different types of people here, and make sure it's the right fit for them before making the important decision to join our mission.
Scismic: You mention fit, which is a tricky thing to define. How do you think about fit?
Dr. Padte: Every new person changes the dynamic and culture of the company, and that’s a good thing. We put a lot of effort into making sure we're doing it openly and with authenticity. You absolutely need to have excellent technical skills and competency, but beyond that, how do you ensure fit with the team? And, more broadly, how do you define what “the right fit” even means? It's not just, “Hey, this person thinks the same way I do. We really get along. We have alot in common.” That's great, but there's a tremendous value in finding people that have different perspectives and that may not agree with everything you say. When those different perspectives are communicated in a mutually respectful way, the sum becomes much greater than its individual parts, and you open up the opportunity to create something much bigger than you previously imagined, and that’s a special place to be. We've hired talented people who think differently than us on purpose, and this diversity has absolutely strengthened us.
Diversity in Hiring
Scismic: I’m glad you brought up diversity. Is that something you intentionally think about when hiring?
Dr. Padte: It's a combination of intentional and organic. The organic part is based on the fact that our 2-person leadership team is made up of one person who is female and one person who is a person of color and member of the LGBTQIA+ community, two backgrounds that aren't typically seen in the majority of leadership positions in biotech. I think having us both here early in the company’s genesis, hiring and building out the team, was a great start.
The intentional part is that we continually think about diversity as we hire. We're in New York City, and we ask ourselves whether our company represents the diversity that exists in our city and world around us. If not, what can we do to improve this? Scismic has been very helpful with this. Scismic’s database is quite large, and they do a lot of work recruiting people that are typically underrepresented in biotech. This gives us a bigger pool from which to select, which has really helped us.
It continues to be a work in progress. We have more we want to and need to do to truly reflect the diversity in this country and in this world.
Scismic: What do you do once you have hired someone?
Dr. Padte: As part of the onboarding process for new hires, we have 30 to 60 minute one-on-one meetings between each member of the company and the new candidate, regardless of whether they will be part of the same working team or not. It gives the new employee an opportunity to ask questions about the work, team, culture, and learn something new about one of their new colleagues (and vice versa). I love this part of our onboarding program. I try to take my one-on-one meetings outside of the office, and we'll get coffee or walk around the block so I can show them around the neighborhood. I've learned a lot of interesting things about our team through these more casual meetings that wouldn’t have come out through typical work activities.
On Retaining Talent
Scismic: How do you keep good talent once you have hired them?
Dr. Padte: We are big fans of listening, in varied modalities and venues, to build a strong foundation with our team. We have regular one-on-one meetings with each of our team members. We also hold company-wide quarterly meetings, and afterwards conduct anonymous surveys and ask questions like, “Are we providing everything you want to see here at the company? Is there something else you'd like to see in the future?” We get pretty candid feedback from our team, and that's exactly what we want. We’ve found that fostering a culture of listening, communication and positive action has been an important way to keep our team engaged and growing with us.
Scismic: What else are you working to do more of?
Dr. Padte: As a leader, telling and showing our team that they are valued and critical for the company’s success is something that I think we can always do more of than we think. You can always listen more than you think, and you can always make someone feel more valued than you think. Whatever you think is the right amount, do more. The same goes for communicating across the company. Whatever you think is the right amount, push yourself to go one level further, because it's only going to help your team and company be better and stronger.
Scismic: Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us.
Hiring hacks from Dr. Padte
1. Start early. The hiring process is typically long, so start identifying future roles before they become critical needs.
2. Involve the whole team. Get insights into what roles/skills are actually needed from those on the ground and include them in the interview process.
3. Get help. Use tools like Scismic to make the sourcing process more efficient and to validate that your compensation package is competitive.
4. Hire underrepresented leaders. Prioritize diversity by prioritizing having a diverse leadership team. Look for diversity in race and gender as well as in perspectives and approaches.
5. Listen and communicate. Create opportunities for employees to share their wants and needs in multiple ways, written, individually, in groups, anonymously.
6. Show appreciation. More is always better when it comes to valuing employees and their contributions.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Scismic’s talent matching platform helps biotech companies find qualified scientists and grow diverse teams. Our specialized algorithm accurately targets relevant candidates for faster hiring, and is 2x more effective in bringing in underrepresented scientists. Learn more about us at scismic.com