Several years ago, a small oncology pharma reached out to us in a panic. The interim analysis results from their large phase III solid tumor study showed the data was a mess, and they realized they needed to re-monitor their project ASAP if they hoped to move forward.
And given their financial situation, if the project wasn’t salvaged quickly, their company would be in jeopardy of having to close its doors.
While we provided a team of SWAT oncology CRAs to re-monitor their study, doesn’t the situation beg the question of how this happened to begin with?
How did this pharma progress to the project’s interim analysis before leadership knew their monitors weren’t doing a sufficient job? The Clinical Monitoring Plan and the Clinical SOPs were more than adequate to provide guidance to the CRAs. Additionally, both the CRA Manager and Sr Director of Clinical Operations had been oncology nurses as well as oncology CRAs, so they knew first hand what the CRAs were supposed to be doing when on-site.
One of the root causes of the issue was that the pharma’s leadership undervalued from where to source the CRAs.
The Rise of the Recruitment Agency
Did you know that prior to the pandemic there were approximately 25,000 staffing and recruiting companies operating across over 49,000 offices in the United States?
Let me ask you this – do you believe all of these recruitment agencies are ‘equal’? Of course you don’t (I knew it was a silly question when I asked it). In my universe, staffing and recruiting agencies will typically fall into one of three ‘big bucket’ categories.
The Bad And The Ugly
Hiring teams and job seekers alike have experienced these agencies. This type of agency doesn’t coach their recruiters to hone their listening and communication skills, and of course this leads to poor or non-existent feedback after interviews or submissions. Additionally, agencies and individual recruiters who fall into the ‘bad’ category are more likely to ask intrusive or inappropriate questions, which can get you into major trouble with the EEOC as a hiring team.
They also don’t care to connect with you as an individual in order to truly understand your needs or goals. They may try to bully hiring managers into onboarding underqualified candidates or job seekers into taking positions that aren’t a perfect fit for them.
And…they may even lie to you. I have heard horror stories where ‘the bad and the ugly’ agencies submit candidate resumes to clients without the candidates’ permission (eek!). I just don’t see how this helps the hiring team or the job seekers.
The Soup to Nuts Agencies
I am a big fan of stores like QuickTrip™ , Circle K™ and the 7-Eleven™, aren’t you? Stores like 7-Eleven™ truly accommodate a large target audience by making it extremely convenient to pick up milk and bread while filling up your gas tank. Afterall, aren’t the Big Gulps awesome on a long trip?
But aren’t there logical limitations to what you can (and should) be purchasing from a convenience mart? For example, would you buy sushi from the 7-Eleven™? I have seen convenience marts offer sushi….so the question isn’t whether they have it. The question is if you should buy it.
So how does this concept translate into selecting your staffing partner?
As a Hiring Manager, just think about it – wouldn’t it be great if you could go to one agency and have all of your hiring needs met through this single point of contact? This “7-Eleven™” approach is highly desired by many, and from a perspective of managing your vendors and suppliers, I absolutely understand the appeal.
But should you trust these “soup to nuts” companies when it comes to recruiting the highly skilled CRAs who will inevitably make or break your clinical study? We aren’t talking about hiring a greeter at Wal-Mart, we are talking about hiring quality clinical site managers or clinical research associates. Said differently, if a recruiter just submitted a qualified accountant to you this morning, does that mean she is capable of finding a competent CRA for you this afternoon?
The Real Question
The question isn’t whether these “soup to nuts” agencies will recruit CRAs in their 7-Eleven™ approach…the question is should you ask them to.
Remember the pharma I introduced at the beginning of this article? When it came to hiring the CRAs they needed to monitor this extremely important trial, they used the same recruiting agency that they used for all of their other positions. Unfortunately, while the agency had expertise recruiting nurses, it didn’t have experience recruiting Clinical Site Managers or CRAs. Therefore, the agency provided folks who had been oncology nurses but it was up to the CRA Manager and Sr Director to train them…all while the project was ongoing.
We see this all too often where, out of an adversity of working with too many recruiting agencies, Sponsors prioritize working with those agencies who can provide all of their resources.
The Niched CRA Recruitment Agency
Niched recruiting firms focus in one specialized area and we believe both hiring teams and job seekers should consider working with niched agencies when it comes to a highly specialized role. In the context of recruiting CRAs and Site Managers, here are the reasons why you should consider working with a Niched Clinical Research Associate Staffing Firm:
They have knowledge of our industry
When you watch the Olympics, do you notice the judged competitions use field experts to evaluate the competitors? You would never see a gymnastics competition being judged by someone who has little or no experience in that niche. Sure, you could give a novice gymnastics judge a checklist to go by and they could muddle through it…but wouldn’t that destroy the credibility of the competition results?
Using that same train of thought, you could certainly give a “soup to nuts” recruiter who has little or no experience in the clinical research field a checklist and she will “muddle through it”. But what level of confidence should you have in the end result?
When you select a staffing or recruiting agency, make sure that organization understands your industry. In a perfect world, you will want to engage a niche recruiting agency which specializes only in your industry. It is like learning a foreign language – you can take a class in Spanish and only be able to ask where the bathrooms are, or you can move to Mexico and become absorbed in the language…and thus turn into an expert! A quality niched CRA recruitment agency will make sure their CRA recruiters are “absorbed” in the industry and can quickly identify quality candidates as well as quality hiring companies.
They understand industry trends
A mature recruiting agency will be more than a match maker. Because niched CRA recruitment agencies only work with companies conducting clinical research, and will primarily recruit CRAs, they will have a pulse on what your competition is doing to attract top talent. For example, as a Niched CRA Recruitment agency, we can educate you on industry trends such as the current Contract CRA Hourly rate which can be critical when it comes to competing for those high quality CRA resources.
Additionally, niched CRA recruitment agencies are able to offer hiring consultation to their hiring teams and job seekers. For example, we offer training for effective interviewing to both our candidates as well as our hiring teams. We also assist with resume reviews for CRA candidates as well as write job descriptions for our clients.
They have history with CRA candidates
Working with a recruiting agency should be about developing a relationship, not a one-time business transaction. Because Niched CRA Recruitment Agencies focus all of their efforts into networking for their specific skill set, they will build ongoing relationships with their CRA candidates as well as the Hiring Managers. A great Niched CRA Recruiting agency will re-use quality candidates because they know their work ethic and abilities. Just as importantly, these niched agencies will also be able to track the negative history of poor quality candidates too and keep them far-far-away from your studies.
Engage the Right CRA Recruitment Agency For Your Needs
In today’s market, we see CRA recruiters who are reactive, transactional, proactive, and interactive. Perhaps a ‘Soup to Nuts’ recruitment agency is right for you…but don’t select one just because your organization has always done it that way.
Along those same lines, don’t settle for a ‘bad or ugly’ agency.
Assess…determine what will work best for your team. The reality is that you should work with an agency who behaves as if you have them on retainer, but only gets paid when they make a placement. Also ensure your agency thoroughly understands your needs as well as the role. And one last thought, ensure their communications are proactive, honest, and transparent.
Need a new CRA Recruitment agency? We would be honored to discuss your needs.
By the way, do you want to listen to the narration of this article? We offer it here and on our podcast channels. Enjoy!