Life Sciences Field Seeks Talent

Bloomberg News recently reported there are more than three million skilled jobs unfilled in the U.S.

Kim First, head of a specialty search firm, concurs and says that regrettably she must now turn to foreign sources to meet her clients needs.   She is attending more and more meetings overseas to find qualified scientists.

Kim is CEO of one of a successful search firm charged with finding candidates with very specific training and skills. Kim’s firm, The Agency Worldwide ( serves pharmaceutical companies, particularly those in Life Sciences, that seek to find cures and solve challenges facing world health.

Kim says the needs of her clients have become ever more specific (and harder to fulfill) ever since the mapping of the human genome and the explosion of biogicals to treat life threatening dieseases.

She adds: “There has been an explosion in ‘personalized medicine’ requiring scientists and doctors with even more refined skills. It’s no longer enough for pharmaceutical companies to create ‘one size fits all drugs and take them to market’.

“We are now able to learn, for example, that certain drugs work for certain ethnic groups and not for others. The same applies to gender and other differences. The result is that a whole new world of treatments are on the horizon.

The most savvy and agile of the drug companies are adapting quickly and scrambling to build specialized teams to create these new treatments and to design new ways of delivery. Staffing those teams with wholly U.S. talent has become difficult if not impossible.”

The Problem? Kim says that increasingly the scientists and doctors qualified for the advanced efforts are not to be found in the United States and the demand for the talent makes it a hihgly competative marketplace for companies. She now finds she is attending more and more meetings overseas to find qualified scientists.

The solution, Kim believes, is a greater emphasis on and commitment to scientific education in the U.S.

“Foreign students are studying here,” says Kim, “and using that knowledge to train new scientists overseas who are competing with us in greater numbers. We need to commit to funding here with a strong degree of dedication….much like we did with space program. Otherwise we will lag woefully behind other nations in innovation and research. There is little time to waste.”

“We are now able to learn, for example, that certain pills work for certain ethnic groups and not for others. The same applies to gender and other differences. The result is that a whole new world of remarkable cures is on the horizon.”

Kim says the most savvy and agile of the drug companies are adapting quickly and scrambling to build individualized teams to create these new miracle cures and to design new ways of delivery.  

Yet, staffing those teams with wholly U.S. talent has become “difficult, if not impossible.”

We asked Kim a few questions. 

In what scientific specialties or areas are you seeing the greatest opportunities?

I see many opportunities in the immunology field. All of the major companies as well as the start-up bio-techs are studying innovative targets and novel pathways to improve treatments for patients with a number of immune related diseases like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and even certain cancers.

What cultural differences do you encounter when recruiting scientists from varying countries?

The cultural differences are vast. From communication style to motivation to negotiation of job offer, scientists from varying countries deal with situations extremely differently. Some are very transparent and direct about their desires while others keep information very closely guarded. Understanding the nuances of the different cultures helps tremendously in moving the recruitment process through to successful completion.

What would cause a world renowned scientist, happy in his or her job, to leave for a different position?

Funding and the overall commitment of an organization to a particular disease indication or area of science is the main reason a renowned scientist makes a career transition.

What are the most glaring shortages of talent in the Life Sciences?

There is a shortage of talent in many of the key support functions that are required to effectively develop and manufacture a drug; fields like physician safety, regulatory affairs and biostatistics for example.


About Kim First:
Kim First brings more than a dozen years of experience to the life sciences consulting and executive recruitment process. A respected industry expert, she has worked closely with many of the largest biopharmaceutical and healthcare companies on multi-year engagements and assignments.

Collaborating with C-suite executives, high-level physicians and scientists, she helps build successful teams, structure competitive organizations and analyze market forces.

Kim is a sought-after authority, providing an in-depth understanding of industry trends and their affect on the workforce, and offering unique candidate assessment and recruitment methodologies.

Since becoming president and CEO in 2005, Kim has driven and cultivated The Agency’s unsurpassed commitment to connecting the world’s greatest scientific minds with the most innovative life sciences enterprises.

She has developed a customized, dynamic, matrix-like group of recruiting professionals and a vast network of industry contacts who work together on a global scale to identify and attract the leading “passive” talent.

Her sensitivities to the needs of The Agency’s clients and candidates has driven the company’s successful placements – totaling hundreds of high-quality candidates over the decades for a myriad of life-altering teams at Fortune 500 organizations.

Kim joined The Agency as an executive recruiter in 1999, bringing with her a sophisticated understanding of complex corporations and their diverse business requirements that was developed over the years in her roles with The Walt Disney Company and Sony.

Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, she graduated with honors from UCLA in Psychology and completed additional coursework at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Kim’s devotion to The Agency is only second to that of her husband and three young sons.


Media Inquiries to set up an interview with Kim contact Berman & Associates by phone at:  914-572-2707 .

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