Pfizer tosses out HR rules with 'American Idol' recruiting in Sweden

Everyone who's ever applied for a job fears that recruiters will glance at their resumes and toss them out. Apparently, Pfizer's ($PFE) Swedish operation feared the same thing--and it tossed out the whole process.

Pfizer's Kim Sandell

The human resources team tried something entirely new. As an operations executive told in-PharmaTechnologist, Pfizer Health AB placed a vague job announcement: "[W]e are looking for the future employee," was the gist of it, said Kim Sandell, director of Supply and Operational Excellence. "And that was about it."

That's the first rule broken: No job description. The second? HR managers didn't look at curriculum vitae ahead of time. "I didn't want to rule out people because their CV wasn't good," Sandell told in-PharmaTechnologist. Unconscious biases can interfere, Sandell added, "and I'm sure we miss out on talent that way."

When Pfizer brought in the 200 applicants--for just 6 positions--the interviewers didn't ask typical questions about job experience and the like. They focused on personality and values. According to in-PharmaTechnologist, applicants filled out a questionnaire on personal views and answered 5 questions about "their core beliefs."

"Anything from the political state of Sweden to how you feel about healthcare," Sandell said.

Then, employees from the Pfizer site sat down with up to 5 applicants at a time, to see how the candidates interacted with one another. In a process Sandell compared to "American Idol," candidates were told to talk for three minutes about "the most burning question for you."

The unconventional process helped Pfizer's HR staff understand how candidates work with others, something the company considers to be increasingly important. Using those insights, "we started to pick good talent," Sandell told the website. "And then we opened their CVs and saw what kind of background they had."

The candidates ranged from PhDs with years of experience in the industry to rookies working in entry-level jobs. The 6 people hired are now working at the company's Strängnäs site, which manufactures biotech drugs.

Though hiring strategies may seem less important these days, what with more layoffs across the pharma industry, experts say that filling open positions can be tough. Pharma staffing is evolving with an emphasis on high-tech specialty drugs and the increasing importance of patient outcomes. Pricewaterhouse Coopers has gone so far as to say that pharma needs an entirely new "talent strategy." Maybe Pfizer's experiment is food for thought.

- read the in-PharmaTechnologist story

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