[Reading Tea Leaves] Candidate Job Fair Suggests Job Market Uptick

As someone who worked with a quantitative asset management firm – Barclays Global Investors –  I know the value of seeing data in terms of broad patterns. But as someone who has worked extensively with the research and development side of biotech, I’ve also learned to note signs and signals by the ones and twos. This is the latter.

BioSpace.com, the country’s leading news and jobs/career web portal for biotech / pharma is hosting a job fair on March 9th, 2010 in South San Francisco from 2-7 PM. While there is nothing notable per se about a job fair, what is unusual is timing: biotech has taken the heavy brunt of the equities downturn over the last couple of years and it’s been a flat biotech career market for both existing and potential start-ups. Ernst & Young last year suggested that there could be a potential “bloodbath” in the sector as something like 180 publicly traded biotech firms had less than 12 months of cash on hand.

The job fair – in which companies like Abcam Inc., Baxter International, Inc., Bayer, BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc., Celgene, Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, LLC, MedImmune, LLC, and Nektar Therapeutics are slated to participate – is notable on a couple of counts. First, job fairs are commonly used to either increase the flow of candidates during a tight market or hiring crunch, or get on candidate’s radar when you’re less well known, and need to do more outbound recruiting.

All these companies are well known in the biotech world, and the market here-to-fore had been of the seller’s, as opposed to job candidates / buyers, side.

The appearance of a job fair with well known firms participating is that something might be changing, at least in the biotech world. The other coincidence is that Part B of a two-part retention bonus for Genentech employees as part of the firms Roche acquisition, gets paid in March, the same month as the job fair.

This news of the job fair is just one data point though I also saw news today that Calibra Medical, which is backed by Caanan Partners and Frazier Healthcare Ventures, [Disclosure: Early stage companies backed by both firms have been clients] two of the more respected names in biotech, had just brought in $9.3 million of a targeted $32.3 million round of equity, options, warrants and securities. Today also brought the news that venture firm OrbiMed Advisors, has raised $550 million for its latest health venture capital fund, it’s largest-ever by $20 million,

But in the pattern of a what has been a generally flat biotech sector, it seems to suggests that something is moving and my hunch is that it’s a job market improving.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.