In Conversation: Jeff Caskey, Biotech Recruiting Manager, WorkForce Genetics

The BioHealth Capital Region’s (BHCR) biotech sector is booming and the competition among employers and biotech recruiting for top life sciences talent is intense. Talent is the life blood of any biocluster; ample talent fosters and supports growth and a dearth of job candidates can stunt an emerging company and biohub’s progress.

At the center of the talent wars sit a cadre of life sciences recruiters working to attract and hire the best of the best. They search for great talent and work hard to deliver an outstanding candidate experience from first contact through securing a “start”, or signed offer letter. Biotech recruiting is fast-paced and requires great people skills. It also requires a level head to manage the ups and downs inherent to this kind of work, not to mention the cut-throat environment many recruiters encounter not only out in the field, but also within their own organizations.

Life sciences recruiting is challenging and requires perseverance and relentlessness, especially during the current life sciences boom. However, recruiting doesn’t have to be an all-consuming, swimming with sharks kind of career. It can be deeply rewarding professionally and personally in the right environment.

We caught up with Jeff Caskey of WorkForce Genetics (WGx), a leading life sciences recruiting search firm, to discuss his professional journey, why recruiting became his passion, and how he’s managed to achieve work-life balance despite the rigorous demands of his profession.

How did you get into the biotech recruiting profession and why are you passionate about what you do?

Early on I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I started in pharmaceutical sales and then moved on to software sales. I realized that I liked working directly with people and this is really where I cut my teeth in a people-facing profession. I enjoyed working with people, I knew that, but I was less excited about what I was selling so I did some soul searching around 2016. I started to talk to recruiters at my current job at the time and I was jealous—they were showcasing the company and were the “first face” of the organization. I began taking ‘notes’ on what they did.

I knew I wanted a change. I was intrigued by recruiting and landed a new job in 2016. My new employer had a branch in Baltimore focused on the life sciences. I started in business development, but I still knew I wanted to recruit because I was excited by the opportunity to work directly with candidates. I had a great recruiting mentor there and I was a sponge that first year, soaking up as much knowledge as I could. 

Eventually I secured a new recruiting position at another company in Maryland. I started as an individual contributor and then was promoted to a recruiter manager role with four or five recruiters that I could mentor and develop. I had a great experience teaching and evaluating and really learning how to deliver a great candidate experience. It also helped me see how recruiting could really change lives. This job also helped me understand how I wanted to be mentored and treated as a recruiter.

How did you connect with WorkForce Genetics?

Well, it was about three years ago, and one day Chris Frew, WGx’s CEO, popped into my LinkedIn inbox. We started talking and I learned about the company he was building. He told me about the company’s hybrid approach to life sciences recruiting where WGx amplified employer brands through the media and marketing to spread the word and create a magnet that would attract life sciences talent. 

The more I learned about WGx, the more I got excited. Here was a chance to help build something from the ground up and a place where I felt my voice would matter. Chris wasn’t trying to do the same old recruiting thing; he wanted to be creative about recruiting, and that was attractive to me. The organization was also life sciences-focused, which was important to me: a lot of my family had been impacted by illnesses, I had always been interested in science and I could help support work that literally saves people’s lives. 

I quickly saw that joining WGx was a great next step in my career where I could have a lot of impact, two or three connections deep. 

What is the culture at WGx and how has the WGx environment helped you to grow as a biotech recruiter?

Really the first word that comes to mind is ‘ownership.’ You have the ability as a recruiter here to take ownership of your business. This has helped my development tremendously. There’s a lot of support from Chris and my colleagues. As a team we approach our clients and candidates as not only a representative of the company, but also of our own personal recruiting brands and styles. 

I have a lot of freedom to operate. I’m empowered to make my own decisions and ‘fail forward.’ I drive building my own book of business within the larger organizational goals, which are to deliver front-to-back end talent solutions for our clients while delivering great candidate experiences. I am an extension of WGx and my clients. It’s great because I’m able to take ownership in both areas.

Our team has a consulting mindset and we have the ability to develop deep, rewarding relationships with candidates and our clients. WGx does not push the cookie-cutter approach to recruiting that you often see.

It’s been a breath of fresh air. Some recruiting agencies have activity quotas…you have to make this many calls a week and you work long hours just to work long hours…here, we are strategic and it doesn’t matter how you get from point A to point B. When you don’t get weighed down by corporate red tape, recruiters can blossom and flourish. Chris doesn’t micromanage us. 

How we succeed and the path we take to produce results for our clients is up to me and the other individual recruiters as long as we stay within our ethical standards and overall strategy.

Also, while we all build our own personal brands and client relationships, our team really sticks together and supports one another. If one of us succeeds, all of us succeed; there’s stress at times, but at the end of the day, we have a great support structure. When I’m having a rough day or week, my colleagues are always there to listen and lift me up. We’re always talking and sharing ideas and we are all pulling in the same direction. This is not a cut throat environment at all. This is a very open and safe environment to share ideas and raise any issues at hand. We lean on one another all the time. 

Before you decided to join WGx, you shared some of your professional and personal goals with the company’s CEO, Chris Frew. Looking back, how have Chris and WGx supported you on this journey?

I had things that I wanted to achieve professionally and personally and I was very upfront with Chris about these goals. We connected quickly and had mutual respect for one another early on. These are things I didn’t just want to do, these were things I was going to do.

First, I wanted to do well financially. I set my first year goal and I eventually doubled that. I doubled my comp over the course of one year at WGx. 

Also, when I started with WGx I had just gotten engaged. I was able to take time off when I needed it without having to worry about PTO in my first year on the job. I could do what I needed. I was married in my first year at WGx and was able to enjoy my honeymoon. 

I also knew that I wanted to move back home to South Carolina eventually to be closer to family and to start my own family. Chris was totally open to that and after getting my bearings for a bit, my wife and I moved back South and I was able to keep growing at WGx. I wanted to do what I loved but on my own terms and nearer to my roots. I was able to do that here. 

My wife and I are expecting our first child in May. Chris implemented a Paternity Leave program so I can be there to support my wife and spend time with our newborn. WGx has empowered me to support my family financially and with time. Whether it’s a mental health day, just a day off to go to the driving range to destress, or if you need to take care of family, as long as you’re performing it’s all good. I’ve been able to maintain work-life balance and achieve my professional goals as well. 

Chris always says “we work to live, we don’t live to work”; a lot of CEOs say this but I’ve seen firsthand that WGx lives it. I feel it everyday and so do my colleagues.

WGx truly provides biotech recruiters with an opportunity to grow and develop in a safe environment where your ideas and thoughts are genuinely valued. You have a chance to build deep partnerships with individuals and companies that are truly making a difference. This is a place where you can live your life and be successful in your career without sacrificing anything. Everyone needs that balance in their lives and I’ve certainly found it here at WGx and with my colleagues.