AstraZeneca’s AZD1222 vaccine has driven the UK’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Over 54 million doses of the vaccine, developed in tandem with researchers at Oxford University have been supplied to the UK since it was approved in December 2020, making it the most common vaccine in the UK by a considerable margin.
The vaccine has been extremely successful and has been produced at cost. However it has also required the Cambridge-headquartered company to recruit an army of specialist staff – a task made even more difficult by the restrictions of remote working.
In this case study, Maggie Spong, AstraZeneca’s vice president talent acquisition, explains how she and her colleagues have met this challenge – and how they have used this extraordinary situation as an opportunity to promote diversity throughout the company.
If you want to see how AstraZeneca’s brand has grown during Covid-19, Maggie Spong has a stat. She says that during 2020 the company’s attraction rate, a metric that judges its appeal to the brightest talent on the market, increased by 25%. People all around the world want to come aboard and take the fight to Covid-19.
But there’s another stat, too, one which illustrates the strain that Covid-19 has created. In the first seven months of 2021, AstraZeneca recruited 1,500 more people than they would have done in a normal year. When you consider that they usually hire 22,000 people in a given 12-month period, you get an idea of just how big the recruitment drive has been.
Maggie and her colleagues have raced to recruit skilled people in clinical development positions who can lead submissions to regulatory bodies, as well as operations employees to deliver the vaccine at scale. The talent acquisition unit has specifically sought out candidates with expertise in vaccines, virology and immunology within the pharmaceutical industry, a resource which was scarce even before the pandemic.
The challenge lies not only in finding experts with these scarce skills, but also adapting the interview process in a Covid-19 world.
Finding the right fit
For each position, candidates are screened by a recruiter, before being invited to a video interview to test their skills and their fit with the company’s values.
Depending on the candidate’s level, they may also be asked to undertake an interview with a business area vice-president. Candidates for some specific roles are required to pass through an assessment centre, which comprises hiring managers, peers, existing employees and talent acquisition partners. The goal is to assess candidates (often graduates) on a combination of values-based and technical interviews, presentations and group exercises.
Then there’s the second stage of the acquisition programme: an onboarding period designed to inculcate the company’s values and allow the new starter to hit the ground running – a particular priority at the present time.
Managers are encouraged to meet their new charges before they start, often several times. To help them deliver the best possible candidate experience, each manager is given a checklist of key behaviours and is required to read a standard onboarding document, which guides them on creating the right introductions for the new hire over their first few weeks. The new starters are also given a buddy, who can help them get acclimated to AstraZeneca and answer any questions they have.