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Taking a stroll with my customer avatar

Taking a stroll with my customer avatar

26. September 2022

By Stephan Breitfeld 

Whoever has been dealing with storytelling in the context of strategic communication, has probably been introduced to the customer avatar. The ideal customer, the one person that represents the mass of people you want and need to talk to. Whatever need it is you’re addressing, it can be the ideal candidate, the perfect visitor to your store, the one person that really needs your product, the avatar is that in one person.

It may seem a bit odd to assimilate a vast number of people in one Steven, Christian or Beth to the address, but it also has something of a calming notion that so many people have the exact same problem, need, feeling and desire.

The problems we share

In the executive search industry, the problems of potential customers can differ a lot in detail, but they also have a lot in common when it comes to the root of the problems. The customer avatar has difficulties with demands and reality of today’s candidate market. Difficulties finding the right executive candidates, a fear of leaving positions unfilled, excessive pressure on the existing team, products not entering the market, quality management not living up, global distribution being stalled, etc.

The customer avatar has a lot of difficult conversations with colleagues and superiors, why it’s not working, why the candidates don’t fit. There is a lack of understanding why the tools don’t work, why the salary expectations differ so much from what the company can offer. The generation “Work Life Balance” meets the demographic decline of the baby boomers. There you go.

We get each other

That’s not a specific problem of the industry, it’s a problem literally EVERYBODY has. While that may be a bit comforting, that we essentially are not alone with our problems, it still doesn’t solve them. Building up recruiting inhouse often lacks specialized and experiences approached that are even more necessary in a touch market. Candidates don’t work or look the same anymore. The dream job might no longer be engineer at Porsche but influencer at You Tube. And: yeah, job ads, forget it!

I feel for my customer avatar. These are no easy issues. Important people quit or go into retirement, on top the company needs to “transform” towards new products and services to meet current needs. It becomes overbearing. No people anywhere in sight. And also: no quick fix.

Stay strong and stick it out

But there is hope for the customer avatar. It goes through vision, ideas and long-term solutions. Approaches need to be re-evaluated and an external eye is almost always helpful. Letting go of the problem and handing it over can be very rewarding. There are people with more experience, more knowledge and know-how and the tools to find the missing pieces. Long-lasting relationships with experts can be just what the customer avatar needs. To focus on the company and the ability to innovate and develop for the future.


What comes after the great resignation? A service-free-zone?

16. August 2022

By Stephan Breitfeld 

I’m sure you’ve heard some talk about the severe talent shortage and its consequences in basically all industries. Just recently you could easily observe it compressed in the situations at the airports. Not enough staff anywhere to remotely conquer the task of having as many travelers on their way into summer vacation as there were. How are you supposed to handle all the bags, when there are not enough people to pick them up, carry them around, deliver them. How are you supposed to have planes on time or take off at all when there are not enough pilots to fly them, ground personnel to guide them, flight attendants to work on board?

This is how a lot of business owners feel these days. The assignments are there, the Covid-crisis is basically over on that front but what to do when there are not enough people to do the work? Plus: the existing staff is constantly overworked and even more people quit! Looking around, this is an overwhelmingly big problem.

Short-term solutions

Yes, to quickly stuff some holes, you can try and quickly hire new people. But, as previously mentioned, that is a much harder task than it used to be due to a severe lack of people. Not only qualified people but people in general. What also happens a lot is that less people take on more work to cover the workload. So, C-Suite people end up helping out with excel lists and standard tasks, or – to use the airport example above – the CEO of Lufthansa (who’s a trained pilot) would go down and fly planes and actually, in the air, use the autopilot and hand out some blankets and afterwards unload the baggage and drive it to the belt.

Another short-term solution is to drop clients or cancel assignments. Yes, that hurts. Especially after the Covid-crisis it seems somewhat risky to not “work in” some of the losses during that period. But again: no people, no work being done. But this question of how to conduct business further on brings us to the next chapter: What needs to change long-term?

Long-term solutions

When you look at the long-term effects, there is surely a change due in terms of how we work. Because the talent shortage isn’t going to significantly improve, there are just too many (shitty) jobs for too little people. And the candidates have all the choice in the world. What used to be a sentence from employers – “you’re in the closer selection” – is now a sentence from candidates. This may be frustrating for employers but it’s the reality. We need to deal with it.

The quality and structure of work needs to change, the relationship between management and staff needs to change and there is a big need for work to fit the individual better. And ideally everyone profits from this. Change is hard but it needs to happen. Working conditions that have existed for centuries are changing dramatically for all participants. Existing jobs are disappearing. But does that need to be bad?

Any hope?

Yes, it’s hard to be hopeful when work mounts, people quit and burn-out becomes an epidemic that is hard to handle. But – in the spirit of “it needs to get worse before it can get better” – the fundamental shift might be necessary to prepare for better times. What are your hopes for what to get out of it. Do you think it’s going to be a service-free-zone? Or more an oasis of individual fulfillment?

You’re an executive? It’s likely you need to up your Social Media Game

29. Juni 2022

By Stephan Breitfeld 

Social media are fun! All those innumerous interesting articles from all sorts of know-it-all gurus, endless stunning photos of last night meals from breakthrough influencers, tons of memes that will make your belly hurt for how hard you laugh. Just pure joy in your stress-free life!

Let’s dial back the sarcasm and get to the point: you shouldn’t forget that social media have become one of the most powerful brand-building tools in the current day and age. Why? Because social media essentially offer dialogue directly with your audience. But not only that. Thanks to the LinkedIn (also a social media platform btw) research, we know that stunning 66% of professionals would be more likely to recommend a company or brand if they followed a company’s executive on social media.

Exactly! It’s time to set up an account… But first, let’s take a deep breath and look at what we need to consider to bring your social media game to the next level.

Ready? Engage! 

Social media offer a great opportunity to interact directly with your audience, position yourself as an expert and, as a result, drive business value. This is one of the best ways to gain industry exposure, build engagement and establish trust with your target audience. According to the LinkedIn study I referenced before, 56% of professionals say a business executive’s presence on social media positively influences their purchase decision. In other words, the more recognizable you are on social media, the more likely you are to get new clients.

Strategic thinking 

A company without a strategy is like a ship without a map – no one knows where you’re steering. Same goes for social media. It requires a strategy to make it clear what your priorities and goals are, and how you are going to get there. Some of the key questions you should ask yourself are:

“Who do I want/need to talk to?”

“What do I want to say?”

“Where do I need to be in order to talk to these people about these things?”

“What do I want people to do?”

“How much recourses am I ready to invest in it?”

Now, incorporate the topics you want to address in your profile bio to let your existing and potential followers know what to expect; follow relevant accounts and hashtags; get involved in trending conversations and leave comments based on your expertise and experience. That’s a good start and you can see what works for you.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you MUST take your social media presence seriously. Since it has a direct impact on your company’s recognizability and, eventually, performance (more reach = more potential clients, remember?), avoid falling into a trap of “I’ve posted like 5 pictures, but no one is following me! Social media don’t work!”. For social media to work in your favor you must stay consistent and plan your campaign a few months in advance. Moreover, you must prioritize authenticity to build trust with your audiences.

If you’re not confident in your social media skills or your ability to devote the time required to do it right, consider enlisting some help. Assigning an executive social media strategy to a trusted expert, like a social media marketing or a PR team, can help you with that in a much better way, than a freshly recruited intern.

Is digital leadership a skillset or a mindset?

18. Mai 2022

By Stephan Breitfeld 

The digital transformation is a topic that’s been with us for a long time and it’s quite clear by now that there is no way around it. But companies keep on struggling with it especially when it comes to the fact that it’s a constant transformation that never stops. A transformation that effects all aspects of a company and makes for a whole new working environment and relationships between colleagues and to customers. The constant and ongoing transformation calls for leadership that is agile and able to adapt and keep up with all the changes. Sounds nerve-wrecking, doesn’t it? 

No digital transformation without a digital leader

A quite decisive element for conquest or failure of digital transformation processes is the digital leader who steers the change in the company. And not surprisingly: real digital leaders are in high demand. Because – as said above – every company basically needs them. Digital transformation requires a comprehensive and holistic look at the company. It’s not about changing processes here and there, introducing cloud solutions, etc. It’s about changing culture, it’s about introducing concepts that drive innovation and change, networking against traditional hierarchies, allowing personal growth and making mistakes. It’s about a real transformation.

What’s a good digital leader?

Real good digital leaders have a variety of qualities and the fact that they need to be agile leaders in transformation processes calls into question whether there even is a definition for it, but there are certain traits that can help identify digital leadership qualities:Flexibility


Active and open leadership


Digital mindset

People Skills

Data knowledge


Of course, any combination of the above traits can work really well. It’s about incorporating the skills more into a mindset. It’s not as important to have the technical skills than to understand the technology as a process. The skill is not to know how the software works, the skill is what the software can and will do for the company, what role it will play and who needs to be a part of it.

Where to find them 

Yes, and then comes the big question: where to find people with this mindset? Of course, there is no one answer to this and they for sure aren’t easily found. In a way the traits of a digital leader also apply to the searching process: it needs to be flexible, agile, open, knowledgeable and willing to look beyond the traditional concepts. Know what you’re looking for and be open to find candidates in an entirely different place than expected. And get someone good to help you with this! 😉

“What are your salary expectations?” – and the answer

25. April 2022

By Stephan Breitfeld 

A thriving industry is generally good news. Especially if it is as thriving as the Life Sciences are right now. Taking some of the general developments during the pandemic into account, we’re facing a vast number of positions, an exceptional growth that wants to be fulfilled. And the good news (and kind of bad news at the same time): salaries are on the rise as well!

The sky is the limit – isn’t it?

With the ever-growing demand for talent and an overall growing industry, it’s also good times for executive search consultants like myself. The high-level positions that need to be filled seem endless. What also comes with the demand is a rising level of salary expectations and that can be difficult to handle. The payment expectations have skyrocketed since the pandemic and cause a growing dissonance with what the employer is willing to pay for the respective positions.

Just the pure fact that the salary expectations for a position can be six figures apart makes for a sensitive situation. Of course, talent sees themselves confronted with a number of opportunities and an omnipresent tenor of need, but talent still needs to match with an employer in the end.

Expectation management

In comes the glorious phrase “expectations management” and the manager for this, being me. But it’s incredibly important to approach this topic right and with the right sensitivity. Because a candidate who asks for way more money isn’t necessarily the one who is greedy and needs to tone it down – and even if he/she is, can’t be regarded as unreasonable – but needs to be heard and taken seriously. At the same time an employer can simply be completely off with their expected pay and, in case of a rise, wants to hire the jack of all trades. Sometimes they need to meet in the middle, sometimes somewhere else. In all cases it helps to be prepared.

Transparency – talk money and do it right. Don’t shy away from the uncomfortable money talk. The more you are clear and authentic about your values in your compensation, the better you will match with the candidate.

Consistency – keep your word and stay true to what you value about salaries. Make it understandable and fair across your company. Have a budget and keep the individual in mind.

Strategy – make up your mind and have an overall plan for your company. How are salaries developing? What are the factors that contribute to increase and promotion? Benchmark your pay regularly.

Focus – make sure you set the right priorities when it comes to compensation and make clear what it consists of apart from money. Money is not everything and that goes both ways. Focus on respectful and meaningful relationships.

If this is a field you struggle with, there is always the help of a professional – just a phone call away. Get in touch!

It’s going well for Biotech – how to keep up with the growth

21. März 2022

By Stephan Breitfeld 

Looking back at recent developments in Biotech – through a global pandemic – investments and innovation increased significantly, companies saw continued growth, share prices skyrocketed, and overall business has been great. Some have expressed that these developments even rendered Life Sciences one of the most stable growth areas worldwide. In a recent whitepaper that I contributed to together with colleagues for IIC Partners (read here) we conclude that such an environment of rapid growth has already attracted extremely qualified personnel to the sector and is signaling the need for more. There are several areas marked by experts as especially promising. What are those areas and what kind of workforce can make them bloom?

Open up to international talent

Being relatively new and rapidly growing industries, biotech and medtech are struggling with a very acute problem: skills development can hardly keep up with growth. This, in turn, leads to competition among recruiters for the best and/or qualified talent locally as well as globally – there is only so much suitable workforce in the whole world. In this circumstances, internationalization of the entire industry is imminent, and according to Jörg Trinkwalter (CEO of Medical Valley EMN e.V ) “it actually will not work without international specialists.”

Luckily, COVID-19 not only opened a new dimension of working ‘virtually’, but it also proved that this is very much possible and even desirable in some instances to look for more international talent. That means there is no need to shy away from hiring the internationals, even if they can only work remotely: every expert is way too valuable in the current battle for international talent. Diverse international teams and leaders who can nurture and maintain diversity have become the backbone of a successful company.

Open up for your tech skills

Technological development thrives right on the border of disciplines (well, it’s even in the word ‘biotech’ itself) and there’s a requirement for specialists right where the disciplines meet. Unfortunately, there’s a considerable deficit of specialists such as data scientists or medical IT specialists. With that in mind, it’s advisable to look for candidates who are fit for the job and can work in your team (personality matters the most!), instead of becoming obsessed with the track records and decades of experience. Talent has a remarkable ability to grow, and, therefore, lowering the bar of requirements to qualify for a job can be useful in a long-term perspective (Big Data, for example, is also a relatively new phenomenon). Furthermore, there is a large chunk of experienced workforce over 55 who lack digital skills, so upgrading them by launching a digital Re-training program can open new interdisciplinary opportunities within a company.

Dedication for talent and the right partner

Another aspect of recruiting the best talent is planning ahead. Look at the bigger picture: recruiting is an integral part of your company’s development and thus it needs to be regarded as such. Michele Porreca (Chief People Officer, Prelude Therapeutics) suggests moving the recruitment agenda from a discussion primarily about budget to discussion about organizational development instead, also pointing out that “talent acquisition is top of mind with the need to balance speed with getting the right people in the door.”

With all its positive effects, growth in biotech and medtech industries need more qualified talent to sustain it. Yes, it’s challenging, but manageable. When looking for suitable candidates, it’s wiser to prioritize not (only) the complexity of their CVs with all the revolutionary publications and decades of experience in a particular field, but whether they can fit in the team, no matter where they are located. Work with a trusted partner who knows their way around Biotech. The industry is new, talent will grow with it. As long as there is balance between experience, diversity and flexibility – those teams will excel!

Read the whitepaper this article is based on here.

2022 Trends in Life Sciences Recruiting – where do we go from here?

18. Februar 2022

By Stephan Breitfeld 

No kidding, the last two years were surely the ultimate test of the Life Science industry’s resilience. And everybody in it. And that doesn’t only refer to the challenges that a global pandemic poses with lockdowns and economic decline (not to forget: looming inflation) resulting in a fundamental shift to remote operations but also to the almost uninterrupted growth in the industry and the employment base needed to manage the growth. While most other industries faced massive losses and uncertain times, Life Science companies have continued to thrive and hire people, a significant percentage even hiring A LOT of people.

Going forward this means that even through the pandemic Life Science companies had to grow their teams and subsequently grow their talent pools, drawing from an increasing number of candidates from pandemic-driven disruption in businesses. This meant a phase where companies could fill positions needed due to the growth that already started in 2019. And get a competitive advantage in attracting those candidates while other industries couldn’t.

Demand for highly skilled talent 

This advantage, of course, only applies, if your company has been busy attracting talent during these difficult times. Because once the market picks up the competition the one/two steps ahead will be needed. After all: the Life Science industry employs a more highly skilled, STEM-intensive workforce compared to almost all other industries. This is a far more demanding task for recruiters and HR in a highly knowledge-based, science-driven industry working toward innovative solutions to global challenges in health, energy, sustainable industrial products, and feeding the world. No pressure…

And even the jobs that don’t require a highly skilled profile still have a large percentage of middle skill requirements which still is well above the share for all industries. As a leading advanced manufacturing industry, Life Science companies rely heavily on the skilled technician workforce (engineering as well as scientific), production workers, transportation staff, installation, maintenance, repair and so on. And what doesn’t make things easier: these workers are operating in increasingly digital and automated manufacturing environments that require skills and education of an entirely different nature than, let’s say, a couple of years ago.

Demand for the right mindset

As a result of the more diverse and disruptive industry the competition for STEM talent and their technical skills gets tougher, especially competing with other sectors that are essentially out to attract the “same” talent. This is particularly true for “secondary” industry talent, where the field of expertise is not necessarily the Life Sciences but more focused on engineering, IT, or data science disciplines.

Then in recruiting the biggest challenge becomes finding agile learners who possess a depth of expertise in the respective “secondary” field while also having experience in the clinical, scientific, and healthcare industries. Sounds like the rainbow unicorn, right? Yeah well, it is until you get a place, where you breed your own rainbow unicorns – in a way. The key is to consider a broader range of candidates with a certain intersection of expertise that have the potential for the right learning curve. I also like to refer to this with the “right mindset”.

The most recent “2021 Life Sciences Workforce Trends Report” by the Coalition of State Bioscience Institutes (CSBI) shows some interesting data, for example the „Share of Life Sciences Companies Rating “Very Difficult” to Hire in Selected Occupations“, which is led by “Regulatory Affairs/Compliance”, followed by “Research Scientists (Non-clinical) or R&D positions more broadly” and “Computational Biology/Statistics” (page 18). This shows the difficulty that lies in finding these candidates with the “right mindset”. This is also underlined by the fact that the biggest Share of Companies Surveyed Ranking Various Credentials as “Very Important” said: Demonstrated Competencies/Skills – before any degrees, academic certificated or badges (page 21).

Fill the gap of missing talent

The fact that millions of skilled technical jobs are expected to go unfilled by 2022 is nothing new really. We all heard (too many times) about the “war for talent”, recently the “great resignation” and what not. I like to look at the advantages Life Sciences already has and can continue to nurture and explore. That is its emphasis on internal (!) and external talent, the viable career opportunities, compelling visions and innovation levels, the message around the careers that, after all, play a critical role in the fate of the economy and, well, the world. The broadening of the search – as mentioned above – can only work when these types of candidates find what they are looking for. Talent from new locations may have new expectations as well! 

More exploration is surely needed in the area of developing high-quality data and information about the skilled technical workforce – a field with still some unleveraged potential. Proactive contingency plans need to be in place. And not to forget: continue to build partnerships to develop this critical talent, shorten recruitment processes and act more agile. If you want to discuss how to do that, get in touch anytime!


IIC Partners ist unter den globalen Top 40 Recruiting Unternehmen bei Hunt Scanlon Media! 🚀


IIC Partners ist unter den globalen Top 40 Recruiting Unternehmen bei Hunt Scanlon Media! 🚀

„Hunt Scanlon reviewed an exhaustive list of global recruiting providers and culled it down to the 2021 top 40 global talent providers that now dominate the recruiting business worldwide.“

Im Ranking 2021 wurde IIC Partners unter die weltweit stärksten Recruiter gewählt und darf sich damit zu den „Top Global Talent Providers“ zählen!

Wir freuen uns über diese tolle Auszeichnung für IIC Partners und sind stolz als ingeniam Executive Search & Human Capital Consulting GmbH & Co. KG seit 2010 Mitglied von IIC Partners zu sein.

Imagine your company had no bosses

21. Januar 2022

By Stephan Breitfeld 

There is only one way a successful company can function: a boss at the top, employees at the bottom – hierarchy defines success! Is that so? Well, think again.

Have you heard of “holacracy”? A model of self-management that defies hierarchy! Instead, there are teams of individuals, who collectively define and assign roles to accomplish work. There is no boss, there are only circles of individuals with roles. Leadership is therefore distributed among the roles, rather than individuals, and as the goals and the environment change, responsibilities and roles change too. Shatter the hierarchy, your employees are now in charge! Sounds like the communist revolution back in the days. Is that something that can revolutionize the workplace though? Let’s see. 

Getting rid of hierarchies

Holacracy implies flat hierarchy, where employees are divided in circles working on a certain task or subject. As new tasks and goals emerge, the structure adapts, since the circles are expected to rearrange themselves accordingly, be it new developments in the market or new visions of clients. It’s like constantly being in a fluid project team or a task force specializing on a specific issue in a traditional organization. It could definitely be very efficient and flexible when it comes to solving problems within a limited timeframe as well as maintaining high levels of agility and adaptability to new challenges. Employees make decisions by themselves, they make suggestions – pure freedom, as long as everyone within a circle agrees. Employees diversify their expertise; they feel themselves empowered. Win-win for everyone!

It’s in the constitution!

But wait a minute, how do those circles organize themselves?! There is a constitution, ratified by all members of the team. It doesn’t say how employees should perform their tasks though. Instead, it explains how circles should form and operate, how roles and tasks are assigned and identified, where the boundaries of every circle are and how they interact.

Can it work?

On the other hand, it becomes difficult to coordinate efforts at scale, says Andy Doyle, head of operations at a social media company called Medium, which recently dropped holacracy. It’s hard enough to manage an enterprise in a traditional way, but when it comes to implementing self-management on the biggest scale to determine what should be done, how it should be done and how employees should be rewarded for it – chaos is imminent in some environments. The concept can work really well for certain parts of a company but maybe not for all of them.

In any case, one is quite certain: there is no such thing as “one size fits all”. The wisest way is always to act in accordance with the climate within a company, its business model and its goals. Some prefer more the autonomy of a “bossless” (like Harvard Business Review elegantly put it) work environment, while others thrive under clear and strict supervision. Finding a compromise somewhere in-between is another option: a traditional model with elements of self-organization. Who knows, maybe this is where the future lies. And the key aspect for me obviously is: What kind of employees fit in these business models, and what kind of leadership does it need to make this structure work? Get in touch and let’s discuss!