Heal Thyself

Recruiter Cheryl Buxton helps us navigate the meritocratic, objective health-care job market.


Who she is: Global managing director, health-care markets, Korn/Ferry International


Who she’s placed: Brian Markison, CEO, King Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Rick Wilson, VP of global regulatory affairs and medical vigilance, Baxter Healthcare Corp.

What’s the state of the health-care job market right now?

It’s a great time to get into the health-care industry. Despite megamergers in the pharmaceutical market, there is impressive growth across all sectors. Recruitment in health care, though, tends to be cyclical: This quarter, everyone is seeking outstanding marketing executives. Last quarter, it was regulatory affairs, and finance is starting to look strong for next quarter. As for those trying to break into the industry midcareer, life sciences is terribly hard because it’s a meritocracy. Career growth is really based on individual achievement. Be prepared to take a more junior position; even rising stars in this sector have to prove themselves on the way up.

What unique traits does a health-care leader need?

It’s not just about serving shareholders. And that’s a real difference. You’re looking for somebody who can make the connection between whether those products or services are really going to improve people’s lives. I think you’re looking for a combination of those interests, but they must have both sides of it. For example, if you were looking for a CEO of a carpet company, you’d look for somebody who’s going to sell the highest volume of carpets for the highest quality and get the biggest market share. When you’re looking for a CEO of a pharmaceutical company, you’re looking for someone who has the passion to cure diseases as well as all the business savvy and integrity. If a great marketing executive talks about his brand or the products he has marketed and doesn’t refer to the outcome of the patients, something’s missing.

What question usually gives you the best insight into a candidate?

At the end of every interview I ask, “Is there anything you haven’t told me that you think I should know?” It’s amazing what people will tell you. They’re so relaxed and calm because they feel like the interview is over and they can tell you personal stuff they otherwise wouldn’t. I had a very prominent executive who actually told me that his resume wasn’t quite as it looked because he had spent time in a nonsecure prison abroad. So after I picked my jaw up off the ground, despite a strong interview, I knew he was no longer in the running.

What’s the biggest mistake health-care job seekers make?

I always say to people — and people don’t use it enough — use your instincts. Our industry is science driven, so people get very objective. They rationalize why they feel something or look at candidates or companies in a very clinical, objective manner. But if it doesn’t feel right, then it’s probably not the right move. If they feel that the person they are going to work for or the organization doesn’t quite feel right at the early interview stage, then I guarantee it won’t be one year in.


What’s your personal philosophy?

If you don’t enjoy it, if you’re not having fun, don’t do it.

About the author

Danielle Sacks is an award-winning journalist and a former senior writer at Fast Company magazine. She's chronicled some of the most provocative people in business, with seven cover stories that included profiles on J.Crew's Jenna Lyons, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chelsea Clinton