Biotechnology firms cherish their scientists -- molecular biologists, immunologists, biochemists, microbiologists, synthetic organic chemists. These researchers spend their days cloning and sequencing DNA, altering genes to create engineered proteins, developing diagnostics and therapeutics, and conducting other investigations that constitute the bread and butter of the industry.

To many observers, it may seem ironic that the industry's human resources professionals the people who seek out these scientists and place them in their high-level positions-generally do not come from scientific backgrounds. In fact, their scientific naivete is often an asset to choosing the right hire.

Wendy Reitherman, employment manager at Genentech Inc., based in South San Francisco, Calif., says that the nonscientific perspective offered by a recruiter often makes the difference between a good hiring decision and a bad one. "The hiring manager [the manager of the department in which the job is to be filled] is going to be focusing much...

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