In recruitment, companies often advertise first and search second, the latter only in the instance that advertising fails. At Adamson & Partners, it is always interesting to conduct searches in these conditions, because we quickly learn why adverts fail. The reasons might surprise people.

It is tempting to think that the main problem is publicity: if more candidates saw adverts, applications would ensue. But in reality this is rarely the case. Most of the candidates that we target do see adverts. Often they are unsure whether their skills are truly sought and their candidacy would be competitive – something we are well-positioned to establish and advise on. More commonly, candidates read adverts and conclude the work sounds too similar. They see no reason to consider a career change.

In fairness to advert writers, this is not their fault. The problem is the nature of adverts themselves. Capturing in writing the nuances of opportunities is extremely challenging. It is why we only offer advertising on our site as a supplementary service free of charge for our clients. We know that it will rarely suffice as a recruitment strategy. To attract talent, there remains no substitute for inviting candidates to engage with us in conversation. Only then can we truly articulate opportunities and establish what drives people. Only then, if it is appropriate, can we convince people to reconsider adverts they instinctively dismissed.

We don’t believe, however, that these conversations solely benefit our clients. We also believe candidates understandably struggle to evaluate opportunities beyond the basic metrics of job titles and salary increases. When adverts make opportunities sound similar, how do you assess whether career progression is truly on offer? As search professionals, we believe we can paint a detailed picture and provide a framework for answering this question.

The right framework for assessing opportunities in industry differs, of course, from the right framework for assessing opportunities in law firms and private practices. In this article, we only want to propose a framework for the former. In our experience, the following seven factors are crucial to consider.

Strategy

Almost all companies expect patent attorneys to draft and prosecute patents, but whether a sophisticated strategy exists to decide what IP to file, and the extent to which you can shape that strategy, varies greatly. In some companies IP is fully integrated with broader commercial aims and your task is to synthesise information gathered from a variety of stakeholders across sales, marketing and regulatory. Meanwhile, some companies still expect IP departments to simply follow and track inventors, or to file in jurisdictions regardless of market realities. Whether you build strategic skills depends on whether IP strategy is interconnected and appropriately flexible.

Comprehension

Relatedly, to what extent does the company understand IP? Do senior executives already see its value, or is the company still on a learning curve and in need of an IP department to build and defend its turf? Different political climates here bring different challenges and attorneys will vary in which environments they find rewarding. Some may find cultural transformation projects fulfilling and relish the chance to lobby for and communicate the value of IP. But if you prefer the traditional work of a patent attorney, an established department with a leader who can shield you from budgetary pressures will likely suit you more appropriately.

Colleagues

Some attorneys are happy as “lone wolves” in smaller companies. Others, particularly early on in their careers, seek colleagues that they can collaborate with, to learn from and grow intellectually. Look at the career histories of the attorneys you would be working with. How robust was their training? Have they experienced work in companies that have faced challenging IP issues in the past? Do they have the time and desire to mentor you accordingly?

Workload

If a department is too lean and use of outside counsel insufficient, time that should be spent counselling the company can easily be eaten up by patent drafting and other core substantive duties. Equally, if a department is bloated, you could end up managing a low volume of patents and lose the chance to build crucial time-management skills, to the detriment of yourself and the concern of future employers. Be sure to think through if the balance is realistic and enough time can be effectively allocated to all aspects of a patent attorney’s role.

Technology Trends

Another important consideration is whether an opportunity will allow you to focus on a market and technology area where you can expect growing demand for your skills in the future. Some uncertainty here is inevitable, but you can still make calculated predictions. If you are a patent attorney in Europe with software skills, for instance, note how the continent’s economy remains highly focused on manufacturing and many companies are investing in Industry 4.0. Developing knowledge of digitalisation topics is a safe bet for the future.

Contracts

A paradigm shift is underway, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, where research and development is outsourced through partnerships and larger companies become involved in commercialisation only in later development stages. As this becomes the norm, we see increasing demand for patent attorneys with expertise in contracts. If you can gain early experience in this area, do so. Patent attorneys who can work with lawyers on non-disclosure agreements, licensing deals and due diligence for potential acquisitions will only become more valuable in future years. Opportunities that already offer you the chance to develop these skills are precious.

Vision

Ultimately, the quality of your experience will greatly depend on the broader success of the company. Is innovation in the company’s DNA and crucial to future growth? Are new products likely which will need new patent portfolios? Are there credible market competitors which will offer interesting IP enforcement challenges? Have the company’s investors shown patience with R&D in the past? Alongside evaluating the particulars of opportunities, always give some thought to these wider questions too.

For every in-house opportunity in the patent profession that Adamson & Partners works on, if we approach you, we will help you to think about these aspects. In the meantime, we invite any patent attorneys contemplating their professional future to get in contact. We are always ready to connect and discuss your career goals.

For more information, please contact

Jacob Williamson

Associate Consultant