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Face to Face

This article accompanies Pulling Together.

Thursday, October 6, 2016
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Foundation Medicine is on the cutting edge of cancer research, sequencing the genes of tumor samples to find mutations to determine which cancer treatments will work best for a particular patient. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company, funded in part by Google Ventures and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has also created a "liquid biopsy test" for detecting cancers that's designed to be a less-risky alternative to tissue-sample biopsies, which can cause complications for patients.

"We are the only ones who do what we do to the extent that we do," says Wendy Durkin, Foundation Medicine's senior director of talent acquisition.

Yet despite its high-tech aura, the 470-employee company has found that old-fashioned meetups are one of the most effective ways to convey its employer brand to candidates who might not otherwise consider working there.

Unlike most other biotech firms, Foundation Medicine -- which describes its culture as "passionate and driven" -- employs a significant number of software engineers and other IT specialists within its organization to help it collect and analyze terabytes of data.

"If we want to capture that audience, we have to do something different, because Foundation Medicine is not going to be the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to careers in software," says Durkin.  

The company held a mixer this spring at its headquarters for techies. The event featured a happy hour with drinks and snacks, a presentation by the company's CIO in which he discussed how cancer had affected his life personally and why he joined the cause, lab tours and breakout seminars on topics such as bio-informatics. The company created a Twitter hashtag, #ourcodecrushescancer, to help promote the event, along with an online "splash page" for people to register to attend. 

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The idea sprang from a similar event the company held last year for the entire organization that attracted more than 300 attendees despite being held during a snowstorm, says Durkin. "The response to that event was overwhelming; we had employees wanting to do it again."

The opportunity to showcase Foundation Medicine's employees is key, she says.

"People here light up when they talk about their jobs, the environment here -- you just can't fake that." 

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