June 2000 Bulletin

Hiring the best takes skill

Experts use ads, staff referrals, placement centers

By Sandra Lee Breisch

If you’re in the hiring seat, attracting and retaining quality personnel can be challenging, especially at a time when unemployment is at a 30-year low.

"In the past, we’ve had a difficult time finding entry level employees who are mature, stable and able to provide good customer service for our 23-member orthopaedic practice," says Gregory E. Spurlock, executive director of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in California. He is also secretary for BONES, the national organization of orthopaedic practice administrators.

But with key recruiting techniques in place, Spurlock is bringing in more customer-focussed applicants for the front desk, billing and medical records and transcription staff. He also uses similar techniques to fill positions for nurses, X-ray technicians and casting technicians.

The hiring process begins with a classified ad in the local newspaper. He posts more advanced technical positions on the Internet. Although employment agencies or recruiters are also a viable recruiting option, he says they can be costly.

"In the ad, I try to be as specific as possible and screen resumes to see if they have the fundamental job requirements," explains Spurlock. " If the resumes have misspellings and/or typos, they go right into the trash and hand-written resumes don’t get my attention because the applicant probably doesn’t have computer skills."

What will bring you the "poorest return" of candidates?

"A blind ad," points out Judy Capko, executive vice president of The Sage Group, Inc., a national healthcare consulting firm that recruits for physicians. "If you’ve sufficient time to hire someone, the Web is a good place to advertise," Capko says. "But if you’re expanding rapidly and need to get that position filled rapidly, the Web is not going to be your best source—the classified section in the newspaper is."

The "grapevine" or "word-of-mouth" is also a good way to find someone—if you’re not in a rush to do so, notes Capko. "Offer an incentive program or a bonus to staff if they identify people who get hired," she suggests. "Physicians can also recruit by asking hospital staffers if they know any family or friends who work in the medical field and who want a job."

Recruiting top-notch medical personnel such as nurses, physical therapists, X-ray staff, casting technicians is tough in this competitive marketplace, says Deborah Walker, principle, Boehm/ Walker Associates in California. "In your ad, you need to identify specific traits, skills, knowledge, abilities, certification, problem-solving abilities, salary, benefits and other pertinent information," she says. "Target skilled professionals via a university’s placement center, have a representative from your practice network attend professional meetings such as the local nurse’s meeting or physical therapy association meeting. Have an open house or help sponsor a sporting event and set up a tent there to recruit and market your practice."

To make your practice more attractive to job searchers, Walker suggests, "Somehow differentiate your practice from others such as having a culture that is more team-oriented, involved in research, that you offer flex time, signing-on bonuses, autonomy and the ability to interface with other well-known professionals."

Prior to bringing applicants in for an interview, Capko conducts a Telephone In-Take employment recruitment form that asks for general information on the applicant, specific typing skills and experience such as supervisory, hiring, firing, accounting, collections or taxes, pension skills and any licensure or certificates the applicant might’ve earned.

Telephone impressions go a long way in determining the candidate’s diction, flexibility, attitude, professionalism and enthusiasm. "This allows me to hear their diction, how quick their responses are, if they’re inflexible with appointments, if there’s an edge in their voice—this is important," says Capko. "Then, I can summarize whether or not their skill level and personality are a good fit."

In this day and age, hiring applicants with strong computer skills is key, but many fall short, notes Spurlock. Advertising for an applicant who has language skills is also important if your practice’s patients are culturally diverse.

If the prescreening process goes well, Spurlock will bring selected candidates in. Front office staff will have to take a typing test and those whose job descriptions require math skills will have to pass an aptitude test, says Spurlock.

The power of the interview will usually reveal any of the candidates’ weaknesses or personality quirks, says Spurlock. "It’s important in the interview process that two people interview the candidate separately and the interviewer not talk too much and ask open-ended questions," he says. "Always have the person tell the interviewer about his or her work experience before you tell him or her about the position. If you sit and give the applicant all the details of what you’re looking for, they’ve suddenly got all of these skills and will tailor their experience to that job description."

Spurlock likes to conduct a "thorough employment investigation." He has applicants sign a release statement that authorizes the practice to do background checks.

Use your own instinct when hiring a candidate. "When you interview somebody, your gut feeling [about him or her] is important," says Spurlock.

Make them feel a part of the team by discussing how your team works together toward a common goal. "That goal is to serve your patients the best way you possibly can and to ensure you do everything to help your physicians be as efficient and productive as possible," says Capko.

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