Finding the best folks to contribute to your team isn't an easy task. Here's how to figure out what, and ultimately who, you need.
Good news: Your efforts to recruit a new billing clerk produced three good candidates in as many weeks. One has the experience you seek, the other a brand-name degree, and the third stands out as the best cultural fit for your practice.
Bad news: Now you have to choose.
In today's plentiful labor market, where "wanted" ads produce a bumper crop of qualified applicants, ferreting out the folks who are best positioned to contribute to your team - and not jump ship the minute the economy improves - is a surprisingly difficult task. "I think it's harder when you have the pick of the litter," says Wendy Peterson, administrator of Women's Health Specialists in Yuma, Ariz., who is currently filling four "critical" positions on her staff. "We've had a lot of really good applicants for our bookkeeper position and it's going to be tough to narrow it down."
The wrong pick, of course, can be hazardous to your practice's health. Not only do bad apples create a toxic work environment, but they can also lead to costly turnover. "It's a lot of work to recruit effectively, but you're making a big investment," says Ken Hertz, a principal with MGMA Health Care Consulting Group. "Once you go through the process and bring an individual into your practice, you then begin training them and working with them which takes a lot of resources. And, if you have to say three months down the road, 'Boy did we mess this one up,' you've just wasted a lot of time, money, and energy."
Who do you need?
A solid recruiting strategy, of course, can help ensure you find the right person for the job. And according to Hertz, that begins with defining your ideal candidate even before you place an ad. "You have to be very clear about what it is that you're looking for," says Hertz. "You need great clarity about what position you're filling, what skill sets you require, and what kind of person will be a fit from a cultural standpoint." For example, a friendly, professional demeanor may be the top priority for your front-desk clerk.
The next step, adds Peterson, is to cast as wide a net as possible for qualified candidates using online job posting sites like Monster.com or healthecareers.com. She uses both, noting Monster.com allows you to add selective criteria, including questions such as "Will you pass a criminal or background test?" to weed out people who may not be qualified for certain positions. Be wary, too, she notes, about hiring candidates who are overqualified for the job - especially if there's little opportunity for promotion. They may get bored too quickly and move on to greener pastures.
For her part, Susan Carlin, administrator of Pulmonary Consultants & Primary Care Physicians Medical Group, a multispecialty group in Orange, Calif., also looks closely at employment history. "A different job every two years or so is OK, but I won't even interview a job hopper," she says. "If I see long gaps in their employment or I see that they've left their last few jobs after 6 months I feel that they're unstable."
The art of the interview
The process of narrowing the field will be infinitely more fruitful, says Hertz, if you develop five to 10 screening questions for an initial phone interview. "I might ask why they responded to the ad, what they have been most successful with, what they have been most proud of, and what their peers would say about them," he says. "It's not going to be my first question, but at some point in the conversation I'm also going to ask about salary requirements." Based on those responses, you can evaluate whether they made the cut to the next round of in-office interviews, he says, which should include more probing, open-ended questions. "One of the things that we frequently talk about with candidates is how they react to criticism," says Hertz. "I think it's important to understand how people deal with responsibility, accountability, and criticism. We suggest that managers ask situational questions or behavioral questions." For example: Tell me a time when you had to deal with a conflict in the office. What was it and how did you respond to it?
During the interview process, you should also consider bringing other staff members in, especially those who will be working with that candidate on a daily basis, says Peterson. In her office, all those who participate in the interviews are given an evaluation form that they use to rank the would-be new hire on everything from customer service skills to clinical competency. "We do it as a group so the supervisor and employees all get to ask questions and have buy-in, and they've actually pointed out things I didn't catch," she says, noting her staff dissuaded her from hiring one job candidate after calling that person's clinical competency into question. Hertz agrees, noting all involved in the interview process should be properly trained. "It's critical that everyone understands how we're going to do this, what we're looking for, what types of things we'd like them to listen for, and be given an opportunity to debrief and discuss the candidate afterwards," he says.
In some cases, a job candidate may have all the right answers, but sends the wrong signals. Trust your gut, says Carlin. Body language is often the best indicator of how well an applicant will mesh with your team. "I like to see someone who is relaxed, not crossing their arms or legs offensively, not wiggling their foot or can't sit still," she says. "I like people who can sit down and be comfortable just having a conversation with you." Lack of eye contact, poor posture, and a weak or aggressive handshake can also be suspect. Carlin notes that many of the patients her practice sees are elderly and ill, so she also listens for strong communication skills, including proper grammar (no slang). A professional appearance is just as important. "Dress for the job or don't come in," says Carlin. "They don't have to come in wearing scrubs, but if they do [those scrubs] better be clean and pressed."
It goes without saying, but Hertz, Carlin, and Peterson also agree that checking references is worth the effort - despite corporate policies that increasingly prevent employers from giving them. Asking questions like "Would you hire this person back?" may not elicit a direct response, but you're likely to at least get a hint from a candidate's former boss (in the form of a laugh or words of praise.)
No recruiting policy can ensure a 100 percent success rate, but a thoughtful process that defines who you're looking for and how to interview for best results can help to strengthen the caliber of candidates who walk through your door.
"There's no guarantee that you'll get a perfect fit, but if you have a vision and a mission you increase your odds of being successful," says Hertz. "Do your homework, check references, go through several levels of interviews, and work very closely with that individual once they're hired to train them."
Shelly K. Schwartz, a freelance writer in Maplewood, N.J., has covered personal finance, technology, and healthcare for more than 17 years. Her work has appeared on CNBC.com, CNNMoney.com, and Bankrate.com. She can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Physicians Practice.