Six Steps to Hiring Great Medical Practice Staff

April 2, 2014

Investing time and attention in the medical practice staff hiring process reduces costs and boosts staff retention.

In a medical office that is already busy, an empty staff position can be a real problem. Days that were already full and often hectic are even more so. Patients are complaining. The instinctive response is to fill the slot ASAP. Resist the impulse! Any short-term relief will almost inevitably produce long-term aggravation and higher employment costs.

The data varies widely, but it is generally agreed that filling a staff position costs more than the associated annual salary. Most of these costs are "soft costs" that have a real impact on productivity and operating costs but do not require the practice to write a check to cover them. They include:
• Lost productivity and increased overtime while the position is vacant.
• Time associated with interviewing candidates.
• Even more lost productivity and increased overtime while the new hire is learning the ropes.

The biggest soft cost, however, is making a hiring mistake. It adds the angst of being dissatisfied with the new person, having to figure out how to get rid of him, and getting to repeat the selection and hiring process from scratch. One mistake increases the cost of filling the initial position to three times to five times the annual salary, or more.

Hiring carefully is worth the investment. Here are six steps to significantly reduce hiring costs:

Step 1: Define your requirements
Experience and credentials are important, but they are the easy part of describing requirements. The more difficult requirements are the ones not apparent in a resume or transcript. They include:
• Personality. For instance, should the individual be cheerful? Optimistic? High-energy? Empathetic? Independent?
• Work ethic. Do you want a self-starter? Team player? Leader? Someone who is detail oriented?
• Appearance and manner. Should the individual speak up? Look people in the eye? Be poised? Youthful? Mature?

Step 2: Describe the ideal candidate
It will be useful to flesh out the attributes by actually describing your ideal candidate and how she would respond in two to three hypothetical situations. (You can use these hypotheticals in the eventual interviews.)

I also recommend describing the ideal candidate from the candidate's point of view. To whom would the job be most appealing? To whom might the appeal be short lived? Your best source of this information is your impression of staff, current and past. What type of person at what age and stage has performed well, been happy, and stayed a long time? What are the attributes of people who have not worked out well?

The object of the exercise is to have something definite against which to measure candidates. It is unlikely that you will find an ideal candidate, but you will get much closer if you know what you want and hold out for a reasonably good fit.

Step 3: Make adjustments
You may discover that the highly professional, well-turned out, mature person you would really like to hire has no interest in the duties of the job and finds the compensation inadequate. A long-term solution requires adjustments to your requirements, the job, or both.

Think about more than adjustments in monetary compensation. More flexible hours, the opportunity to learn, educational benefits, a pleasant work place, and discounts on care and services are all examples of perks that have real value to candidates, without necessarily increasing costs. Once you know the attributes of the ideal candidate, it becomes relatively easy to tailor the job to attract him.

Step 4: Establish a process that weeds out candidates for you
Before anyone looks at candidate submissions, have someone respond to every one with a request for some action on the part of the candidate. The action should be related to the position so that the request maintains your credibility, but the task itself is unimportant.

The objective is to let casual candidates self-select out of the process. If you still have too many candidates to seriously consider, assign another task. About 90 percent of the pool will drop out with each request.

Step 5: Verify selected resume and application information
If something on a resume or application is important to you, independently verify the assertions. Otherwise, ignore the contents of those documents.

Step 6: Give new hires an easy way to quit after a short trial period
It is not at all unusual for a new hire to discover she has made a mistake. The sooner she can admit it and move on, the less you will have lost in integrating her into the practice.

A bonus is that your second choice may still be available and willing.

Hiring is a necessary evil. Investing time and attention in the process so that your hires are smart ones reduces the costs substantially.