Keys To Hiring Great Office Staff

Author(s): 
Danielle Chicano, Editorial Associate

In a busy podiatric practice, a lot is riding on finding staff who are the best fit with the doctor, patients and fellow staff. Accordingly, this author gets insights from podiatrists and a practice management consultant on successful hiring techniques, including what to ask and what to avoid in interviews, and recognizing red flags in potential employees.

Finding the best employees for your practice often begins with interviewing the right candidates. The hiring process, although at times lengthy and daunting, is the key to finding an employee who will be a great fit for you and your office. Knowing what type of employee your office needs and knowing how to find that potential employee among a sea of candidates is critical to any successful practice.

   Jenny Sanders, DPM, and Lynn Homisak, PRT, stress the importance of an efficient hiring process not only to find the best candidate but also to avoid the discomfort of having to fire an inadequate employee down the road.

   “If doctors — employers in general — learned to pay more attention to who they hire, they’d worry less about how to fire,” explains Ms. Homisak, the President of SOS Healthcare Management Solutions.

   Dr. Sanders admits that her hiring process is rather “rigorous.” She explains that her office has implemented a step-by-step process for finding and evaluating the best candidates. Taking the extra time and steps to evaluate and hire the right people will save time and money down the road, adds Dr. Sanders, who is in private practice in San Francisco.

   Dr. Sanders’ first step involves conveying what she is looking for in a potential candidate through an online employment advertisement. She notes that this initial step can work as a way to weed out incompatible applicants right away.

   “In the ad, applicants are asked to forward a cover letter and resume and I use this as the first-line screening tool to determine whether or not a candidate can follow instructions,” explains Dr. Sanders. “If a candidate is unable to provide me with what I ask for initially, then it is doubtful they will be able to do so if hired for the position.”

   Then Dr. Sanders will schedule a phone interview for qualified applicants followed by a possible first and second face-to-face interview should they prove to be viable candidates.

The Interview: Getting To Know Your Potential Employee

The interview is important in finding out if the potential hire will fit well in your office and among your current employees, notes Ms. Homisak.

   Ms. Homisak explains that her interview questions help offer insights into the candidate’s personality and help determine if he or she is a “good cultural fit” for her office. She hopes to establish if the candidate has goals that will contribute to the practice and if he or she gets along with current staff members. An interviewee’s responses and how he or she conducts him- or herself in the interview can help highlight certain desirable or undesirable character traits, notes Ms. Homisak.

   A good attitude is the most important trait that Patrick DeHeer, DPM, FACFAS, looks for in a potential employee. He notes that he “specifically looks for someone who understands customer service and cooperation.” One should avoid traits such as inflexibility, unwillingness to learn and lack of customer service expertise, explains Dr. DeHeer, who is in private practice in Indianapolis.

   Bruce Werber, DPM, FACFAS, adds sloppiness and poor communication skills to the list of unfavorable qualities. He looks for honesty, reliability, an empathetic personality and detail-oriented applicants. These are important values to keep in mind when interviewing a candidate, explains Dr. Werber, who is in private practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

   In addition to the formal interview process, Ms. Homsiak recommends evaluating candidates “when they are out of the spotlight” in an informal setting. In most cases, candidates try to hide any unfavorable qualities and arrive at the interview prepared to give all of the right answers, explains Ms. Homisak.

   Taking candidates out of the interview setting “catches them off guard” and to that end, Ms. Homisak suggests taking potential employees out to lunch and observing them in a more relaxed environment.

   “Pay attention to how they are treating service people and their impromptu reactions,” notes Ms. Homisak. “Do they smile a lot? Do they ask for things politely and look at people when they speak to them? The body language and behavior always trump their premeditated words.”

   Dr. Sanders also schedules informal interview lunches for potential employees in the final stages of the hiring process.During both the formal and informal interview, Dr. Sanders screens for candidates with enthusiasm, inquisitiveness, a positive outlook and a willingness to go above and beyond normal duties.

Why Your Current Staff Should Get A Say In Hiring

It is important to decide whether your current staff will have a place in the hiring process and how you will implement this. As these experts note, incorporating the staff in the interview process and taking their opinions into consideration is significant to foster an efficient office environment.

   Dr. Sanders says her entire staff will attend the informal lunch to determine whether the candidate is a good match.

   “I feel strongly that if I am going to have an existing employee train and/or work closely with a new employee, then he or she should have a say in the hiring process as well,” explains Dr. Sanders, who requires her staff to “sign off on a potential hire” before choosing the candidate.

   Dr. Werber agrees that incorporating your staff is an important step when hiring any new employee. He has implemented a “trial hire” period in order to observe how the applicant will work in the office and with other members of his staff.

   “In the last two years, I have had every one (of my staff members) participate in the interview and then we have a trial hire of the final two candidates, each working two to three hours,” explains Dr. Werber. “We do not put them on payroll. We pay them a nominal $12 per hour for their time.”

   Ms. Homisak warns against hiring anyone that the staff has not met. The other members of your staff also will need to work with the new employee so you should consider their opinions as well, notes Ms. Homisak.

   “Once the applicants have been narrowed down to the best one or two candidates, have the staff sit with them in the office or over lunch to get to meet each one,” says Ms. Homisak. “Based on their feedback, either hire or don’t hire.”

What You Can And Cannot Ask The Candidate

While conducting an interview, it is important to know not only what you should ask but also what you are permitted to ask from a legal standpoint. Although the questions you ask during the interview can give you insight into a person’s work ethic and personality, Dr. DeHeer notes it is important to avoid personal questions.

   Employers should avoid any direct questions regarding age, race, national origin, gender, religion, marital status and sexual orientation, explains Dr. Sanders. She will ask job-related questions to determine “how a candidate would respond to a given situation in addition to confirming that the skills and experience listed on their resume accurately reflect their capabilities.”

   Dr. Werber will also ask his candidates job-specific questions that avoid any political and personal areas. He says questions that do not require a simple yes or no answer will allow your candidate to form more objective and thoughtful responses. For example, Dr. Werber might ask the following questions.

• Where do you see yourself in five years?
• Tell me about your best boss. Tell me about your worst boss.
• What happens when you are criticized?
• What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
• What would be the worst job you can imagine? What would be your best job?
• Tell me about sterile technique.

   Although Ms. Homisak warns that there are certain questions that are off-limits when interviewing a candidate, you may obtain some information if you word it correctly.

   For instance, it is not legal to ask a person’s age, citizenship or marital status. However, you may ask if the candidate is over the age of 18, if he or she is authorized to work in the United States and if he or she is willing to travel, relocate and/or work overtime.

   In Ms. Homisak’s experience, by having an open conversation, one can often learn personal information about the candidate without asking directly. “More often than not, they have willingly offered information on their own,” she explains.

   Ms. Homisak notes that she looks for certain cues in an applicant’s responses that may offer additional insight. She suggests looking for answers that reflect good communication and problem-solving skills, honest reactions to situational questions, a candidate’s impression of his or her strengths and weaknesses, and his or her definition of success.

   “I am skeptical of someone who tells me they can multitask. I would expect that details are often overlooked and too many mistakes are being made with potential sloppy and harried work,” adds Ms. Homisak.

Identifying Red Flags In Interviews

One important red flag to look out for is a candidate’s previous job history and time on the job, explains Dr. Sanders. She also says one should pay attention to how a person speaks about his or her previous jobs. If they complain about prior positions and co-workers, they will most likely complain about their position at her office, notes Dr. Sanders.

   “Even if a candidate has the right skills/experience, if they haven’t held a job for more than a year, I’m likely to pass,” says Dr. Sanders. “I also listen carefully to how they describe management and co-workers at prior places of employment.”

   Ms. Homisak advises employers to look specifically at an applicant’s resume and application for apparent red flags:

• Look at the number of jobs the applicant has on his or her resume and if there are any gaps in work history.
• Look for spelling and grammatical errors.
• Does their educational background match the job requirements and is it relevant?
• Are they able to answer questions properly on the applicant quiz?

   Dr. Werber agrees that during his interviews, frequent job changes are a primary red flag. He explains that frequent relocations without good reason also might prompt him to shy away from a candidate.

   In his experience, listening and observational skills are helpful in picking up on these red flags. He suggests paying attention to how they dress, how they present themselves on the phone, when they show up for an interview and how they interact during the interview. According to Dr. Werber, someone who is constantly fidgeting and has poor eye contact might not be the best candidate.

Navigating The Compensation Conversation

How do you address compensation during an interview? These experts say being upfront and open with candidates is often the best way to approach the subject.

   Dr. Sanders will clearly state compensation and benefits even before the face-to-face interview and will reiterate the salary during the interview to avoid any misunderstandings.

   Ask the applicant what salary range he or she is looking for and explain the range you are offering along with any bonuses that may be available, says Dr. DeHeer.

   Ms. Homisak agrees that you may ask candidates what their expectations are in order to learn if you both have the same general figure in mind. She advises employers to ensure they have a well-defined job description and not just a list of duties. Assign a “base wage” to the description and explain to the candidate what the job pays, she notes.

   Ms. Homisak says she likes to start potential employees on the “lower side of fair” until they prove their professionalism, proficiency and enthusiasm.

   If the applicant gets the job, you might want to employ a trial period both to review the new hire and provide an opportunity for a salary increase. Ms. Homisak incorporates a three- to six-month review period with new employees. She suggests giving an immediate wage increase if the new hire has made significant progress and has easily adapted to the practice’s expectations after the review period.

   “I would also mention to them that performance reviews take place annually and that future wage increases are not to be expected solely on longevity but on their performance and productivity,” adds Ms. Homisak.

References, Recommendations And Background Checks: Do They Matter?

How important are references, recommendations and background checks to the hiring process?

   “Very,” says Dr. Sanders. “A candidate is not hired without a background check, credit check and reference check.”

   These experts agree that references and recommendations can be useful resources provided that previous employers and references give you honest responses. More often than not, candidates will choose people who are going to provide you with positive responses, notes Ms. Homisak. She advises employers to read recommendations with a “grain of salt.”

   “I usually follow up with previous employer reference leads. Even though they typically yield very limited details, their silence says a lot too,” adds Ms. Homisak.

   She and Dr. Werber emphasize the importance of background checks as a safety precaution before hiring. Dr. Werber explains that in this line of work, certain criminal involvement could be detrimental.

   “Background checks are important to ensure no criminal past or involvement with recreational drugs,” notes Dr. Werber. “(I am) most concerned with stealing of prescription drugs or calling in prescriptions without my knowledge.”

   Although he emphasizes the importance of background checks, Dr. Werber notes that references are usually a waste of time. He explains that his office does follow up with references but notes references very rarely provide honest opinions about the candidate.

In Conclusion

As these experts note, it is vital to know not only what you are looking for but also what you should avoid in a potential employee. Taking the necessary time and energy to evaluate and interview candidates, recognize red flags and follow up with references can help you find employees who will benefit you, your staff and the future of your practice.

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