Managing Your Practice

Hiring the Right Employees


As I write this, the government’s "new jobs" figures are at last turning a bit optimistic. This is consistent with the growing number of questions I’m receiving on a subject that hasn’t come up for awhile: hiring new employees. So although we probably haven’t seen the end of the Great Recession just yet, now might be a good time to review the basic rules in preparation for getting your office back to full speed.

Many of the personnel questions I receive concern the dreaded "marginal employee": the person who has done neither anything heinous enough to merit firing, nor anything special to merit continued employment. I always advise getting rid of such people, and then changing the hiring criteria that all too often result in poor hires.

Most bad hires come about because the employer does not have a clear vision of the kind of employee he or she wants. Many office manuals do not contain detailed job descriptions. If you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, your entire selection process will be inadequate, from your initial screening of applicants through your assessments of their skills and personalities. Many physicians compound the problem with poor interview techniques and inadequate checking of references.

So now – before a job vacancy occurs – is the time to reevaluate your entire hiring process. Take a hard look at your job descriptions, or start compiling them if you don’t have any. A good description lists the major responsibilities of the position, with the relative importance of each duty and the critical knowledge, skills, and education levels necessary for each function. In other words, it describes (accurately and in detail) exactly what you expect from the employee you will hire to perform that job.

Once you have a clear job description in mind (and in print), take all the time you need to find the best possible match. This is not a place to cut corners. Screen your candidates carefully, and avoid lowering your expectations. This is the point at which it might be tempting to settle for a marginal candidate, just to get the process over with.

It is also sometimes tempting to hire the candidate that you have the "best feeling" about, even though he or she is a poor match for the job, and then try to mold the job to that person. Every doctor knows that hunches are no substitute for hard data.

Be alert for red flags in resumes: significant time gaps between jobs; positions at companies that are no longer in business, or are otherwise impossible to verify; job titles that don’t make sense, given the applicant’s qualifications.

Background checks are a dicey subject, but publicly available information can be found, cheaply or free, on multiple websites created for that purpose. Be sure to tell applicants that you will be verifying facts in their resumes; it’s usually wise to get their written consent to do so.

Many employers skip the essential step of calling references; many applicants know that. Some old bosses will be reluctant to tell you anything substantive; I always ask, "Would you hire this person again?" You can interpret a lot from the answer – or lack of.

Interviews often get short shrift as well. Many doctors tend to do all the talking; as I’ve observed numerous times, listening is not our strong suit, as a general rule. The purpose of an interview is to allow you to size up the prospective employee, not to deliver a lecture on the sterling attributes of your office. Important interview topics include educational background, skills, experience, and unrelated job history.

By law, you cannot ask an applicant’s age, date of birth, gender, creed, color, religion, or national origin. Other forbidden subjects include disabilities, marital status, military record, number of children (or who cares for them), addiction history, citizenship, criminal record, psychiatric history, absenteeism, or workers’ compensation.

But there are acceptable alternatives to some of those questions: You can ask if an applicant has ever gone by another name (for your background check), for example. You can ask if he or she is legally authorized to work in this country, and whether he or she will be physically able to perform the duties specified in the job description. Although past addictions are off limits, you do have a right to know about current addictions to illegal substances.

Once you have hired people whose skills and personalities best fit your needs, train them well, and then give them the opportunity to succeed. "The best executive," wrote Theodore Roosevelt, "is the one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he [or she] wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it."


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