Blog Post

How to Hire (and Keep) the Best Front Office Staff in 7 Steps

Having the right people in place up front is just as important as hiring the right therapists in your practice. Here's how to find (and keep) the best front office staff.

Erica McDermott
5 min read
January 2, 2020
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Whether you’re hiring the first member of your PT front office staff or the twenty-first, you want the best. After all, your front desk personnel will be responsible for making a great first impression to new patients, keeping your schedule filled, and starting the billing cycle on the right foot. That’s huge. Good thing you know exactly what to do to entice top talent—well, you will after reading this post, that is. Go on. What are you waiting for?

1. Know what you want.

With the right on-the-job training, plenty of folks would be able to perform basic front office responsibilities. But, do you really want to settle for basic? An excellent front office employee can help set the tone for excellence across your entire organization, and many of the qualities exhibited by such candidates aren’t necessarily teachable. These include:

  • a natural affinity for billing (after all, “billing starts in the front-office”);
  • the ability to masterfully collect patient payments and copays (look for a people-person who stays calm and carries on through even the most challenging conversations);
  • multitasking talents (busy front offices have a lot going on—you want someone who can make the job look easy even though it’s not);
  • an understanding of your clinic’s software (while this can be learned on the job, someone who’s already familiar with your PT software will be up and running in less time); and
  • confidence (you want someone who can handle the stresses of the job and then some).

2. Ensure your company culture is on point.

Before you bring a new staff member into the mix, you’ve got to be sure your company culture is on point—for you and your new employee. That’s because a solid cultural foundation is crucial for fostering engagement and focusing everyone on a unified vision—whether that vision is helping baby boomers experience less pain, getting athletes back onto the field faster, or anything in between. In other words, great company culture is, well, great for everyone—including your patients. It’s even great for your bottom line. Plus, once you have a clear understanding of your clinic’s culture, you’ll know exactly how to determine if a potential candidate is a good culture fit. As WebPT President Heidi Jannenga says, “You can teach skills, but I don’t believe you can teach someone how to be a good person. Good culture is simply a byproduct of hiring good people. It’s a simple concept, yet one that’s all too often overlooked.”

3. Spice up your job descriptions.

A generic job description will not only be a bore to read, but it also won’t do you a lick of good when it comes to pre-screening candidates. Now, I’m not suggesting you sacrifice clarity for, well, anything—but there is a way to infuse your job descriptions with that special something that sets your office apart (like WebPT does with its descriptions). This enables you to communicate your clinic’s heart, personality, and culture from the get-go, thereby filtering out candidates who aren’t interested in your work environment before they even arrive for an interview. According to HR consulting company Insperity, “Your culture can set the tone of your messaging to prospective employees, and that should be your goal for your advertised job openings. This involves letting your company’s personality come through in your descriptions…With a clear and precise job description, you can eliminate any confusion about what’s expected of the applicant right off the bat.”

4. Be totally upfront about who you’re looking for.

Communication is the key to any lasting relationship, and your potential relationship with a new applicant is no exception. And when you kick off that relationship from a place of honesty and transparency, it’ll set the tone for years to come should you decide to make the hire. So, in your job description and during the interview, be super honest about:

  • the kind of front office rockstar you want on your team,
  • the day-to-day expectations for the role,
  • career growth potential, and
  • how you plan on measuring performance.

That last piece is especially important according to Brian Gallagher, PT, owner and CEO of MEG Business Management. As he explains in this blog post, unless you want front office staff who show up simply to get paid for eight hours of work, “Make sure that from day one they know and understand what they will be measured on so that there is no question about it later on.” During his Ascend 2019 presentation on hiring front office staff, Gallagher explained that any front office employee should be:

  • an excellent communicator,
  • competent with computer-based scheduling systems, and
  • a persistent collector.

5. Master the art of the interview.

Interviews are perhaps the most crucial component of the hiring process. Without them, you’re essentially hiring a résumé. Here’s how to make the most out of your interviews with prospective employees:

Want some more sample questions? Here are 29 additional interview questions to consider (adapted from this source, this one, this one, and our own interviewing and hiring experience):

  1. Why did you decide to become a front office [manager/coordinator/associate]? What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of the job?
  2. Why are you interested in joining our company? What makes you an especially good fit for our team?
  3. How do you handle stress?
  4. What’s the best thing you’ve ever learned on the job?
  5. How do you stay organized?
  6. If I asked one of your colleagues to describe you in three adjectives, what would he or she say?
  7. What are you reading right now?
  8. What was the best thing a previous manager did that you wish everyone did?
  9. What is the last gift you gave someone?
  10. What can your hobbies tell me that your résumé can’t?
  11. Tell me about a time when you provided service that went beyond what was expected of you.
  12. How do you stay up-to-date on HIPAA rules and regulations?
  13. How do you feel about patient collections?
  14. If a patient refused to pay his or her copay, how would you handle the situation?
  15. What has been your most challenging collection situation to date, and why? What did you learn from it?
  16. Describe your ideal work day.
  17. What are your strengths? In which areas do you hope to grow in the next year?
  18. What does efficient scheduling mean to you?
  19. What strategies do you use to ensure patients show up for their appointments?
  20. How would you handle a situation with an angry patient? What about an angry therapist?
  21. How do you ensure you’re making a great first impression?
  22. Tell me about a time you—or your clinic—implemented a suggestion of yours to make a situation better.
  23. What are your career goals? What are three steps you’ve taken this year to help you achieve them?
  24. What motivates you?
  25. Have you ever received a request from a supervisor that you didn’t agree with? If so, how did you handle it?
  26. What was your favorite—and least favorite—aspect of your previous (or current) job?
  27. What experience do you have working with an EMR? Which EMRs are you familiar with?
  28. What three factors are crucial within a clinic and must be present for you to work most effectively?
  29. What certifications—if any—do you currently hold?

6. Make an offer they can’t refuse.

When you’re ready to make an offer, be sure it’s commensurate with the value you know the person you’re hiring is going to bring to your clinic—and that it won’t blow your budget. This means you must:

  1. do your research to understand market value in your area (you can start by using this resource and this one);
  2. consider benefits other than salary (e.g., health, dental, vision, life, and disability insurance; continuing education stipends; professional membership dues; fitness perks, and commuter benefits); and
  3. leave room for negotiation.

Jannenga used the fair market value—and benefits package—information for all the roles in her clinic to calculate a salary range for each. Then, based on what she knew about a particular candidate from his or her interview, she identified where within that position’s range the candidate should land. And she always left room for negotiation, because the best candidates typically make a counteroffer. “I like to screen first for the basics,” Jannenga says. For a PT front office staff member, that would include things like education and work history. She then factors in the less tangible stuff: “How do they think? How do they go about solving problems? How well do they communicate? How well do they mesh with the current team? And how well does the team accept them?” While Jannenga considers all possible factors when making her decision, she puts culture fit first.


7. Invest in the staff you hire.

Once you’ve found—and hired—that front office employee of your dreams, you want to hang on to him or her, which means you’ve got to keep that employee happy. And for employees, happiness doesn’t necessarily equate to a bigger paycheck. As Gallagher explains, “invest in yourself and your team to ensure you can train at the best of your ability. This will allow your staff to upskill to their full potential—which means you’re more likely to get the results you expect.” Investment takes a lot of forms, but specifically, consider the following:

  • continuing education opportunities (whether that be hosting team lunch and learns or offering tuition reimbursement);
  • team-building activities;
  • employee appreciation events; and
  • competitive (and unique) employee benefits.

There you have it: everything you need to know to hire the best PT front office staff. Looking for even more hiring strategies? Check out this article on hiring the right people in your practice. And of course, we’d love to learn more about our readers’ own hiring best practices. Tell us what’s worked—and what hasn’t—in the comment section below!

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