Sometimes, the hunt for talent can feel akin to searching for a mythological creature. Other times, you’re forced to make a decision between two (or more) well-qualified candidates. And then there are the times you hire someone thinking they’re the right fit, only to have that relationship implode a few months down the line. Bringing the wrong people onboard can cause irreparable damage to a clinic’s morale. And when that happens, filling vacant positions will be the least of your concerns. To avoid this kind of crisis—and keep your practice continually moving upward and onward—you’ve got to stay patient. After all, when it comes to hiring, doing it right is definitely more important than doing it fast. With that in mind, here’s my take on how to fill your practice with the right people:

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Culture comes first.

First-time visitors to the WebPT office almost always comment on the unique atmosphere. The energy is palpable from the moment you walk through the front door, and that isn’t by coincidence. Our company culture developed organically, starting with our bootstrapped startup days. From our humble roots in the back of a coffee shop, we’ve grown WebPT into the strong, sustainable entity it is today. And while our culture has evolved with that growth, our core values have not changed. That is our legacy, and it’s something I’m incredibly proud of.

But culture isn’t just Nerf battles and office dogs—it’s people. Culture comes from within. It’s a feeling that you can’t fake or fabricate. And the individuals who spend their weekdays here at the office—working tirelessly for our Members—are the source of that feeling.

Why do I place such a high value on company culture? The answer is simple: you can’t build a strong house without a solid foundation, and the same principal applies to the people you bring onto your team. 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.

Creating a Strategy

So, how can you put this into practice in your office? I first recommend creating a multi-step interview process. This allows you to have many different experiences with a particular job candidate. After all, the first interview could be great—but the second interview might reveal a side of the candidate’s personality that you didn’t see before. This approach also gives introverted interviewees more of a chance to open up and come out of their shells.

Speaking of personality, I always like to throw in a few off-the-wall questions during the interview in order to break down the barriers of a person who comes in all buttoned-up. (I've had “What’s your spirit animal?” in the arsenal for a long time.) The objective here is to try and peel back the layers of the individual sitting on the other side of the table in order to get a glimpse of his or her authentic self. Then, I ask myself, am I comfortable with the thought of spending five days a week with this person? And more importantly, can we communicate effectively? In this regard, interviews aren’t just about the candidates’ skills—they’re about identifying and qualifying content of character. How does this person think? How does he or she approach problem solving? What drives him or her? What are his or her business philosophies? How does he or she perceive the world?

When I’m interviewing someone, I want our interactions to be as genuine as possible. I want to get to know the person behind the resume—and I want him or her to know me, too. For that reason, I’ve been incredibly selective about the recruiters I’ve chosen to work with over the years. In my experience, filtering potential candidates through a recruiting service means the recruiter is setting the initial expectations for a potential employee. And I would much rather set those expectations myself. Plus, some recruiters charge an exorbitant fee. That said, an effective recruiter can help you efficiently source candidates in a difficult market, which streamlines your hiring process. The bottom line: If you choose to work with a recruiting service, be sure you do your homework before you contract with one.

Weighing Wants vs. Needs

As you form your hiring strategy, I suggest focusing on not only the present needs of your clinic, but also what’s on the horizon. If your practice is in the exciting, fast-moving startup phase, you probably want to fill your ranks with highly-motivated, entrepreneurial personalities. Once you’ve established a firm foothold—and you’re possibly ready to expand—then you may want to think about introducing an additional specialty to widen the scope of your clinic’s services and increase your patient volume. Or, if your mission is to diversify your referral base, then hiring a clinician who brings his or her own book of business or receives patient referrals from different physician groups may be the ideal option. Keep in mind that the hire you want might not always align with who your clinic actually needs at any particular moment in time. Furthermore, remember that your hiring needs will evolve as your clinic continues to grow—which means your strategy will need to evolve, too.

Skills matter.

As I mentioned above, I don't recommend prioritizing resume over cultural fit. When you qualify a candidate based on a single piece of paper, you’re essentially following the “hire fast; fire slow” staffing methodology, and I definitely don’t ascribe to that philosophy. Don't fall into the trap of hiring a warm body with zero regard for the long-term vision of your practice. That’s not to say talent and skillset don’t matter—because they absolutely do. At the end of the day, it’s all about striking the right balance. To that end, here’s my advice for vetting the skills of any potential employee in a clinical setting:

Hiring Therapists

In any interview—regardless of the position in question—I try to ask experiential questions in order to get a feel for the interviewee’s problem-solving abilities. For potential therapist hires, I tailor these questions to specific clinical scenarios. For example, I might describe a hypothetical situation in which a new patient presents with a particular set of symptoms—and then ask the candidate to walk me through his or her evaluative process. Then, I’d throw in some wrenches (i.e., "patient begins to complain of chest pain," or “patient expresses concern for his or her lack of progress after three visits”) to see how the therapist would adjust his or her approach. While the situation is hypothetical, I don’t want the candidate’s response to be. I’m looking for concrete, relevant answers—preferably ones that come from actual experience. That way, I can get an in-depth look at how the potential hire solves problems, thinks on his or her feet, and reacts under pressure.

Hiring Front Office Staff

For front office staff, I place a heavy emphasis on customer service. An affable personality behind the front desk sets the right tone as new patients enter your clinic for the first time. Computer skills should definitely not be discounted, but at the end of day, it's all about first impressions. An example of an experiential question might be, "Let's say a patient doesn't understand his or her copay. How would you handle it?" Or, "A patient just called to cancel an appointment. How would you handle that?"

Customer-service wise, it's also important to know how to deal with unhappy patients. So, I might ask, "If you had an irate patient on the phone because he or she just received a bill for an appointment that happened months ago, how would you address the situation?" And, because understanding and communicating insurance benefits can be tricky, I also have potential front office hires demonstrate how they would explain a patient’s insurance coverage or walk through an EOB.

Diversity fosters growth.

It’s important not to confuse “culture-fit” with “someone who is just like me.” To make a truly effective team, you need many different ingredients. Challenge yourself to hire people whose stories are entirely different than your own—because that’s what cultivates cognitive diversity. Look for candidates who went to different schools and have different backgrounds. If everyone has same history and the same education, then you don't have a collaborative atmosphere that’s conducive to exploring different ideas, because you all learned the same things in the same way. If possible, expand your search outside of your geographic region—even if it takes longer.

Growth only happens when we get outside of our comfort zones, and this is especially true when it comes to building a team. To efficiently and effectively overcome a challenge, you need a group of people who share differing perspectives. That diversity is the seed from which authentic culture grows. And as long as you and your staff are united under the same shared vision, a broad range of experiences will yield optimal results.

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Collaboration is key.

If you’re the person who does the hiring for your practice, the burden of bringing the right person onboard ultimately falls on your shoulders. But remember, you’re building a team, not individual silos—and the most effective teams are highly collaborative. During my time as a clinic director, I conducted all initial interviews. But after a potential hire met with me, the assistant director and senior therapist interviewed the candidate together. Then, a mix of front office staff and staff therapists did a third interview. So in the end, everyone had a voice in the decision to hire or not hire the candidate. This goes back to the benefits of cognitive diversity among your staff. After all, you may step out of an interview with a potential candidate thinking he or she is definitely “the one.” But, during an interaction with someone else on your team, that candidate could reveal a facet of his or her personality that would otherwise remain hidden from you as that candidate’s potential boss.

To get the most out of a multi-layered interview process, you also have to get all of your current staff members on the same page and remain transparent. When a new position opens up, take a moment to discuss it during one of your staff meetings. Explain your goals and objectives for the new hire so everyone understands what you’re looking for during the interview process. That way, you can arrive at the best possible decision—together.

You should always be recruiting.

Regardless of the position I’m hiring for, I know I’m always looking for someone who is:

  • a great problem-solver,
  • confident in his or her skills and individuality, and
  • smart.

There’s never “one thing” that is the deciding factor—it’s always a culmination of traits, and I think those traits are applicable to any position in any industry.

Furthermore, those traits are visible outside of interview situations, which is why you should always be on the look-out for quality staff additions—whether you need someone at that particular moment or not. Take advantage of networking opportunities at trade shows, seminars, and industry conferences. Most folks attend those events in hopes of finding mentorship from professionals who are more experienced than they are, but it’s equally important that you take the time to "meet down." If you are open to becoming a mentor yourself, you may just find your next great hire.

When I was a clinical director, our practice would host CEU courses onsite, which gave therapists from all over the region a chance to come in and see our clinic. For us, this was a great recruiting opportunity. We also had quarterly roundtables that were open to local industry professionals. For those, we usually had one of our orthopedic surgeons talk about a specific topic of interest to those in our specialty. These “lunch-and-learn” events became very popular, and they afforded us the ability to conduct super-informal interviews with area therapists in a relaxed, no-pressure setting.

If you feel like you have a better chance of catching a glimpse of the Loch Ness monster than hiring the right talent for your clinic, then it might be time to rethink your strategy. Start by critically assessing your practice’s staffing needs; then, develop a plan of action to pinpoint personalities that fill those gaps. Establish a vision for your business, communicate it with your team, and never underestimate the power of diversity. And as you search for new talent, don’t forget to maintain rapport with your existing team by cultivating a culture of collaboration. In doing so, you’ll not only win the loyalty of your staff, but also set a precedent for any future additions to your team—and that’s a recipe that’ll ensure the success of your practice for years to come.

Looking for an opportunity to network with a diverse crowd of professionals in rehab therapy? Learn more about Ascend, the ultimate conference for PTs, OTs, and SLPs.

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