(Looking to hire the best  PT, OT or SLP? We have articles addressing all three. Click the respective links to learn how to fill those positions with the best, too.)

You’re moving up in the world—and your PT or OT practice is growing. Patients are totally satisfied with the care you’re providing, and they’re telling all of their friends. And that means it’s time for you to bring in some backup—specifically, an assistant. But you’re not looking to hire just any old assistant; you want the best of the best—because only someone stellar will do. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about hiring a PTA or OTA—the best PTA or OTA, that is—for your practice:

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1. Check your cultural foundation.

Before bringing in anyone new, you’ve got to be sure your company’s cultural foundation is strong. After all, company culture is immensely important when it comes to fostering engagement and channeling focus on a unified vision—whatever your particular organization’s vision may be. In other words, a solid company culture is good for everyone involved in your business: owners, managers, staff, and patients. It’s even good for your bottom-line. Plus, the only way you’ll be able to determine whether a particular candidate will be a good cultural match is to first understand what, exactly you’re trying to match that person to. And you can’t do that without a clear understanding of your clinic’s culture. This will enable you to identify the candidate who not only has the technical know-how to succeed in his or her role, but also the ability to mesh with—and improve upon—your clinic’s overall vibe. As WebPT President Heidi Jannenga says, “You can teach people new skills and concepts, but you can’t teach personality; you can’t teach values; and you certainly can’t teach passion.”

Fix problems now.

If you discover that your current culture is anything other than what you want it to be, do the work to change it—stat. The best PTAs and OTAs want to work at the best clinics, and a clinic with a lackluster—or worse, negative—culture can be a serious deterrent. Now, there are no inherently good or bad cultures. However, there are several characteristics—in terms of both profitability and engagement—that the world’s most successful companies share. These are the four that Jannenga kept in mind when starting WebPT (if you’re curious, you can see how these have evolved over the years here):

  1. Collaboration
  2. Hands-off Management
  3. Rejection of Perfection
  4. Transparency

2. Put more than a list of responsibilities on your job description.

Don’t wait until a candidate’s first interview to begin communicating your culture—and screening for fit. Instead, embed your clinic’s values, personality, and heart right into your job description. As WebPT’s Charlotte Bohnett explains in this post, generic job descriptions won’t help you land top talent—at least not 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,” Insperity advises. “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.”

Not sure how to craft a well-written job description that communicates your clinic’s culture? Take a peek at some of these job descriptions to see how WebPT infuses personality into just about every bullet point—without sacrificing clarity.

3. Master the art of the interview.

When you’re ready to start the interview phase, consider scheduling at least one one-on-one and one team session for every candidate (the team interview will help you get an idea of how well that candidate jibes with the group). Now, interviews of any type can be nerve-wracking for everyone involved. So, before your next one begins, take a deep breath, do a quick presence exercise, and remember that this could be the beginning of a long—and wonderful—professional relationship. With that in mind, make sure you’re having a conversation—not conducting an interrogation. And good interviews go both ways; if you’re sitting across from the best PTA or OTA, he or she is assessing you and your practice, too.

Ask great questions—then, listen to the answers.

Jannenga recommends asking “direct, relevant, and experiential questions” that address both competency and cultural fit. Examples include:

  1. “How would you handle a situation in which [give a specific situation that someone in this role may face]? And what criteria would you use to determine whether you succeeded or failed?
  2. “Let’s role-play an example of how you would approach a performance review discussion.”

Want some more? Here are 25 more interview questions to consider (adapted from this source, this one, this one, this one, and our very own interviewing and hiring experience):

  1. Why did you decide to become a PTA or OTA? 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 from a patient?
  5. If I asked one of your colleagues to describe you in three adjectives, what would he or she say?
  6. What are you reading right now?
  7. What was the best thing a previous manager did that you wish everyone did?
  8. What is the last gift you gave someone?
  9. What can your hobbies tell me that your resume can’t?
  10. Tell me about a time when you provided patient care—or service—that went beyond what was expected of you.
  11. How do you stay up-to-date on research in your field?
  12. Tell me about a time when you acted as an advocate on behalf of your patient. What about on behalf of the profession?
  13. How would you handle a situation in which a patient was angry? What about a therapist?
  14. What has been your most challenging case to date, and why? What did you learn from it?
  15. Describe your ideal work day.
  16. What are your clinical and non-clinical strengths? In what areas do you hope to grow in the next year?
  17. Tell me about the most gratifying case you’ve ever worked on. What happened, and what made it special for you?
  18. What does evidence-based practice mean to you?
  19. Tell me about a time you—or your clinic—implemented a suggestion of yours to make a situation better.
  20. What are your career goals? What are the three steps you’ve taken this year to help you achieve them?
  21. What motivates you?
  22. Have you ever received a request from a supervisor that you didn’t agree with? If so, how did you handle it?
  23. What was your favorite—and least favorite—aspect of your previous (or current) job?
  24. On a scale of 1–10, how comfortable are you with using an electronic medical record for documentation? Which software have you used in the past?
  25. What three factors are crucial within a clinic and must be present for you to work most effectively?

4. Make a good offer.

Once you’ve found the best PTA or OTA to join your ranks, it’s time to make him or her an offer—a good one. To entice the best—and avoid blowing your budget—the package you present must be fair for both you and the candidate. As I wrote in this guide to fair compensation, that means you must:

  1. do your research to understand market value in your area (you can start by using this resource for PTAs and this one for OTAs), and
  2. consider benefits that go beyond salary.

To point number two, when Jannenga was a clinic director, she not only provided her employees with a standard benefits package—which included health, dental, vision, life, and disability insurance—but also paid for their APTA memberships and CEUs. “To me, a good benefit package satisfies the needs of your employees and puts your company at a competitive advantage to other similar companies in your market,” she says.

Create a range—and leave room for negotiation.

Once Jannenga identified fair market value for all the roles in her clinic—and determined her benefits package—she was able to calculate a salary range for each; then, based on the results of the interview, she identified where within that position’s range that particular candidate landed. And she always left enough room to allow for negotiation. After all, the best candidates will most likely present a counteroffer. “I like to screen first for the basics,” Jannenga says. For a PTA or OTA, “that would include education, clinical knowledge, continuing education credits, licensure, work history, and specialization.” She then factors in emotional intelligence: “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 factors when making her decision, she places the most emphasis on cultural fit. Remember, you can’t teach personality, values, or passion.

With these four strategies—plus your own gut instincts—you’ll know exactly which PTA or OTA to hire (and which to politely dismiss). If this isn’t your first hiring rodeo, you probably have your own tricks up your sleeve for hiring the best. Care to share? Tell us what’s worked—and what hasn’t—in the comment section below.

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