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July 25, 2005  
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How to Develop an Interview That Works

By Karen A. Brown, LAc

Hiring an employee to support your practice is an important decision. If done well, you will bring an asset to your business. If done poorly, you will bring on added work and worry.

The focus of this article is on how to develop an interview that "works." These suggestions will help you interview candidates so that you can make the right decision for your practice.

Define the Job

To choose the right person, you must first define the job and requirements for an applicant.

What will this person do? Will the person answer the phones? Make appointments? Greet patients? Take payments? Bill the insurance companies? Answer questions that patients might have about your practice? Perform any treatments, like cupping and moxibustion? Prepare herbal formulas for patients to take home? Whatever the person will do, make sure that you write it all down.

After you define the job, list the skills, education and knowledge the person must have to do the job. In the case above, the person must: have customer service skills; be caring; use common sense; have recordkeeping experience, along with phone, organization and planning skills; show attention to detail; be on time and at work when scheduled; and show the ability to follow directions carefully. The traits you are looking for might be someone who is bright, likes people, is a problem-solver and a self-starter, and has good documentation skills.

Look at your personal strengths and weaknesses. Can you bring someone into your practice who will complement your weaknesses? Always focus on job-related skills, and never age, race, creed, sex, marital status, or nation of origin.

Developing Interview Questions

Once you have defined the position and requirements, make sure that they match the job description you have created. Take these requirements, list them in the order of importance, and develop questions that will help you assess how each applicant matches up with your needs. How you pose the questions will be helpful in assessing whether the applicant "fits" with your job needs.

As often as possible, have the applicant talk about how he or she handled similar situations and tasks in the past. This will give you the best predictor of how that person will handle things in the future. For example, if you want some to deal with customers, look for someone who has worked with people in the past. Ask the applicant for an example for how they have handled a difficult customer in the past. Be sure the applicant gives you a specific example, not a general way the applicant has done things.

In the case of customer service, what you are looking for is that the applicant listened to the problem carefully; showed insight into the fact that the complaint was not about the person but about the situation; gave the customer time to vent; then came up with a resolution to the problem, and followed up with the customer. The applicant should have a sense of pride in solving the customer's problems. Most small businesses require that everyone who works in the business have good customer service skills. Anyone who makes contact with your patients is a key customer service and marketing person. You want them to be aware of what they are doing when they are talking to patients. Patients have a problem that they are coming to you to solve. They must be treated with attention and respect by everyone in your practice.

Another example would be organization and attention to detail. These skills are necessary when working with insurance companies, making phone calls and keeping records. Ask the applicant about jobs where they had to have a system in their work and follow through with details. Have the applicant describe how he or she went about organizing work and was able to keep from dropping the small details. Look for someone that is a bit compulsive about doing things right and that pays attention to detail - someone who can explain how they organized their work and kept everything on schedule.

Inquire into all of the skills and traits that are important to the job that you will be hiring for. Wherever possible, bring out examples of how they have behaved in similar situations.

Some requirements will need other approaches. Here are some examples. Be sure to inquire about mistakes that were made in the past and how the applicant handled them. Mistakes happen. You need to determine how the applicant will handle a mistake. You are looking for someone who will tell you what they did and how they can fix it.

Ask what their references will say about their punctuality and attendance. How good will the references say they were at documenting what happened? They know you will call their previous employer, and they need to be consistent. Ask the applicant what he or she would like to do in their next job, and what they would like to be doing in two years. Not everyone knows, but if it matches your job, that's a positive; if it doesn't, that can be important information as well. Ask them what type of boss brings out the best in them, and what kind of boss doesn't work for them. Be honest about your own style: Does it match the applicant's needs? Talk to all of the applicants on the phone. Pay attention to how they handle your call. Do they have a phone presence that will be good for your patients? Do they listen well? Can you understand what they are saying? Ask if they have ever worked with someone who was ill. How did they feel about it?

Checking an Applicant's Job History

Remember to discuss the applicant's history. What did they do, and for how long? Why were transitions made, such as new title changes and job changes? Anyone can have a boss who wasn't a good match, but when there are five or six bosses that don't match, you need to be wary.

When you have all of your questions developed, put them into a logical order so that your questions can flow from one to the next. Be sure and ask about their availability, their salary expectations, and the names and phone numbers of previous supervisors and managers for references. (Friends and co-workers may not know about any problems that might have come up.) Your local library will have books on how to conduct interviews, which can help if you get stuck. Behavioral interviewing is the style of interview I recommend.

Here is a format for organizing your questions.

Interview Format

Applicant's name: _______________________________________________________________________

Date: _______________________________________________________________________

Position: _______________________________________________________________________

Introduce yourself.

Offer a drink.

Outline the format for the interview.

Beginning questions:

1. What type of work would you like to be doing right now?

2. What type of work would you like to be doing in 3-5 years?

History (most current job first)

Company:
Supervisor:
Phone number:
Dates worked:
Experience:
Progression:
Reason for leaving:
Final salary (base, bonus, overtime, stock)
Last salary increase date:
Percent of increase:

Company:
Supervisor:
Phone number:
Dates worked:
Experience:
Progression:
Reason for leaving:
Final salary (base, bonus, overtime, stock)
Last salary increase date:
Percent of increase:

Company:
Supervisor:
Phone number:
Dates worked:
Experience:
Progression:
Reason for leaving:
Final salary (base, bonus, overtime, stock)
Last salary increase date:
Percent of increase:

Skills review

Question:
Answer:
Comments:

Rating: Content: 1 2 3 4 5 Presentation: 1 2 3 4 5

Question:
Answer:
Comments:

Rating: Content: 1 2 3 4 5 Presentation: 1 2 3 4 5

Question:
Answer:
Comments:

Rating: Content: 1 2 3 4 5 Presentation: 1 2 3 4 5

* * *

Do all of your job-related questions in this fashion.

What are their salary expectations?

What other jobs are they looking at? Do they have an offer from another company? If yes, when do they need to make a decision?

Ask if the job is of interest to them.

Tell the applicant about the job, your expectations and management style. Tell them about your company's benefits. Be positive. If it is 80 percent positive, spend 80 percent of the time on the positives and 20 percent on the negatives. Be honest. Tell them why you like working here.

Tell the applicant when you will get back to them. Keep in touch with them every two to three days until you decide if you have an interest.

Tell the Applicant About the Job, and Always Check the References

When you have finished your questions, it's time to tell the applicant about the job. What do you want them to do? What is your management style? Will you pay benefits or holiday pay? Is there vacation pay? Don't promise any promotions before you see the work the person can do. Tell them when you will get back to them. Always check the references before offering someone a job.

Philosophies of Interviewing

Interviewing is the beginning of a relationship between you and your potential employee. It's a time for you to gain information and also share information with the applicant. People take a job not only because the job is a match for them, but also because you, as the hiring manager, are a good match for them. An interview is a time to listen to what the applicant has to say. Many people spend an hour with a potential employee. They spend the first part of their time describing what the job is and what their expectations are. If the candidate is bright and listens, they can repeat back to the hiring manager exactly what the manager wants to hear. It is better to tell them only the basics about the job, then have the candidate answer your questions candidly. Follow the interview questions with information about the job expectations.

Outline the Interview When You Meet With the Candidate

When the candidate arrives for an interview, outline your interview process. Greet the applicant, go to a private room or space, offer the candidate a drink, and tell them what your format will be. For example, you will tell them very briefly about your practice, then start asking questions. When you have finished with your interview, tell them about the job, the pros and cons of working for you, and what your follow-up process will be.

Consistency

Be consistent with your interviews. Do a complete history, cover the skills that you are seeking, and pay attention to how you feel about the person you are interviewing. If for any reason you don't feel good around the candidate, your patients are probably going to feel the same way. No one will have all of the skills you are looking for, but they must have the basics: customer service orientation, attention to detail, good follow-through, excellent phone skills, and dedication to helping your patients (and you).

Checking the References

Once you have chosen your new employee, check the references. Ask their previous managers what they did, what they were good at, and where they need to improve. Ask about the specific skills that you are seeking. Ask about their attendance and timeliness. Ask about how they handled criticisms or corrections. Ask about their handling of difficult customer service problems. It will only cost you a little time to check the references, and it can save you a lot of suffering. If no one will give a reference for an applicant, be very cautious about making an offer. This can be a sign that there were problems. Hiring an employee without references is a business risk. If an employee harms someone else while working for you, and you could have found this out by checking the references, you are liable for negligent hiring.

Setting the Salary

If the references are good, make the candidate an offer. To figure out what the going rate is for this kind of work, ask other practitioners in your area, and talk to the doctors that refer to you. In one area, the going rate may be $15 per hour with some benefits; in another town 25 miles away, it could be $7.50 per hour, with no benefits. Give yourself some room to give an increase if the applicant is a good employee.

Know the Law

These are basic skills for developing interview questions. You will also need to look at the legal aspects of hiring an employee. In California, there are many laws and regulations that apply to just adding one person to your staff. You must go to your local library and review the state and federal requirements that affect you. The laws become increasingly complex every year. It is not hard to comply if you know the law.

 

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