Managing Your Practice

Hiring the right employees


Many of the personnel questions I receive concern the dreaded “marginal employee” – a person who has never done anything truly heinous to merit firing, but neither anything special to merit continued employment. I advise getting rid of such people and then changing the hiring criteria that bring you marginal employees in the first place.

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Most bad hires come about because employers do not have a clear vision of the kind of employee they want. 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 initial screening of applicants through assessments of their skills and personalities. Many physicians compound the problem with poor interview techniques and inadequate verification.

So now is the time, before a job vacancy occurs, to reevaluate your entire hiring process.. Take a hard look at your job descriptions, and update them if necessary. A good job 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 for it. 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 also is 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 résumés: 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 résumés; it’s usually wise to get their written consent to do so.

Many employers skip the essential step of verification; many applicants know that. (I once actually overheard a new hire say, “I won’t be here long if they check my references.” And by golly, she was right!) If a reference is reluctant to tell you anything substantive, ask, “Would you hire this person again?” You can interpret a lot from the answer – or lack of one.

Interviews often get short shrift as well. Many doctors tend to do all the talking. 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.

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern, a dermatologist in Belleville, N.J.

Dr. Joseph S. Eastern

By law, you cannot ask an applicant’s age, date of birth, sex, 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.

There are acceptable alternatives to some of those questions, however: You can ask if applicants have ever gone by another name (for your background check), for example. You can ask if they are legally authorized to work in this country, and whether they will be physically able to perform the duties specified in the job description. While 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.”

Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters, and is a longtime monthly columnist for Dermatology News. Write to him at [email protected].

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