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Choosing Their Own Carolyn Skaff
Carolyn Skaff
Publish Date: October 10, 2007   |  Tags:   Staffing

Predicting how a new hire will mesh with your current staff is nearly impossible. I have a solution, however. Don't interview applicants. You read that right. Have your nurses put candidates on the hot seat and have them choose their co-workers. Who would know better about how someone will fit into your facility's social and clinical environments than the current staff? Letting your employees hire their co-workers also fosters camaraderie, gives staff ownership in the hiring process and makes them accountable for each new hire's performance.

After you do the screening
Handing the hiring reins over to the staff doesn't mean you'll be completely removed from the interviewing process. You should be the first to contact candidates with resumes that meet the position's minimum requirements. During the phone interview, you can further gauge the hopeful's qualifications and interest in the position. If she's a potential hire, pass the resume on to your nurse manager, who knows when breaks in the surgical schedule will occur and can schedule interviews around staff availability.

The nurse manager should also organize employee interview committees consisting of at least two or three people from the area for which you're hiring. We try to include up to five staffers in the process. How you select the committee is unimportant - just be sure to vary the participants to avoid a small majority dictating your facility's staffing.

Before the interview, the committee should huddle to develop questions and submit the list to you for review. My changes are often minor, perhaps suggestions for a more detailed line of questioning or altering the phrasing to fit each candidate. You also might ask why certain questions are being asked to make sure the committee is looking for the right information in the answer. Remember, your nurses are learning the interview process, so reviewing the questions beforehand ensures a properly run process. It also gives the committee feedback on its preparation, something I know they appreciate.

Ask the committee to prepare about 10 questions that include personality assessments and inquiries about clinical skills. One of the benefits of having staff prepare the interview is that they'll ask about topics you would never have considered and construct meaningful questions with an insider's take on the issues and concerns of the center's employees.

I've seen questions about how much time off a candidate expects to receive, how they react when they're unhappy with a co-worker and what they do when they feel they're working harder than someone else. On the clinical side, interview committees have created scenarios involving a confrontation with an irate surgeon or hypothetical patient questions to test the candidate's communication skills.

Buying into success
Candidates meet with the entire committee at once so each interviewer hears the same answers to the same questions. You should also sit in on the interviews to offer guidance and an experienced voice to the proceedings. Your nurses might pose questions that lack focus, or they may miss an opportunity to take the questioning to another level when the candidate starts to expand on an answer. You should jump in at those times, but often your role will be that of an interested observer.

Committee members should take notes during the interview and rate the candidates on a scale of one to three. Candidates receiving ones didn't answer questions in a way that satisfied the member while those receiving threes are considered must-hires. Collect the scores from each member, tally the results and schedule a meeting with the entire committee to discuss the applicant's qualifications. You should also keep score during the interview, but only refer to your rating if the committee deadlocks over a candidate.

More often than not, you'll hire your staff's first choice, although you should voice concerns when you have issues with the committee's scoring. It's an open dialogue and you should be more than willing to alter your opinion if the committee presents a convincing argument.

On one memorable occasion, my staff did just that. I felt a nurse was much too meek to last in our center and thought an aggressive surgeon or fellow member of the surgical team would walk all over her. The interview committee disagreed, thinking instead that her pleasant disposition and clinical skills would benefit our patients. They believed in her, bought into her success and told me they'd help her through difficulties she may encounter with aggressive surgeons or nurses.

I trusted my team's instincts and hired the shy nurse, but made sure I watched with a critical eye during her 90-day probation period. Turns out, they were right. She performed spectacularly, and I would never have hired her if she hadn't been interviewed and backed by the center's staff.

You'll find that candidates will also appreciate the opportunity to interview with your facility's staff. The nurse who was hired despite my objections told me she was more appreciative of the opportunity to work at our center because the staff chose her. She said she started with an immediate sense of belonging because she was the one the staff wanted to work with.

Hit more often than miss
We all know that interviewing and finding the right employee is an inexact science. Some people shine in the interview room but fade in the OR. Sometimes you win with new hires, and sometimes you lose. That's an unfortunate reality. Having your staff interview their future co-workers will hopefully put you on the right side of that equation more often than not.