Practically Speaking | Avoid recruitment nightmares

March 21, 2012

This is a cautionary tale for anyone who is, was, or will be recruiting for new team members…my intent is that we include everyone, so that none of you become the next cautionary tale…It could be a very expensive mistake! Let’s start at the beginning. Recruiting and hiring new talent is not a job for the timid. This job is mission-critical and will require exceptional perceptive and investigative skill along with great tenacity and focus.

This is a cautionary tale for anyone who is, was, or will be recruiting for new team members…my intent is that we include everyone, so that none of you become the next cautionary tale…It could be a very expensive mistake!

Let’s start at the beginning. Recruiting and hiring new talent is not a job for the timid. This job is mission-critical and will require exceptional perceptive and investigative skill along with great tenacity and focus.

The inexperienced will wonder what is so difficult about placing an ad, talking with some candidates and picking a winner. The seasoned recruiter will tell you that many an unworthy candidate can muster up a good resume and master a first interview. They can tell you about the ones that slipped through and were offered skills assessments and second interviews. They can even tell the tales of those who were chosen, only to eventually be revealed as poor fits for the practice. There are many lessons to be learned, and it’s best to learn them well the first time, so you don’t have to relive the experience. I’d also like to contribute to shortening your learning curve.

The most wise recruiters will tell you that hiring remains more of an art than a science, but there are steps you can take to improve the odds that you will pick a winner. The quality and composition of your ad can make a huge difference in reducing the amount of time you invest in the project. Behavioral based interviewing is essential. There are online assessments available to help you identify behavioral tendencies, core competencies, emotional intelligence levels, and likelihood for success in a position. I also want to emphasize what may prove to be the most important step in the process. Given that past performance is the best predictor for future performance, there can be no better harbinger of things to come than the candid opinions of former employers.

Reference checking can be pretty daunting as you can run into several roadblocks. For example, you may run into a wall; you’ll recognize it immediately when your request for a reference is greeted by a well rehearsed “I can only confirm that the former employee worked here, her dates of employment and her position.” At times, you can’t break through this wall, but it’s worth a try. Explain that you understand and you wish there was a way to get additional information because your boss simply won’t hire without a reference. Explain that if the office manager or doctor could offer a little insight it would be very helpful. Also offer to email or fax over a signed release from the applicant. I’ve found that many times you can get additional and very helpful information that is “just between us.”

The unreturned phone call is very frustrating. Remember when leaving a message to provide a very specific request. For example, “I am calling for a reference for your former employee (name). (Name) has signed a release that I’d be happy to send over to you. We are ready to make a hiring decision, but cannot proceed with a reference, so I’d really appreciate it if you would please be so kind as to return my call as soon as possible. I can be reached today until 6pm and again tomorrow starting at 8am.“ Don’t be shy about calling back with a polite request to for ‘two minutes of the doctor’s time’. But do keep in mind, that prolonged unreturned calls can be a signal regarding the impression that the former employee made in the practice.

I always recommend asking candidates “When I speak with your former employers, and I will, what will they tell me about you?” When they speak, take good notes! Everyone makes mistakes; the key is to find out if they learned from their mistakes or if they will likely repeat them in the future. Make note of why the applicant left each position and then ask the same of the former employers to evaluate the veracity of the reason given by the applicant.

Sometimes employers make mistakes, too. Sometimes, employees make the decision that a particular employer is not a good fit and that they need to move on. All of this can be explained in a professional and discreet manner leaving an interviewer to read between the lines. Beware of the applicant who is eager to denigrate a former employer. The reference provided by the former employer will reveal how the situation was handled from the employer’s perspective. I have spoken with dentists who will say, “While we were not a good fit, Mary is an excellent assistant and I wish things had worked out differently. I wish her all the best and you’d be lucky to have her work with you.” Be sure to evaluate intent and content.

Unfortunately, too many dentists have shared with me that they have skipped this step in the past. If I haven’t convinced you to make reference checking a priority yet, I hope following story will do the trick.

The doctor received a great resume and cover letter in response to an ad for an administrative position. The phone interview was fantastic, the candidate hit the personal interview out of the park; we were thinking we had a very strong candidate. The only concern was a clumsy, yet potentially credible explanation for the two-year lapse in employment since leaving her previous dental practice.

If you could imagine what the perfect practice administrator would look like on paper and would sound like in person, this was that candidate. Experienced, poised, elegant, intelligent, articulate and passionate about dentistry. It was time to move onto reference checking; this is the scary part. It was discovered that this candidate’s resume was falsified and the real reason she hadn’t work in over two years is that she was in prison for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the last dentist she worked for!

Shocking to say the least, but even more disconcerting to me is the realization that an unsuspecting dentist will hire this woman one day. This dentist will meet an applicant who walks the walk and talks the talk. So convinced that it must be his lucky day and he better scoop her up before someone else does, he will decide to forgo reference and background checks and make one of the biggest mistakes of his career… this woman will be back in business again stealing from her employer.

Now thankfully it’s not everyday that you hear about an embezzler who stole close to half a million dollars from her employer. However, regrettably, there are reports that close to 50% of dentists have been embezzled. Sadly, most of these criminals are long-term, trusted employees.

This would be a good time to take a close look at your current financial guidelines and protocols. Do you have a documented system to balance and reconcile your accounts each month? How closely do you track your adjustments and write-offs as well as your audit reports? This process deserves your scrutiny. If you suspect embezzlement may be an issue in your practice, contact a certified fraud investigator. Visit The Academy of Dental Management Consultants’ website to locate a certified fraud investigator. www.ADMC.net

Ginny Hegarty, President of Dental Practice Development, Inc. is a Senior Professional in Human Resources and a practice management strategist, best known as a turnaround expert specializing in practice renewal as she leads new teams or teams that have plateaued to rediscover and build on their strengths to achieve new levels of success. Contact Ginny at 610-873-8404 or by email ginny@ginnyhegarty.com or visit www.ginnyhegarty.com to learn about her HR solutions, coaching programs or to have Ginny speak to your team, dental society or study club.