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Landing Top Talent

December 31, 2009
by Gwen Darling
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CIOs must know the top secrets to recruiting the best candidates, especially in the current marketplace

Demand for Healthcare IT Professionals Will Exceed Supply!

War on Talent About to Begin in Healthcare IT!

Healthcare IT Effort to Create Thousands of New Jobs!

Currently, headlines like these are ubiquitous and unrelenting. Whether you believe the conservative estimates of 50,000 new healthcare IT-related jobs, or the more optimistic (pessimistic?) numbers that exceed 70,000-plus, there's simply no escaping the fact that you will most likely need to add new players to your healthcare IT team this year.

Generally, you can approach this often-daunting task in one of two ways: Keep the hiring process in-house, using the skills, expertise, and resources of your hospital's internal sourcing department, or enlist the help of a recruiting or executive search firm that will help you find the right people to fit your organization and needs. Both approaches certainly have their share of pros and cons, and since healthcare IT positions are highly specialized and often uncharted territory for hospital hiring managers (whose internal resources are already stretched beyond capacity), more and more hospitals are choosing to partner with search firms that specialize in sourcing and/or recruiting healthcare IT professionals.

“Asking individuals to uproot themselves and their families without any type of assistance … forces many excellent candidates to decline offers.”

If you do decide to go the external sourcing route, there certainly is no guarantee you will attract and land the “perfect” candidate, but experienced healthcare IT recruiters seem to agree that your odds will greatly improve if certain protocols are followed and courtesies are extended. Therefore, here are five secrets to landing the best candidates:

5. Offer relocation assistance - Times are tough, and hospital budgets are tight. According to recruiters, these circumstances become painfully apparent when it comes to relocation assistance, or more specifically, the lack thereof. In fact, top recruiters state that 90 percent of their hospital clients refuse to contribute anything toward the candidates' relocation expenses. “Asking individuals to uproot themselves and their families without any type of assistance, especially when you add the challenge of selling a home in this market, forces many excellent candidates to decline offers,” states Christine Kalmbach, vice president of Parker HealthcareIT (Seattle). “If a hospital can craft a fair and creative relocation package to attract candidates, they will quickly spring to the top of the list in terms of attractiveness to candidates for their regional market.”

4. Provide a concise job description - On the surface, this request seems obvious. But if you've ever had to sit down and craft a comprehensive job description, you know it's much more difficult than it appears, which is probably why this critical step is often shortchanged. The trouble is, if you don't know what or who you want, how can you expect a recruiter to know? Cherie Lester of Intellect Resources (Greensboro, N.C.) explains, “We need detailed descriptions of the responsibilities and required skill sets of the position we're recruiting for. Without them, we won't be able to find the ideal candidate.” And without the ideal candidate? You're right back where you started!

3. Provide feedback to recruiters - Have you ever been in the frustrating position of having an idea or project or promotion shot down without a hint of an explanation? Imagine, then, what it's like to be a recruiter, who, after spending countless hours and considerable resources, submits a candidate they believe to be a strong contender, and then receives no feedback whatsoever as to why their applicant was deemed unsuitable. Apparently, in the frenetic world of a typical hospital hiring manager, this scenario occurs quite frequently. Christi O'Brien, senior recruiter at Santa Rosa Consulting (Southfield, Mich.), offers this insight: “I think the single thing that sets my favorite clients apart is their willingness to keep an open dialogue. When they interview a candidate who they feel is not a good fit or review an applicant they decide to pass on, it enables me to do a much better job on their behalf if they take the time to tell me why.”

“We need detailed descriptions of the responsibilities and required skill sets … Without them, we won't be able to find the ideal candidate.”

“Expect and be happy to find an 80 percent match, perhaps offer a lower salary, and then offer training and mentoring to bring that individual up to speed.”

2. Prepare to be flexible - These are challenging times in healthcare IT, and certainly the ideal situation is to quickly attract and hire new “plug and play” team members who are experienced, certified, and ready to get down to business the moment orientation is over. But with the potential upcoming shortage of professionals, this idyllic scenario is becoming less and less realistic. And hospital HR departments aren't the only ones losing sleep over this situation. Parker Healthcare IT, which focuses on recruiting and placing experienced technology talent into hospital projects, “has been working to identify and present solutions to its clients regarding this issue,” according to Kalmbach. Some of the potential solutions the company has presented include the following: “Expect and be happy to find an 80 percent match, perhaps offer a lower salary, and then offer training and mentoring to bring that individual up to speed. You'll save a bit in your budget, and earn the gratitude and loyalty of a sharp team member who just needed someone willing to give them some guidance and training. Additionally, offer certification programs to otherwise qualified applicants. This is a huge plus for our candidates who are extremely eager to get certified. The cost to do so can be prohibitive to the individual, and should be taken into account as part of their total compensation package.”

The number one secret?

1. Communicate, please! - According to each and every recruiter who provided their thoughts and insights for this wish list, well … what we've got here is a failure to communicate. This failure manifests itself in several ways - lack of follow-through by the hospitals in communicating desire to interview submitted candidates, lack of feedback following the interviews (as mentioned above), and finally, a lack of communication regarding their desire to make an offer. As Lester states, “We explain to the hiring managers that the candidates we send to them are time-sensitive. If their application sits in the hiring manager's inbox for weeks, there's a very good chance that the candidate won't be available for an interview.”

Kalmbach echoes these sentiments, “We sometimes wait for over a week to hear if they wish to interview, then wait for feedback from the interview, and then often the offers take up to a month. In the meantime, the candidates have moved on.” But Kalmbach, like many others, can understand the demand on the hospitals' resources: “We know everyone in our industry is slammed with projects, deadlines, and decisions, but professional courtesy and respect (on both sides) goes a long way in attracting the best of the best talent to your team.”

Gwen Darling is CEO of She also writes a blog at /contributors/gwen-darling.
Healthcare Informatics 2010 January;27(1):41-42

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