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The Pieces of the Hiring Puzzle

July 20, 2011
by Tim Tolan
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Seven Qualities to Focus on when Evaluating a Job Candidate
Tim Tolan
Tim Tolan

Most hiring managers are always in search of “the perfect fit” when filling a critical position opening. After all, for many organizations, human capital is their greatest asset. You can build the best software platform for your organization, implement a new clinical application that will improve patient care, and consistently meet the organizations financial objectives, but you can't achieve anything without having superior talent.

To execute a search assignment, we spend a significant amount of time understanding our client's needs while they invest time and money interviewing and assessing the candidates we present. There's no single silver bullet when it comes to making a hiring decision. Instead, I encourage clients to look at all of the data points before reaching a conclusion on who to hire. While education and work history are easy to verify, the other areas require more due diligence.

You should be able to check each of these boxes during the vetting process-just don't focus too much energy on a single category or you could be making the wrong decision on who to hire (or not to hire).

Experience: This is the one area of a candidate's background that gets the most attention. Employers want to make sure a new recruit can “hit the ground running,” and while experience is important, there are many other facets to consider-a candidate's background, attitude, references, and overall “fit” are just as important as previous work experience. You might have the most experienced candidate available, but if you're unsure of other qualities, you might be setting yourself up for future problems.

Teamwork: The smartest and most experienced employees can also be the worst if they're unable to work in teams. The cross-pollination of skill-sharing with co-workers builds depth in any team environment. Employees who hoard information or prefer to fly solo can actually decrease the rest of the team's productivity. Make sure your new hire understands the importance of teamwork, but also keep in mind that a great team player can lack the other factors you want. That could spell trouble, too.

Attitude: I, for one, struggle to deal with people who have a negative attitude-it's a real pet peeve. I have a hard time presenting a candidate who conveys negative energy during the first thirty seconds after meeting them. Positive, upbeat people accomplish more and are generally much more fun to be around. They tackle projects head-on and have that “never-give-up-attitude” when things go wrong. Attitude is very important (but candidates need more than a good attitude to succeed).

References: Some candidates keep a stable of great references who they call on time after time when they're in a job search. Each reference has the same music score in front of them, and they all sing in harmony when someone asks for a reference. In our market-and with the online tools available today-it doesn't take too much effort to find acquaintances who also know your favorite candidate. Again, you can't choose this category by itself. A hiring decision based solely on a candidate's hand-picked references could be a huge mistake.

Assessments: There are numerous assessment tools available to help us in the hiring process. Some measure personality characteristics, while others measure aptitude or validate the functional requirements of the job. Most assessments are designed to offer another data point to take into consideration. They are not, however, the end-all be-all. The results of the assessment should be factored into a hiring decision, but I recommend you compare the results of the assessment to all of the other information you have on a given candidate.

Fit: You may find the most experienced candidate who works well in a team environment, has a great attitude and scores well on your assessment hiring tool, but just doesn't fit with your organization-a true “fish-out-of-water.” This might be a candidate who's always worked in very small HCIT organizations or pure start-up environments and can't adapt. Measuring a candidate's overall fit with your organization is critical.

Bottom Line: Evaluating all the candidate's information matters. A friend of mine once told me that executive search is similar to putting a puzzle together-all of the pieces must fit together or it will not work. She was right!

Tim Tolan is a senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at or at (843) 579-3077 ext. 301. His blog can be found at Healthcare Informatics 2011 August;28(8):56

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