New Year, New Hires (Episode 5)

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Darcy Grabenstein: Hello from SmartLinx Solutions. The topic of today's podcast is New Year, New Hires. Our guest is Carol Looney, principal and co-founder of Signature HR Solutions, which provides human resources solutions for small and mid-sized businesses. Carol, before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about your background in long-term care?

Carol Looney: Absolutely, Darcy, and thanks for asking me to be a guest on today's podcast. For the past seven years, I've been a director of human resources in long-term care. I love long-term care because it's a great way to interact with employees who really have a passion for caring for others, and it's important as an employer to recognize and reward those employees and make sure that we're doing all that we can. It's wonderful to give back to people that give so much of their time and talent to others. Currently, as you mentioned, I'm an HR consultant with Signature HR Solutions, and I'm based in Massachusetts.

DG: I'm going to start with our first question. It may sound like an obvious one, but why is the new year a good time to look for new hires?

CL: Oh, I think it's three simple words: it's "New Year's resolution." I know I do it, everybody does, and one of the most common things probably other than getting ourselves physically into shape is to find a meaningful or a new job. "New year, new me" I think is a common phrase I hear a lot of people say. I think it's a great time of year to also declutter, organize, and refresh, and chances are that your hiring process can use a bit of a facelift and a refreshed way to look at some new and creative ideas to spice up your recruitment efforts.

DG: Is this also a good time to look at my recruitment process, the process itself?

CL: Absolutely, I think it is a great time to look at it. Again, you may have a new budget that you're operating under, so you can look at some special incentives, and that could be part of the process. Don't be afraid to ask for new rates for ad placement from your vendors. They may have a new budget or a new system that they're working under as well, too. It's a great time to dust off your recruitment calendar. Make sure that you're planning a number of events throughout the year such as seasonal hiring, job fairs, career days, school open houses, and community events.

Most hiring managers, in my experience, Darcy, want to know that there is a recruitment plan for the year, and so you're not just reacting to needs, but you're being proactive in your staffing and in your recruitment efforts. If you're a hiring manager, make sure that you meet with your HR contact or your recruiter at least once during a quarter. I think it's great to have regular, ongoing communication, and most hiring managers do, about successes of applicants or open positions, but really once a quarter is a great way to have a bit of a strategy session about what skills are you looking for, what different skills are needed. Perhaps you've introduced a new technology, and so you're looking for employees who have either some better computer skills or some other technical experience that would be of benefit to you. The better communication between the recruiter and the hiring manager, the better connection can be made and a quicker response to candidates. Make sure that your marketing materials and your giveaways are nice and fresh and clean and ready to go for the new year.

DG: How often should someone review their hiring packet?

CL: I think, again, quarterly is a great frequency to look at your hiring packet. It's really important that any hiring documents are updated as well. Each year, generally, you are going to be looking at a new federal tax ID form. Also, an I-9 form can change, so those are just a few documents that you want to make sure that you have the most current ones on.

If you're tracking your employee referrals, make sure that you're up to date on all the ways that applicants are coming to you as well so you've got good data to make some decisions about your recruitment processes or just look at a referral program. Make sure that you look at your application and have a quick legal review of that document to ensure that you're in compliance with what you're able to ask in terms of reference check, past employment, and salary history. I can tell you that in Massachusetts in 2018, it will no longer be legal to ask someone's prior wage history on an application, so it's a good time to start thinking about that process and getting that document up to date as well.

DG: Oh, interesting. One problem that a lot of HR managers have is they can't get people to show up for the interviews. What's your advice on that?

CL: That, unfortunately, is a common problem, especially if unemployment continues to be very low. There is obviously a strong competition in key skills in health care. I think a number of things are critical that you have in place and you maintain about the interview process. I would encourage everyone to have a standing block of interview times so you can always be ready for either walk-ins or to immediately schedule an interview that's ready, willing, and able to come on site for an interview. I think a good rule of thumb is that interviews should be scheduled no more than 48 hours after the initial contact and ideally 24 hours whenever possible.

Time lost, Darcy, for an applicant is really the key in getting good quality candidates. You want to make sure that you're in regular communication with them via cell phone, so call, text, email the candidate to confirm contact information. Send them a map, phone number, address, and the name of the person that they'll be meeting with. All those things are really important to give as much connectivity and information to the applicant as possible. I know one location would not only send a text message to confirm that an interview was scheduled but also give the applicant a code to be given to the interviewer when they arrive, and that code was entered into a drawing for an electronic device just for showing up. That was a huge incentive that not only was it a reminder but there was some skin in the game to actually show up for that interview and then an incentive via a drawing to complete the process.

DG: Wow, never heard of that.

CL: I think one other thing that can be done is to make sure that the receptionist, who is oftentimes the first impression of visitors, family members, and applicants, importantly, is aware of the interview schedule. That receptionist can just with a warm smile, friendly, simple conversation, a nod of the head even make someone feel welcome and put them at ease. People are still so anxious at an interview and get so nervous. I think it's just nice to have that front-desk receptionist know that someone is scheduled. They show up; again, just make them comfortable. Give them some encouragement, and just let them know someone will be with them shortly.

Then I think it's important also to go one step further and complete the process and thank someone who did show up for an interview. You could think about a small token of appreciation such as a small gift card, a bag of candy, or some other takeaway to show and demonstrate that you have a culture of caring and something that sets you apart from the competitors. Again, they can walk in the door at home; they get asked by their loved one, "How did your interview go?" They can say, "Great; it was a great interview, and I got a gift card just for showing up!" That's a wonderful gesture.

DG: I like that idea, also the idea of maybe giving something that's branded. It doesn't have to be expensive, but that way their name comes up when the candidate is considering where to go.

CL: Absolutely. We had one location that just did a simple small pad of Post-it® notes and a logo pen in a little cellophane bag that you can buy from any craft store, and the receptionist in her down time would put them together. They were in a box. They were easily accessible, and they were completely ready to go as soon as the interview was done. It really showed some preplanning and a little caring, and putting the logo on there wasn't a bad idea either.

DG: It works. What would you say are some new ways to recruit, Carol?

CL: I think it's important that you understand your local market and your employee workforce and look at getting involved with your local schools and universities. Oftentimes, they're in tune with educational programs or people who are looking to increase skills and learn a new trade. You may want to volunteer to speak to a graduating class of nurses or host a seminar at your location — again, great ways to get in front of people who are going to be active and entering into the job market. You could suggest to do a guest lecture series in return for getting referrals for those graduates.

You could get involved in marketing materials and getting those to students and ensure that they know that you will be putting them at the front of the line if they mention that they saw you at the flier or heard you talk in front of a class. School job boards are a great way, or the career services office, to get your name out there and get in front of people who are having those conversations, potentially with new folks who are graduating and have those skills that you're looking to employ.

I also think for any level of position, it's really important to establish a relationship with your local chamber of commerce, your one-stop job office which may be known as your unemployment office, depending on your part of the country. They often host career fairs, resume-writing workshops. You could volunteer to set up mock interviews or present on an interesting topic. Anything to get your name out in the community is a great event.

I'd like to share a quick story about an event that came to us just as a spark of conversation, and we kicked it around a little bit, and it really took off. It was a pop-up event. You may be familiar, Darcy, with brands that try to create some excitement or buzz by having pop-up events, which is just a little spontaneous shop that may be small, and it's that fear of missing out where you create a buzz. Everyone's gathered around a place, and you say, "Wow, what's going on over there? I want to be a part of that."

The pop-up event really came out of the desire to say we need to get to people where they're at. Oftentimes, when you've got folks in long-term care who have worked a shift, they're driving home, they're tired, the last thing they want to do is stop in and inquire about a job, fill out an application. So we bought a tent and a table and some chairs, and we took basically the show on the road. We found some local parking lots that would allow us to set up the tent and the table. We had some giveaways that were branded, and we would take hiring managers such as the director of nursing, director of rehabilitation, administrators and the HR team, and we would be literally in a church parking lot, a doughnut store parking lot, a uniform shop parking lot, places that were perhaps to or from our competition or on a major highway. We had lawn signs printed by our marketing team that said, "Hiring Now," or "Free Giveaway for Nurses," or "Free Coffee for CNAs," and people would just stop by.

The purpose was really to just have a conversation with them. It wasn't even necessarily to recruit, although we had applications there and certainly we would be willing to talk to anyone who stopped by about opportunities, but it was to let people know we are out in the community. We're reaching out. We're accessible. We're not waiting passively for folks to stop by our office and ask for an application. We want to be on your way to doing something, and we want to create enough of excitement that you pull the car in, stop for two or three minutes, grab some giveaways or a doughnut, have a nice conversation with us, and if it leads to a conversation about a job opportunity, that's fantastic. If nothing else, it's a goodwill gesture. We got a lot of qualified applicants for a number of positions just by doing that really simple, cost-effective act.

DG: Wow, that's a great idea. You used a tent, so it literally was a pop-up event.

CL: It literally was! It sounded crazy when we were thinking about it, and then the more we got putting into conversation, it became something that we rotated around at each location. Again, it was just driving past local vendors in the community, stopping in. Most folks were happy to have us set up in their parking lot, and it was for a very short period of time, usually at shift change made sense to us, maybe from noon to two or three to five. Try to find out those high-traffic spots, and just ask people to stop by. Again, the point wasn't to recruit. It was to be out in the community, and the recruitment was just a natural extension of that.

DG: That's great. There's so much emphasis on the actual recruiting and hiring part of the process, but onboarding is equally important. How does an employer make a new hire feel part of the team so that they don't leave?

CL: Absolutely, and I think it's about making that connection as soon as possible with all new employees. You may want to consider a getting-to-know-you board in the break room with a photo and a quick fact about the new hire, with their permission. I think that's a great way to put a face with a name. Certainly use your email distribution list to make sure that you're announcing new hires so everyone knows. You can also leverage social media to show new hires on their first day, whether it's meeting their manager or a quick snapshot of their desk that's all set up with them, maybe a welcome gift on that desk that would make them feel like you've just been awaiting their arrival.

Take a look at your employee newsletter and make sure that you're showing new hires in that as well, too, so people can see that you're bringing new talent to the organization. Let new employees know about things that they have to look forward to such as any theme days, a turkey giveaway at Thanksgiving, holiday events. Maybe there's an annual recognition dinner that you have or an employee breakfast, something to let them know that we do events throughout the year to make them feel welcome and to be a part of the team. I think the most important thing is to encourage managers at all levels to make a connection with a new hire, make them feel welcome, follow up with them and build that lasting working relationship so you can focus on the communication, training and educating going forward.

DG: Those are great, Carol. I noticed that they're all internal, which is what we were talking about, but I would also suggest that you do a news release announcing the new hire to the external community. It shows commitment on the part of the employer. It might also be enticing to other potential candidates and then maybe will make that employee feel a commitment as well. Do you agree?

CL: Absolutely. I think that's a great idea. Again, who doesn't like to see their name in the paper? A lot of employees would love to take that home and show it to their loved one. Maybe they have family out of state; they can take a picture of it on their smartphone and email it to them or text it to them. It's just another way to make that connection and to show you're proud of the people that you're employing. I think that's fantastic.

DG: Let's move onto the next question. If an employer can't compete on pay, how can they get applicants to select their company?

CL: Absolutely, and that's a tough one. At the end of the day, everyone has financial obligations to meet, and pay is certainly important to everyone. I think it's a collective group effort to work with your HR team, your recruiter, your marketing department and your hiring manager and think about some ways that you can create some tools to speak to applicants and candidates honestly about the things that you can offer. I would suggest that you may want to create a brief questionnaire for new hires during the orientation period so you can capture information about what they were looking for in a job beyond a paycheck and really leverage those to your benefit as you create that material so those are good talking points.

I think it's important to appeal to all the good things that you can offer to someone such as great staffing ratios, work flexibility in terms of scheduling, days of the week or hours or shifts. If you've got a great scheduling system like SmartLinx that can communicate to employees about their schedule, definitely let them know you're leveraging today's most modern technology to get that information out to them in real time so they can pick up shifts or they could just be aware of other communication that's going on.

I think also focus on any continuing education or training that you offer to employees. Especially around new technology and healthcare, it's critical that you are letting people know that that is a skill that is really valued in your organization. Also, it's great to highlight if you have any longstanding relationships with hospitals, nursing schools or colleges. Again, that could be a win-win for employee and employer.

Certainly in your benefits program, if you have anything like an EAP, which is an employee assistance program, a smoking cessation program, a stress reduction, perhaps a wellness plan that could reduce benefits costs if you take, for example, a quick year-beginning assessment about lifestyle choices. Those are all things that can benefit which are not directly in the paycheck but would have a significant impact. Certainly if you promote any tools using social media or if you have a great referral bonus program, I think all of those things can potentially outweigh the issue of competing on pay alone when you look at those comprehensive benefits that you can offer someone.

DG: Carol, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us today. I'd like to thank all of those who took the time to listen to our podcast. If you'd like to learn more about SmartLinx Solutions and our fully integrated suite of workforce management solutions, visit us online at SmartLinxSolutions.com. Thanks and have a great day.

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