6 Skills to Look for When Hiring Contact Tracers

In recent weeks, the United States has seen a resurgence in cases of the coronavirus. Many states have reopened retail stores, bars, and outdoor dining, which can all be factors in the increase in the spread of the virus. As the severity of this pandemic continues, contact tracers are in high demand — it’s predicted that over 300,000 contact tracers will be needed this year alone. 

However, hiring people for these roles will be challenging. The role of a contact tracer is relatively new, and it calls for a unique combination of analytical and interpersonal skills. Candidates must possess the right combination of skills and demeanor to effectively draw out key information from people exposed to the virus to keep the public safe. 

What should the ideal contact tracing candidate look like? Here are six characteristics contact tracers must have to be successful:

1. Communication and Interpersonal Skills

Contact tracers must conduct virtual interviews to gather and provide information to stakeholders. Even with a script, contact tracers still need to adjust their style and questions depending on the people with whom they speak. 

Successful contact traces will need to consider and respond appropriately to the needs, feelings, and capabilities of diverse individuals in different situations, as well as exhibit the ability to show empathy during a time of crisis and distress. They will also need to communicate with their colleagues and leadership to inform or collaborate on complex cases and situations.

2. Cultural Sensitivity 

Given the personal nature of the job, another key characteristic to look for is cultural sensitivity. Part of the role is to notify people of exposure, provide disease and transmission information, and gather data on demographics, living arrangements, and daily activities. Effective contact tracers should have the ability to effectively interact with people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, as well as collect sensitive but important information without any bias or judgment.  

3. Organization Skills 

Contact tracers must prioritize tasks and ensure efficiency. It’s important for them to track and identify key contacts in a timely manner. Time is of the essence, which is why prioritization, focusing, and following through on cases are important skills for this role. 

4. Critical Thinking

Contact tracers will in some ways have to step into the shoes of a detective. They will have to research and sort through information and decide what information to act on. This demands critical-thinking skills. The ability to ask the right questions, correctly evaluate information, and draw the right conclusions will help contact tracers do their job more effectively.  

5. Work Ethic

The role will oftentimes be remote and offer autonomy in the work. Having a professional attitude and a willingness to perform to the best of their abilities will be critical characteristics to look for in contact tracers. It’s vital for individuals in these roles to recognize the severity of the situation and the importance of timely responses.

6. Confidentiality

Handling highly-sensitive information will also be essential. A key characteristic to look for will be integrity and the ability to manage personal and confidential information with discretion and professionalism. 

Ultimately, as you think about hiring contact tracers, it will be important to pay attention to these key attributes to assure success and safety.

Dr. Ben Porr is the VP of people science at Harver and strategic advisor to the contacttracers.com initiative that connects potential contact tracers with hiring organizations. Dr. Porr is also an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner with vast expertise across the full employee lifecycle, including talent assessment, organizational development, and people analytics.

At Harver, Dr. Porr helps organizations build and implement unique assessment frameworks predictive of success in their specific context. He is an active member in the industrial-organizational psychology network and volunteers on multiple committees and presents his work at local and national conferences.

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