How to Win the Healthcare Talent Wars, Part 2

Part 1 of this article series outlined some of the similarities and differences between healthcare recruiting today and the IT recruiting crises of the late 1990s. In this article, I will cover the lessons learned from the IT talent wars and how they can be applied to the challenges facing the healthcare industry. These are some of the general principles to live by. Realize It’s a War for Talent Everyone in healthcare knows there’s a problem, but some organizations are much less aggressive than others about taking steps to solve it. If you’re in healthcare recruiting, you’re under attack from all sides. Other hospitals inside and outside your local market, traveling nurse agencies, permanent placement agencies, and consulting firms are all competing for the same limited talent pool. Sign-on bonuses of up to $5,000 are not uncommon. One hospital is giving away a car lease for three years (this should sound very familiar to IT recruiters). Recruiting trips, even for smaller hospitals or chains, are ending up in faraway places such as the Philippines and South Africa. Yet in an intense competition for talent, most recruiting efforts start with “poaching” employees away from other hospitals like yours by dangling attractive incentives and offers. Keeping on top of who your competition is, what they’re doing, and how your efforts stack up is vital to your success. In the old talent wars, recruiters from companies like Cisco would offer to give an apples-to-apples comparison of your other offers with theirs in order to help sell you on the virtues of theirs in comparison. All the while, they gathered competitive intelligence on who was hiring and how they were doing it. Think Like a Recruitment Marketer Long ago, IT recruiters learned that recruiting and retention is really a sales and marketing discipline. Recruiters’ main tasks are to market and sell a set of openings and an employment experience as opposed to a physical product. The all-important “four Ps” of Recruitment Marketing? Product, Pay, Place, and Promotion. All of these elements make up your employer brand, or the promise of your employment offer:

  • Product. For scarce talent to accept your offers, you have to have the right product, i.e. you need to deliver a positive employment experience, make people feel good about what they do, and periodically reward performance.
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  • Pay. In terms of pay, the laws of economics ó such as supply and demand and the “invisible hand of capitalism” ó apply to employment as well. You must remain competitive in terms of salary or face a retention problem. Just ask the state hospitals with fixed pay scales!
  • Place. Place plays a big role in who considers your offers, as less desirable geographic areas typically operate from a position of weakness in terms of attracting out-of-state talent and keeping in-state talent.
  • Promote. No one will know about your openings if you don’t promote them through the right channels, be they word of mouth or media. More importantly, though, you must promote your unique selling points (USPs) to your target audience in terms that are relevant to the job seeker, and in ways that truly distinguish you from the competition.

All of the above must be supported by the “salespeople,” (i.e. the recruiters) who should be able to articulate your value proposition as an employer very persuasively. Most healthcare organizations exclusively hire current or former nurses into the recruiting profession. While having former nurses on your recruiting staff helps you broaden your knowledge base about the field, the real skills you need to succeed as a recruiter are sales-oriented. There are many nurses who can and do succeed in recruiting, but there are many others who seem out of place in their roles. The best IT recruiters I ever met were aggressive, took no prisoners, and could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman wearing white gloves if they wanted to. I’m sure many of these people are looking for work today, and could be valuable additions to a healthcare organization. Centralize Your Budget In recruiting, there are definite economies of scale that can be realized with a centralized budget. Hiring managers are short-sighted, and will not freely give you the budget to put long-term recruiting tools in place. Organizations with decentralized budgets typically get stuck in an inefficient, overly reactionary mode of recruiting in which they consistently repeat the same mistakes again and again, and spend money where it’s easier versus more efficient. Measure and Then Maximize Your ROI As the old saying goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” A hallmark of many healthcare recruiting organizations is that they have no idea what’s working for them and what isn’t. There’s no historical ROI data, not even a cost-per-hire by source, much less an idea of meaningful statistics like quality of hire, productivity and tenure. Applicant tracking systems seem to be the best and most efficient way to track recruitment ROI out there. But in my opinion, none of them has hit the nail on the head yet. Regardless, some data is better than no data, and today’s applicant tracking systems can give you a high level indication of how well your recruiting efforts are doing and where you should and shouldn’t spend your money. Fight For What You Need To Win If there’s one thing IT recruiters know, it’s how difficult it can be to get a say in corporate decisions, and even in their own budget. A major topic of discussion on sites like the Electronic Recruiting Exchange is how recruiting can become a strategic partner in an organization. Traditionally seen as a cost center, staffing has to establish credibility and fight for every nickel in its budget, while having to go to great lengths to quantify the results of recruiting efforts. Tap Your Internal Resources Is your Employee Referral Program (ERP) living up to its full potential? You might be getting 30% or even 40% of your hires through it. Sorry to tell you, but that’s average. Investing time, effort, and money in this program always pays huge dividends ó just ask the IT companies of the late ’90s. Lower cost per hire, increased quality of hire, and higher retention rates typically result. Automating the process has proven easy and effective not only for recruiters, but also for healthcare employees through shared terminals in common areas and home computer access. ERPs are consistently the highest ROI that we see our healthcare clients realize. The best referral programs help everyone take ownership in the program, turning your employee base into a mobilized, motivated army of recruiters. A client of ours set a goal of 100 hires in 100 days with their employee base, tracked and communicated their progress ó and achieved their goals! Automate the Busywork If all you do is push paper, you’ll only be seen as a paper-pusher. Much of the busywork of recruiting ó such as resume processing, routing, and initial pre-screening ó can and should be automated. Believe it or not, IT recruiters don’t religiously use applicant tracking systems simply because they love technology. After all, very few of them were ever programmers. They use them because they free them up to complete the most important task involved in recruiting: establishing relationships with top candidates and applicants. Healthcare recruiting is currently on the verge of taking a quantum leap that is quite similar to the one that corporate recruiting took in the late 1990s. The healthcare labor shortage has no end in sight, and there are no easy answers. An incredible opportunity exists to stand on the shoulders of those who came before you by learning from and even hiring the IT recruiters who experienced our country’s last catastrophic labor shortage. I suggest you take it!

Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (www.talentsparkconsulting.com), a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.

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