4 Red Flags to Look for When Hiring Physical Therapists

Finding the right physical therapist for your clinic can be a daunting task, especially today. New graduates are coming out of school with unrealistic income expectations and false fears regarding medicare patient care and clinical efficiencies. Based on several surveys, these new grads are seeking autonomy with mentorship. What that means for owners, is that they want to be given additional clinical training for free, while being addressed as if they are fully knowledgeable and independent with a high salary and good work-life balance. I think we could all agree that this sounds great and who wouldn’t want those things?

Based on my experience, 99% of all private practice owners would love to do exactly that and hire and retain the best and the brightest as a result. Unfortunately, there is another side to this coin: what are YOU, “the new hire” going to do in exchange for all these wonderful new employee arrangements? Here lies the problem: all too often it becomes a disproportionate level of exchange between the new hire and employer. Success in team building is interdependent upon your ability to find and enhance the personal and professional relationship between you and your employee in a way that they feel that they are a part of a bigger cause than themselves.

As the owner and/or team leader who took on the task of assembling this group of individuals, it is your responsibility to be transparent with them right from the interview and through their employment to what is expected from them and in exchange what they are expecting from you. It is paramount that you have their understanding and full agreement in regards to the fact that only by working together as a group will they succeed in their own goal attainment.  This is what is meant by being a part of a winning team.

The individuals of that group can only win after the group is already winning. So if we now know what it takes to have a winning team within our practice we need to know what to be looking for and who to avoid so that we don’t get hung up working with the wrong individuals.

This resource suggests that the cost of a bad hire is roughly 30% of an annual salary.  What we recommend is “THE FIVE PHASE HIRING PROGRAM” which has been time tested in hundreds of physical therapy offices for more than a decade now and found to be greater than 85% accurate each time it’s used.  

Here are five red flags that you should be on the look-out for during the hiring process:

Talking About Money Too Soon

If you are following the hiring program mentioned above, phase two is the phone screen. This is the time for you to get to know the applicant. Ask questions about them, their goals, hobbies, etc… If at this time they jump to the money question, I would consider this a red flag. That’s not to say that money isn’t important, but there is a time and a place to have that discussion and it surely should not occur before they have come into your office and met you and your staff. Survey data shows that the #1 reason for high job satisfaction is never money. It’s typically: “do I like the people I work with?”  So during this phone screen, you should have a pretty good sense of the individual’s interests and values. Go into the call wanting to get to know the person – the real person – not just the superficial shell that so many want to show you. Talking over the phone is a lower degree of personal confront so they should be able to loosen up a bit and be more transparent with you if you know the right questions to ask.

Lateness and/or Lack of Questions

Phase 3 is what we call “interview day.” The primary objective is to get others involved in the interview process so that you get an additional opinion on the candidate. It never hurts to have an extra set of eyes and ears on the potential new hire, and staff usually enjoy being a part of the process of weighing in on who might be joining the team. This invites more conversation and should stimulate greater interest from the candidate. I recommend that you keep the majority of the time spent in this phase on getting to know the candidate, not on selling the candidate on the position. If after the meet and greet time, the tour of the facility and the sit-down conversation, they haven’t asked five or more questions, I would be concerned as a basic rule of thumb. Keep in mind, I’m referring to conversational questions that should pop up like “What EMR do you use?” “How often do you schedule patients?” “What are the hours of operation?” “When did you start the practice and or why did you go into private practice?”

If They Think They are There to Interview You

From time to time, you might come across a new grad or who was told that they are there to interview you as much as you are there to interview them. This often comes from their college professors implanting in their head that they are somehow in the driver’s seat of the job search process. You need to correct this immediately: ask them to save their questions to the end of the interview discussion. You will see them take their seat at the table when you enter the interview room and bring out their yellow legal pads with a list of questions written down on it. Acknowledge that you see they came prepared with questions –  which are great – but you prefer the interview be more of a discussion and less of a negotiation. Ask if they wouldn’t mind putting their notepad aside while you both talk and, if by the end all questions are not answered, they can feel free to ask whatever they like. By directing them where to go, where to sit, and when to ask questions, you position yourself in control of this discussion. This is where you need to be in order to be most successful in your hiring process.

Not willing to give you an answer within 24 hours

What you are looking for, is someone who is excited to be given the opportunity to work within your practice. By the time phase 4 –  “the interview” – is over and you are ready to go into phase 5 – “the close” – they should be eager to hear what you have to offer. They should want to accept as soon as possible for fear that someone else might get this wonderful opportunity. You say the following: “So based on everything you have seen and heard from me and my staff throughout this process, is there anything else we could answer for you? “ If they say “No,” then you say: “Well great I think you would be a great addition to our team, therefore, I would like to put together an offer for you and should we be able to make ends meet would you be able to accept the position here and now with me or by this time tomorrow?”  If they say “yes,” then you proceed. If they say “No,” then you halt and say, “Well is there something missing here based on what you are looking for?” They may say: “Well not really I just want to shop around a bit and see what else is out there.” You then encourage them to do so and say, “by all means take your time and look around and make sure you are making the right decision, based on what is most important to you. If after you have looked around, by all means, please reach back out to us.  If the position is still available, then we can talk about the particulars.”

You see, if they are not sold on your practice by then, chances are they are just looking to shop your offer against other offers, so avoid that from happening when you can.

Hiring the wrong staff can be costly. Get into the habit of hiring slowly and firing quickly that help avoid other issues that bad hires can bring into the clinic culture. Finally, understand that finding the right people can be time-consuming but worth it when you don’t compromise on finding people who are the right culture fit, and are passionate about the values you hold for your clinic. 

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