Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Healthcare Recruiting Strategies that Work - and Others That Don''t!

Experts say a broad-based approach continues to be the essence of good recruiting but strategy is key

A recent survey by a professional recruitment society found that many hospitals continue to use strategies that they say don''t work well in the recruitment of nurses and fail to use to their full potential those strategies that they say do work. The survey, done by the National Association for Health Care Recruitment (NAHCR) in December 2001, asked 720 member hospitals to identify strategies they''re using to recruit and retain nurses and how effective they are. Two-hundred-sixty-five hospitals responded.

The results

According to Cathy Allman, executive director of NAHCR, the advertising strategies that were most popular among hospitals were help-wanted ads in local newspapers, used by 97% of respondents; job fairs, used by 94%; and advertising on an Internet job posting (or job boards), used by 91%. When we asked them what was most effective, they said the hospital home page was most effective followed by job posting on an Internet site, then followed by local newspapers, Allman says. I think it tells us that everybody is more into electronics, such as the Internet. I think the other thing is that local newspaper advertising can be very expensive and probably recruiters or human resources departments need to look at what''s most effective and use that rather than what''s expensive and maybe only the third or forth most effective.

Allman also noted that while some hospitals are reporting that they are attempting creative recruitment advertising methods, those methods aren''t necessarily paying off. More than a third of hospitals reported doing radio and television advertising for nurses; 25% used non-healthcare magazines; and 20% used billboards. Still, non-healthcare magazines and billboards were ranked the least effective among 11 advertising recruitment tools. Radio and television advertising was ranked 7th on the list in terms of effectiveness, being slightly more effective than head hunters.

A mixed bag of technology and traditional

Many in the industry are scratching their heads about how to attract hard-to-find nurses, pharmacists, radiology technologists and pharmacy technicians. According to Judy Shorr, manager nursing recruitment, University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle, and western regional chairperson for NAHCR, variety is the best approach, including Internet-based methods and traditional approaches. I think bottom line is that there''s nothing that''s a sure bet. I think people have the need to be doing a variety of different things to hopefully pull the people that they''re seeking. It''s very difficult right now so I think people tend to employ a variety of strategies.

Shorr says that NAHCR members in the Western U.S. are having success with open houses and even shopping mall kiosks that promote healthcare careers. She has noticed an increase in activity from the University of Washington Web site, as the institution has stepped up its online recruiting tool.

Some places are continuing to find that doing employee referral programs is really successful, she says. And one of the things that more and more applicants are asking is instead of offering a recruitment bonus, do we offer assistance in paying back student loans.

According to the NAHCR survey, loan forgiveness was the most effective financial recruiting incentive for the recruitment of nurses. The retention bonus was the weakest among: loan forgiveness, seasonal bonus, short staff/critical vacancy bonus, incentives for recruiters, bonus for night shift, relocation/start-up bonus, certification pay, employee referral fee, sign-on bonus and no benefit option.

The recruiting method that works best for Doug Smith, president, BESmith, a healthcare search firm in Kansas City, Mo., is email. BESmith, which places about 450 healthcare executives and others a year, has a proprietary email database which he and his staff use to send short, customized messages to target candidates. Keep your emails [to candidates] brief. We feel like they have to be able to read it in less than 30 seconds, he says.

Still, email doesn''t replace the traditional methods of recruitment, including phone calling and newspaper advertising. You have to hit them all or you''re not doing a good job. No one will ever replace phone calling in executive searches. Essentially, we''re a business that works with computers and phones, Smith says.

The method or the message?

Gerry Crispin, co-author CareerXRoads, the worlds leading reference guide for job and resume Web sites, questions the quality of data about what works and what doesn''t in recruitment. We''re seeing data that suggests that about 10% of job hires come from job boards. But the problem is that employers increasingly are identifying probably as much as a quarter of all their hires coming from their Web site. The problem is that they''re not mentioning how they [hires] got to their Web site in the first place, he says.

According to Crispin, an international consultant on employment strategy and process, in healthcare--particularly because skills are so scarce--it is important for companies to examine what kind of a message they send in the first place. It may not be that the channel doesn''t work, it may just be that they have a lousy message, Crispin says. Key components are that message has to clearly delineate what makes this company different. It has to tap, one of four or five key areas of why someone should take an action, which have to do with convenience, challenge, location, etc. It has to have a clear and simple action step identified for what someone should do next.

Crispin agrees that there is no one magic bullet in healthcare recruitment. Most recruiters realize at this point that they cannot operate without using technology but the technology in and of its self is not sufficient. A lot of the basics are going to be critical in the future, he says.

One of the key areas in which companies will have to focus, according to Crispin, is better understanding the demographics of their target markets: where the people that they''re looking for really are and how many of them there are. Only a handful of companies actually know how many nurses there are within a 20 mile radius. I don''t mean: ''We think there are a lot because there are a bunch of hospitals.'' I mean how many critical care nurses actually live in a 20-mile radius? Who are they? What are their names and email addresses?

According to Crispin, organizations, such as hospitals, can acquire this information, either by building an in-house research group or by outsourcing the responsibility.

Gerry Crispin makes a good point about company web sites and where their candidates actually come from, says Frank Heasley, PhD, President and CEO, of, a leading web site that serves healthcare professionals and employers. It''s easy to forget that many of those sites require candidates to visit their web site in order to apply for their jobs, even though the candidate probably found the job somewhere else on the net first.

Dr. Heasley goes on to say, We have found that passive recruiting methods like advertising in print media and simply posting jobs on the internet are generally much less effective than pro-active methods like networking, recruiting and resume database search (data mining). While the passive methods are an important part of any recruitment campaign, a comprehensive approach must include pro-active methods when qualified candidates are scarce. The bottom line is that some candidates answer job ads, and some post resumes, but very few actually do both, he says.

Established in mid 1994, MedZilla is the original web site to serve career and hiring needs for professionals and employers in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, medicine, science and healthcare. The MedZilla jobs database currently contains about 10,000 open positions. The resume databank currently contains approximately 7,500 resumes, less than three months old. These resources have been characterized as the largest, most comprehensive databases of their kind on the web in the industries served.