[This guest column was written by Beyond Clean Advisory Group member Brandon Todd, MDiv, ThM, CRCST, CHL, CIS, CER, Sterile Processing Manager at Norton Healthcare in Louisville, KY]
Hiring managers conduct hundreds of interviews a year. Given the complexity and variety of skills required to be a high performing sterile processing technician, how do you, as the hiring manager, find that rock star sterile processing technician? The high performer who will produce exceptional productivity while meeting the high quality demands of our industry. The technician who can plow through 20 total revision loaners before lunch, who can pull 50+ case carts and still have time to restock the peel packs, who can be garbed in full PPE and stare down 12 spine cases hitting the decon door, channel Liam Neeson’s character in Taken and say “I have a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career, skills that make me a nightmare for people (germs) like you!”
Finding that rock star candidate is like finding a needle in a haystack. This article will provide you with some tried and true strategies to weed through the canned answers and find your Liam Neeson to get ready to Fight Dirty!
1. Raise your Standards
Across the nation we are experiencing a massive staffing crisis. The job market has changed so dramatically that many leaders are so desperate for help that they are just hiring warm bodies to fill chairs and hoping for the best. I understand the pressure and have been in very tight situations like it but setting your standards high will pay off in the end. I often tell candidates that sterile processing is an entry level job, meaning you do not need any specialized training or education, but it is certainly not entry level work! Be strategic and stop viewing your department as an entry level job and hiring sub-par candidates.
An unfortunate stigma is that we are just glorified dish washers; even worse, someone once remarked to me that SPD stood for “Stupid People Downstairs”. Anyone who has been in an SPD department for more than a day immediately recognizes how insulting and far from the truth those sentiments are. But many leaders are subconsciously falling prey to this mentality by hiring out of desperation rather than inspiration. Set your sights on the ideal performer and only hire candidates that display that aptitude.
One of the risks in only hiring the best, is that the rock stars often take off and get promoted out of your department. This critique has always baffled me. You will get more value out of the best candidate for 2 years than the bad candidate for 15. Leaders who reject great candidates out of fear of becoming a stepping stone, will end up being the ones stepped on by poor performers with long tenure.
2. Train your Recruiter/ Think Outside of the Box
Your Recruiter is your wing-man. While they are essential you cannot rely on them to know the specific needs and skillsets required for your department. At the end of the day it is your job to hire the right candidate, but your recruiter can act as a gatekeeper, rejecting candidates before they waste your time and sending you their best picks. The problem is that they may have a different expectation than you do. I worked with a recruiter for a season that would only send me PCA and ESD candidates because that's what he thought would be the best candidate pool. I later found out that he would predominantly reject candidates with warehouse, retail, or restaurant backgrounds because he thought that is not the right skill set.
Set a time to meet with your recruiter to discuss what skills and experience you value. Value work ethic over education and healthcare experience. You can teach the knowledge of SPD; you can't teach work ethic. Also, get creative and think outside the box, do not only rely on your recruiters to bring candidates to you. Find where high performing people interact and get in front of them. Sterile Processing is often unknown as a career path. Be a spokesperson for our industry and let people know the life changing work we are doing every day and you will begin to funnel in better candidates.
3. Ask Better Questions
This may seem like obvious advice, but I have sat through countless hiring events where my esteemed colleagues conduct 3 question interviews: Tell me about yourself, Why do you want to work in our hospital? Do you have any questions? We are hiring professionals to perform a highly skilled trade. Our patients, staff, industry deserve better interview questions. Take time to prepare for your interviews. Don't let them be that annoying task that is distracting you from your work. Recruiting is one of the most important things that a leader does. You are building a team that will outlast your career and will impact countless lives. Treat it with that level of seriousness and intention.
Always ask open ended, behavior based questions. There are countless resources for probing questions that will help you discern who will be a high performer. A few of my personal favorites are “How do you achieve perfection in your work while under time constraints?”, Tell me a recent problem that you solved,” “What did you learn from your last work error?” I also describe some of the challenges we are facing in the department and ask them how they would contribute to our department's objectives under these challenges. Finally, when appropriate, I like to be transparent about my concerns about their candidacy and give them a chance to respond. Most hiring managers see a red flag and move on. Giving them a chance to respond provides them an opportunity to provide context to ease your concerns while testing how they take criticism.
3. Build the rockstar team
If you want to recruit the best talent, you have to build a top tier team. High turnover can be a slow and painful death. Improving employee engagement and building a team of high performers will attract other high performers. Give each staff member purpose and ownership for department successes. Celebrate your high-performers to motivate their peers. This takes time and it is hard work, but by being an inspirational leader you can build a team of high performers that attract high performers.
4. Expect to be surprised
It is very difficult to discern if someone has the skills, motivation, and aptitude to be a high performing Sterile Processing Technician within 45 minutes to an hour. But by raising your standards, collaborating with your recruiter, asking better questions, and leading a team worthy of aspiring talent you have a good chance of finding the right candidate. Yet, all that being said, expect to be surprised. People will rarely tell you they are low performers. Some are very good at selling themselves but fail to execute. Likewise, you will have candidates that surpass your expectations. Create an environment of continual improvement and even these surprises won't sink your ship.
These are just a few strategies that have worked for my teams through the years.