How a Nurse Manager Can Recruit Elite Talent and Avoid Bad Hires

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Tips for hiring the best nursesA bad hire is worse than no hire at all, most managers and workers agree. Human resources experts advocate “cutting your losses” if you make a bad hire, which means firing the newcomer as soon as possible. There is no upside.

It’s a far more subtle challenge to make a truly good hire. The challenge may even go to the heart of what constitutes good management, or even what defines a good company.

A nurse manager must keep both bad hires and truly good hires firmly in mind when filling a staff vacancy. That isn’t easy. With the demand for new nurses exceeding supply at a rate expected to create a shortfall of 260,000 by 2025, management is tempted to hire haphazardly to ensure there are enough bodies to fill the duty rosters.

The hazards of that approach are too costly to ignore. Bad hires plague most companies sooner or later, according to CareerBuilder, and for more than a quarter, the bad hire costs the company more than $50,000 and can cause loss of production while fostering negative attitudes among clients and employees alike. Nurse departures overall cost $700 million a year in the United States, and 15 percent of new nurses quit during their first year, thus becoming bad hires.

Hiring the best nurses

HR managers talk about “hiring right,” a checklist methodology cited by NursingCenter aimed at preventing bad hires. But “hiring right” doesn’t quite capture the competitive atmosphere when nurse managers far and wide are competing to turn a small pool of talented prospects into good hires.

So a hiring manager should be thinking about the stiff competition when trying to fill a high-level opening.

“Recruiting needs to be focused on the specialty needed,” Patricia Sweeney, a HR manager at a Massachusetts-based hospice organization, told “The employer must know exactly what skills they need and be able to advertise those skills.”

Some say advertising isn’t necessarily your best bet for finding those specialists, especially if you’re seeking someone with experience for a high-level position.

“The top professionals don’t look at job ads,” said Dr. John Sullivan, a HR professor, corporate speaker and adviser, in the Glassdoor article. “Employers have to find other ways to get in front of them.”

Nurse recruitment ideas

Those skeptical of advertising stress that you ought to be creating a reputation for running a good place to work with good salaries and benefits and strong chances for advancement. Sullivan says favorable articles in journals and magazines also impress potential job candidates.

Recommend a friend

These attributes create a word-of-mouth network that will steer the ideal candidates to you. If you truly have been “hiring right,” your current employees might be the best conduits to newcomers.

“If a nurse is happy somewhere, they will bring three friends with them,” says Jean Scheuer, vice president of advertising for Gannett Healthcare Group, which operates

The friends they bring might not even be actively seeking a job but would be open to hearing about an ideal-sounding job.

“If you look across all professions, people want a paycheck, but most nurses want to do the best work of their life,” Sullivan says. “It’s not ‘Will you pay me?’ It’s ‘do you have the best equipment, do you have the best doctors, do the nurses get the opportunity to make decisions and try new things . . . ?’ ”

“The top professionals don’t look at job ads. Employers have to find other ways to get in front of them.” – Dr. John Sullivan, HR professor, corporate speaker and adviser

Without those advantages, a smaller institution might be attractive if it offers direct impact on outcomes or even diminished bureaucracy, Sullivan says.

Often, then, the very strengths a hiring manager is seeking in a job candidate are exactly the strengths the job candidate wants to hear are desired/in demand.

Flip the job ad

If you do advertise, keep that in mind. You’ll need to tailor the wording to the candidates you’re trying to hire.

It’s most important, an article in Fast Company says, to tell them the job confers a chance to develop skills in many areas, that they’ll have autonomy, will be important to the company, and will have opportunities to advance. If that piques their interest, you can then elaborate on the skills you would expect them to bring and your other requirements.

“The typical job ad focuses on what the employer wants from the applicant,” says David Jones, associate professor of business at the University of Vermont and one of the authors of a study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology. “Ads that focus on what employers can offer job seekers — such as autonomy and career advancement — result in better employee-company matches.”

In Jones’ analysis, that approach attracted three times as many highly rated applicants as did ads that focused on the skills the organization needed fulfilled.

Nevertheless, the company’s needs come into play in the “hiring right” strategy, and that’s true of all hiring, not just at the elite level.

Interviewing nurses

If you have a recruiting specialist or your company uses HR methodologies to screen candidates, heed red flags they cite as flaws in your candidate and don’t go through with your interview.

With those you are interviewing, a behavioral interviewing strategy is crucial. After ascertaining talking points that cover important duties for the job being filled, it’s important to ask interview subjects how they have handled those situations in the past, posing the questions in a way that forces the prospects to speak expansively.

Entry-level candidates can be asked to describe clinical experiences they’ve enjoyed, or describe interactions with patients and their families.

If you like those answers, personality fit becomes important, and that’s the time to employ peer interviewing.

Involving staff in the selection process, one-on-one or with as many as three staffers at a time, makes a good impression on the prospective employee and is good for staff morale, partly because it invests everyone in the new hire’s welfare.

Even in the best of companies, it doesn’t always work out. But that should happen to fewer than 10 percent of your new hires if you’re hiring right.

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