How difficult is an HR or talent attraction leader’s job in the healthcare industry these days? A recent Los Angeles Times article tells some of the story: 

“On a single day this week, 616 staffers called out sick with COVID-19 at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. Without nearly a tenth of its workers — doctors, nurses, administrators and janitors — the hospital assigned the National Guard to help with an unrelenting swarm of patients, many of them critically ill.”  

As reports like this illustrate, the highly infectious COVID-19 omicron variant is dramatically impacting the healthcare industry, which was already struggling to cope with hiring challenges since the first pandemic lockdowns in early 2020. Although omicron infection rates are now subsiding in many places, there’s still much uncertainty in the year ahead. And the hiring and retention challenges that the pandemic has created will take years to overcome.    

With that in mind, I moderated a recent U.S. Indeed Leadership Connect roundtable on hiring and retention in the healthcare field along with my colleague Caroline Ferrarone, Senior Manager of Country Marketing at Indeed. For the informal discussion over Zoom, we brought together eight healthcare HR and talent attraction leaders to share their struggles — and the strategies they’re employing to address them. 

Automate and streamline hiring for a better candidate experience

With so many open positions to fill, coupled with the high hurdle of attracting qualified candidates and getting them through the hiring process, attendees talked about the urgent need to help recruiters be as efficient as possible — especially through automation. 

  • Several leaders discussed how to develop and implement a recruiterless hiring process — one that enables candidates for certain types of roles to follow a  purely digital path from application to screening to hiring. 

The goals of recruiterless hiring are to enable recruiters to spend their time on the most difficult or important roles to fill while also eliminating candidate drop-off through efficient hiring processes. 

“In our experience, every time there’s a handoff in the applicant’s journey, from initial screening to meeting with a recruiter, we lose 80% of our candidates,” said the TA leader at a company that provides services to skilled nursing and senior living facilities. “For job seekers who want to go through the entire process electronically, we have to build that path for them.”

  • Other roundtable participants said the past two years have caused them to focus on making various hiring process improvements through automation and other means. 

“We want a seamless, sound, integrated process that lets recruiters spend their time on the candidates, because that efficiency helps us create a high-quality candidate experience,” said the TA leader for a medical transportation company.

In turn, technology that helps recruiters be more efficient also helps employers be more competitive in their hiring, said Mitchell Bush, Senior Director of Clinical Talent Acquisition for Community Health Systems, a provider of acute care hospitals and outpatient care centers. 

“It’s important to connect candidates to a human as fast as possible, and technology can help with that,” he explained. “Candidates want to be nurtured throughout the process. And ideally, once you connect with candidates, you should be prepared to make an offer on the spot.”  

Encourage recruiters to ask job seekers what they want

One way to improve the candidate experience is simple: Encourage recruiters to ask applicants during the interview not just what they can do for your organization, but what your organization can do for them

“Asking candidates what they need from you starts to create a bond between the recruiter or hiring manager and the candidate, and that can shift the candidate experience immediately,” said Chloe Lee, Director of Talent Acquisition at PharMerica, a long-term care pharmacy service provider.

Start training new hires ASAP — even before follow-up background checks are final

Applicants for healthcare positions in the U.S. must often wait for a background screening and drug test results to be finalized before receiving a formal job offer. The process, under normal circumstances, takes two to five business days, sometimes a bit longer. 

But in the pandemic, because some companies that perform the screening and drug tests are also contending with staff shortages, it can take two weeks or more, several leaders noted. In the meantime, you risk losing the applicant to another employer. 

As a result, it’s important to create a simple process in which applicants can get updated on the status of their screening when they want it — and without having to ask your recruiters. 

The TA leader at the medical transportation company said her organization has begun training some new hires before their background checks have been completed, to avoid losing good candidates. “We’ve only had about a 1% fallout rate,” she said. “So it pays dividends.”

Search for talent internationally

To fill hard-to-fill positions, several leaders said their organizations are looking to hire healthcare workers, especially nurses, from outside the U.S. 

“Recruiting nurses outside the U.S. to work stateside can be a 12-18-month process,” said the TA leader at the skilled nursing/senior living facilities provider. “But what you can get in return is someone who will stay with you for 3 or 4 years, which is often longer than what you might get with a U.S. citizen.” 

The most important takeaway: Make a personal connection

One thing that came up several times in the roundtable is the importance of making a human connection with job seekers. While that’s always been essential, it’s particularly difficult to do right now, given how overworked so many recruiters are. 

Employer branding tactics — such as showcasing employee video testimonials and Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) — can help you make those important connections right away. But when it comes to a sustaining strategy, showing empathy for job seekers is key. Like everyone else in this pandemic, candidates have been through a lot in the past two years. And a job search is stressful enough, even in the best of circumstances. 

Connecting with candidates on a personal level will help you stand out from the competition. Most importantly, it will leave a lasting impression on job seekers and positively impact your brand right away — and for years to come.

About Leadership Connect

Indeed Leadership Connect is a community for senior HR and TA leaders looking to rebuild the culture of work. The program offers members intimate roundtables on timely topics, inspiring webinars hosted by noted thought leaders, networking events for connecting with like-minded peers, and provocative insights in exclusive content. Applying for membership is easy. Join the conversation today!