Recruiting a Chiropractic Assistant, Part II

By Abne Eisenberg
Editor's note: Hiring the wrong person can be both an unpleasant and very costly experience. In Part II of Dr. Eisenberg's article, he continues with the questions essential to carefully screen all CA applicants. Part I appeared in the 6-19-95 issue.

Question 8: How are you different now from when you were in high school or college?

An awareness of personal growth and change helps make for the well-rounded individual. You must be on the alert for references to the ways in which time, education, and experience have resulted in various forms of change. For example, reading Tom Sawyer at age eight should generate one set of meaning, at age 21, another set of meanings; at 50, still another set. Although the story had not changed, the reader should have changed. It is, therefore essential that you hire a CA who is sensitive to change and amenable to new ideas.

Question 9: How well do you accept advice or take criticism?

You definitely do not want to hire a closed-minded individual. Such a personality trait is incompatible with the healing profession. Despite a great many other redeeming qualities, closed-mindedness is not easily offset. If you detect even the slightest hint of closed-mindedness, or that the person might have a problem with authority, search out additional information. For instance, ask them how they would go about resolving a difference of opinion with another staff member. Observe the person's degree of flexibility.

Question 10: Why do you think so many people have trouble following simple instructions?

This question will flag the presence or absence of an organized mind. Since the CA you hire may find herself having to re-explain or clarify what you have told a patient, clearmindedness is essential. Occasionally, patients will be too embarrassed to admit that they did not understand your instructions or explanation. It is then incumbent upon the CA to clarify the message in more simple language.

Question 11: What qualifications do you think a competent CA should possess?

This question should give you a clear-cut picture of what an applicant considers important. The qualifications they mention should, in a very general way, agree with those that you consider appropriate.

Perspectives differ when it comes to qualifications. For example, the qualifications a layperson expects a doctor to possess incline to differ from what the doctors themselves consider proper qualifications. In this instance, since the doctor and the CA are on the same team, it is essential that they share the same standards of excellence. If possible, they should both hold a complementary opinion when it comes to a CA's qualifications.

Question 12: Do you prefer working alone or with others?

Teamwork is paramount. It is crucial that the CA you hire be able to get along with the other members of your staff. A cooperative effort insures the smooth running of any office. Be sure to require written recommendations and references confirming the applicant's ability to work well with others. Be reminded that the solitary worker's approach to the responsibilities of a job will often differ from that of the "team worker."

Question 13: How do you define success?

The word "success" is an abstraction. Some measure it in objective terms, e.g., financial gain, power, status, or possessions. Others measure it more subjectively: a state of mind. By knowing how an individual defines success, you will be better able to predict their future behavior once they are on staff.

Question 14: How would your previous employer describe you?

By putting the question this way, you might get a slightly different response than if you asked the person, "Describe yourself." Permitting the applicant to put words into their last employer's mouth creates the illusion of immunity. Self-praise tends to create greater psychological discomfort than if the praise appears to come from someone else. The same goes for criticism. By giving the applicant an opportunity to advance a negative comment by a prior employer, you give her an open field to rationalize freely. To more fully appreciate the diplomatic value of this question, try answering it yourself, i.e., "How would one of your professors at chiropractic college describe you?" Will there be any significant difference between how you would describe yourself and how you think one of your professors would do it?

Question 15: What is your opinion of retirement?

What this question seeks to ascertain is the respondent's attitude toward senior citizens. If a significant percentage of your practice is comprised of people on Medicare, you should make every effort to hire a CA who will be very caring of the elderly and not talk to them as if they were children. For some curious reason, there is a widespread notion that, when people enter their later years, their brains turn to mush. Guard against this tendency in an applicant by being on the lookout for signs of discrimination against either the retiree or the elderly.

Question 16: Do you think most people are hired because of their qualifications or for other reasons?

Because popular opinion holds that the best qualified person usually gets the job, the more worldly person knows otherwise. An executive from a prestigious human resource firm once stated, "Most people are hired on a skill-irrelevant basis." Naturally, this statement would not be as apt to apply to certain highly technical positions, but rather to those in the mainstream of employment. If an applicant makes a good appearance, sounds intelligent, and displays a likable demeanor, an employer is often inclined to overlook certain minor technical shortcomings. Frequently, such shortcomings are offset by in-house training programs. Perhaps the notion that we live in a meritocracy is a myth.

Question 17: If you were put into a room with a perfect stranger and you had to find out how intelligent that person was, how would you go about it?

It has been said that an excellent way of measuring intelligence is to see what people do when they don't know what to do, not what they do when they know what to do. By being open-ended, this question allows the applicant to think aloud and, in the process, reveal her own level of intelligence. Since emergency situations can and do arise in health care offices from time to time, it is essential that the resident CA be able to think on her feet. This question tests that ability.

Question 18: What are some of the things a competent CA should bear in mind when speaking with a patient on the telephone?

Every year, billions of dollars in business is transacted by people who have never actually seen one another; they create mental pictures of those with whom they speak. Hence, the applicant should demonstrate some awareness and understanding of telecommunication. Listen for mention of such things as: courtesy, clearness of speech, patience, warm and congenial tone of voice, empathy, and professionalism. It has been said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. The way a CA comes across on the telephone may well be the first impression a patient gets of your office.

Question 19: Who is, or who was, the most influential person in your life?

While growing up, as well as in adulthood, we all had models whom we emulated. When the applicant names a famous sports personality, chances are she is partial to competition. What insight might you glean from the person an applicant who cites as having the greatest influence on her life? Does Golda Mier's political success in a predominantly male dominated field suggest anything? How about the influential feminist, Betty Friedan? Each choice of a model could provide you with additional insight to a candidate's mind-set.

Question 20: How would describe the ideal relationship between an employer and an employee?

Professionalism is the operative word. Replies to this question should reflect a keen sense of professional conduct. Realizing, for instance, that both the doctor and the CA should not be addressed by their first name in the presence of a patient. Another ingredient of the ideal relationship for which you should listen concerns consistency. At no time should a CA contradict the doctor. Occasionally, after being told something about their condition, a patient will query the CA for additional information. Proper office protocol forbids any form of contradiction. In short, the applicant must demonstrate a consciousness of the doctor and CA having "one voice."

Question 21: What made you choose this line of work?

Far too may people are in jobs for which they are clearly unsuited. There are impatient people are in jobs that require patience, and highly emotional people are in jobs that require logic and calm deliberation, and people who detest detail are in jobs that require minutiae and precision.

Anyone entering the health care field should possess a genuine concern for helping people. Years ago, it was referred to as "a calling." It is up to you, during the interview, to judge whether the applicant sounds serious about working with people in pain. Search for signs of compassion.

Question 22: Could you tell me about some major problem you have had in your life, and how you went about solving it?

Problem solving has achieved priority status in practically every business and profession. Chiropractic is no exception. Daily office problems, if unresolved, seldom disappear on their own accord. This question should supply you with a clue as to how a given applicant deals with everyday problems.

Does the applicant sound as if she deals with problems impulsively, or takes her time to think things out? Whereas some office situations certainly do require immediate action, most require sober consideration and consultation.

Comparing how you and the CA approach problems could serve a useful purpose in the future. Take something as simple as how a problem is perceived. Some make mountains-out-of molehills, while other minimize their importance. It is reminiscent of the old adage, "Is the glass of water half-full or half-empty?" Put differently, how clearly a problem is conceptualized could easily qualify it as being half-solved.

Question 23: How interruptible are you?

One encounters two types of people in the workplace: those who can do several things at once and those who can only do one thing at a time. Into which category does the applicant appear to fall? The busy practice involves several patients being treated simultaneously, i.e., doctors and CAs moving from one treatment room to another. People who can handle multiples comfortably are said to be polychronic; those who prefer doing one thing at a time, monochronic. Notwithstanding the fact that each type can be found to perform whatever they are doing at varying levels of excellence, the objective of this question is to ascertain with which group the applicant seems to identify.

Ideally, a high volume practice should be staffed by people who are not intimidated or frustrated by a great many things going on at the same time. Performance aside, one's attitude toward what is being done could create more dissonance than the action itself.

In this column, you have been given an overview of the interviewing experience, plus a series of recommended questions and their relevance to the recruiting process. As mentioned at the outset, it is now up to you to adjust them to your own particular practice and personality. Each question, in its own unique way, will provide you with a number of safeguards against hiring the wrong person. Good Luck.

Abne Eisenberg, DC, PhD
Croton-on-Hudson, New York

Editor's note: As a professor of communications, Dr. Eisenberg is frequently asked to speak at conventions and regional meetings. For further information regarding speaking engagements, you may call (914) 271-4441, or write to Two Wells Avenue, Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520.

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