By Sarah C. Threnhauser

Employee recruitment is one the most challenging issues facing behavioral health and social service organizations today. Consider the challenges: many workers are part of a low-wage workforce and are already hard to recruit (see Reducing Paraprofessional Employee Turnover); the demand for professionals to fill this positions are likely to rise in the coming years (see The High Costs Of Paraprofessional Employee Turnover – Sizing Up The Challenge); new hires need to be tech-savvy and computer literate (see “Growing” The Tech-Savvy Staff You Need); and organizations need to tell a compelling story for why team members should be part of the organization (see The “Gig Economy” & The Future Of The Health & Human Service Workforce).

So, how do you go about finding and hiring high-quality, high-performing staff? After talking with executives working in the health and human service field, we have found that there are three recruiting best practices that all executive teams should have on their talent management plans:

  1. Build a superior employment value proposition
  2. Build a recruitment plan to support change and growth
  3. Onboard successfully

Build A Superior Employment Value Proposition

To retain top talent, provider organizations need to position themselves as “employers of choice” by building an employment value proposition (EVP). Consider this EVP your organization’s brand from the perspective of employees and possible employees. A great EVP will communicate a connection between customer brand, workplace attributes, and your strategic plan. Many organizations devote a lot of resources to doing this as part of consumer-focused marketing, but these skills also need brought to bear on recruiting efforts. This demands a shift in how organizations think about applicants; an organization that is serious about recruiting the top talent should treat applicants like your customers by creating a message that is backed by an engaging employment experience from the first point of contact.

Becoming an employer of choice has three phases. First, consider your online reputation as an employer. Investigate popular sites where employees can post company reviews, like Glassdoor ; Great Place to Work; Indeed; and Careerbliss. Just as consumers are making decisions about their health care by searching for reviews of your services online, potential employees are using online reviews to decide if you are a company that they want to work for. Take the time to review your internal employee evaluations to get a better understanding of how your company culture is perceived and to identify concerns that could manifest into larger recruiting issues. Social media has made building professional connections easier and communication more convenient. Potential employees are likely to reach out to their connections on LinkedIn or find a connection on Twitter where they can solicit your employees’ opinions and perceptions about working for your organization.

Second, decide what makes your organization unique as an employer and what you have to offer employees. Salary isn’t the only thing that attracts potential employees—most recent talent management research suggests that younger generations (like millennials who are now in their 20’s and late 30’s) are more concerned with learning and development opportunities; flexibility and lifestyle balance; work environment and culture; and family benefits (see 7 Most Wanted Work Benefits to Attract Millennials and The Three Benefits Millennials Are Demanding From Employers). Consider what your organization has to offer and then work on the messaging to communicate this to potential employees in a way that makes being part of your organization an appealing prospect.

Finally, develop a plan to communicate your message that will showcase your organizational culture and show recruits how your organization can benefit and advance both their careers and their satisfaction in the work. This might mean including more employee features on your own social media and website, responding to online reviews, and/or changing your messaging for potential employees in job ads and on your website. As part of this plan, you will need to implement mechanisms to track your success, such as response from recruitment campaigns or the time it takes to fill a vacant position. Contentiously monitoring your performance on these recruiting measures will allow you to adjust your approach and continuously improve your EVP.

Value Proposition Advice
Carol Reynolds
Carol Reynolds, Executive Vice President, Client Experience, Netsmart
If you have identified a person that you really want, I think there are two key new skills you need (for a couple of reasons). First is supply and demand. There is more demand than there is supply for the most highly valued people – so GO get them and recruit. I find that you need to recruit them when they aren’t actively looking for a job. The second skill is that even if they are looking, they get taken fast. You must be creative in where and how you look for them, and you need to have a great sales pitch to make them want the job – right there in the interview.
James F. Carlino
James F. Carlino, Chief Human Resources Officer, Bancroft
Most importantly, do not look at “recruitment” myopically—we must offer a meaningful value proposition that begins with recruitment, and is supported by a commitment to professional development and career advancement. To support the recruitment phase, I am a strong believer that we must “grow our own” talent, and with a commitment to career and financial advancement, we are in a better position to retain those we hire and compete with others for experienced personnel. A focus on recruiting alone is a zero-sum game. We must attract new talent to the field, and this requires that we have something meaningful to offer.
Mark Lashley
Mark Lashley, Chief Executive Officer, Caregiver, Inc.
For direct care staff, the best advice I have is make the hiring and retention one of your top priorities. Also, don’t put all your focus on why people are leaving, but also focus on why people are staying. Most of the industry is focused on why people leave and trying to fix that—it’s not working. We have a lot of great people who provide these services and stay with companies for many years—despite the hard work and challenges. Leaders need to figure out what keeps great people in your company and invest time and energy there.
For managers, directors and above, my advice is to recognize that this is a very challenging environment due to the economy. If you want to find great managers and leaders it will be an investment of both time, resources, and probably money. The way you did it in the past is not likely to work. We’ve used multiple recruiters at all levels to ensure we have access to the best talent and it’s not cheap. But the return-on-investment is there when you find the right person.
Erik Marsh
Erik Marsh, President & CEO, DATIS
Health and Human Services organizations face some unique recruiting challenges – with limited ability to offer competitive pay and benefits being top among them. So naturally, these organizations need to find innovative strategies to attract top talent. Our research has shown that some of the most effective solutions include offering professional development opportunities, offering flexible scheduling, and implementing wellness programs – these are things that the modern workforce really values and that organizations with tight budgets can still provide.

Build A Recruitment Plan To Support Change & Growth

The large amount of change has had one huge effect on the health and human services landscape—it has put a premium upon (and rewarded) organizations that are highly adaptable. This “nimbleness” is often discussed by executive teams in terms of service lines, management, or strategic plans, but it’s equally important for recruiting and retention efforts. In order to compete for top talent, the human resource team and management must anticipate what recruits and staff may want, and if that’s not part of current human resource efforts, make the change. In practice, this means conducting ongoing analysis of future needs and development of a recruitment pipeline based on six steps:

  1. Define the key functionality of the new roles or changes to existing job descriptions and specific job requirements
  2. Discuss the impact of these new roles in the context of your organization’s culture
  3. Consider any anticipated changes related to strategic planning that may be forthcoming
  4. Outline your process and identify touch points for ongoing recruitment efforts
  5. Establish a budget with projections for new positions as part of your organizational recruitment plan.
  6. Conduct research to assure that the base salaries you offer for new positions address market realities.
Recruitment Plan Advice
Neil Massey
Neil Massey, Deputy Director/ Development Director, Autism Treatment Center
There are three things to keep in mind. Be clear in areas of job responsibility and accountability. A successful on-boarding program for recruits will give them a clear picture of how employees will be evaluated for performance standards. Second, how you treat current employees communicates to recruits how they will be treated in the future. A mission-focused environment based on mutual respect, recognition, and performance-based compensation will reduce turn-over and build a strong work place culture. Finally, Maintain two-way lines of communication. The speed at which open and honest communication occurs is reflective of the trust direct staff has with executive management. Lean to ask, listen, and collaborate with the staff who work on the front lines. You never know where the next great idea will come from.
Shavonne A. Brathwaite, Ed.D.
Shavonne A. Brathwaite, Ed.D., Executive Director, Mosaic – Delaware
It is very easy to hire a person based upon a skill set but when we are recruiting a new team member, we are more concerned with mindset. Skills can be easily taught; however, mindset is hard to change. Some of the questions we ask ourselves are: Do they share the same values as our organization? Do they have a passion for the population? Are they willing to learn and be a team player? Are they an innovative thinker? Will they put our consumers in service first? If the answer is yes, then we can provide all the needed skill building training.
Kristi Daugherty
Kristi Daugherty, Chief Executive Officer, Emergence Health Network
One of the most important aspects of an effective recruitment program is the ongoing evaluation of the interview process. Some of the important steps include ensuring job descriptions are updated and accurate. Once candidates are collected and screened to meet the minimum qualifications, confirm your interview panel is properly trained to ask the right questions, evaluate effectively and select the best fit. When an organization rushes to hire, they normally regret the hasty decision. Therefore, qualified interview teams, multiple interviews, and using behavioral/situational questions to identify past work performance trends are all key to a successful model.
By taking these steps, organizations gain more candidate information and can make the appropriate hiring decision. The resulting benefits of course include reduced turnover, increased retention and customer service, and improved employee satisfaction.
Brad Schneider, SPHR, Vice President, Developmental Services Division, LifeSkills, Inc.
Our best resource for recruiting direct support (and other) professionals is referrals from existing staff. No one knows the job better (the good, the bad and the ugly) and therefore provide potential candidates with realistic expectations. Existing staff tend not to refer people who won’t be a good fit, because they want someone who will contribute the team/mission and don’t want it reflecting poorly on them if the person doesn’t work out. We offer a bonus to employees who refer a candidate that makes it past 90 days on the job. This has proven to be an effective incentive and well-worth the expense involved.


Onboard Successfully

The transition from “new” employee to one that is fully “onboard” is a critical step in the recruitment process—and one that many organizations aren’t great at. “Hire and forget” is a sure path to a new hire immediately beginning their job search anew and leading to a lot of lost recruitment costs. Great onboarding must have three distinct elements:

  1. Integration of a new employee with the workforce by communicating all the necessary information
  2. Monitoring progress and recognizing performance
  3. Helping new employees to get connected by building a relationship, providing purpose and guidance, creating an internal support network, and by clearly communicating expectations

All of your recruiting efforts will go to waste if you cannot create a seamless onboarding process for employees. Those employees with a negative experience will also make future recruiting more difficult if they choose to discuss their experience in online reviews or with other potential new hires.

Onboarding Advice
Denny Morrison, Ph.D.
Denny Morrison, Ph.D., Chief Clinical Advisor, Netsmart
There are two parts to this answer. First, satisfaction results when expectations are met or exceeded. So, in every recruitment situation, be very clear about what is expected of the prospective employee. The second part of this is do not take people off probation until you are sure they are going to work out. As part of the recruitment (and onboarding) phase, the expectations of what the person would have to do to get off probation should be crystal clear. More importantly, managers must hold the new hire to those agreed upon standards and not treat probation as a perfunctory exercise. If employees are struggling to meet the probation expectations, managers must decide whether to let the person go because they aren’t going to work out or to extend the probation to allow more time for them to show their ability to meet the job requirements. But under no circumstances should the manager end the probation for an employee who has not met the probation standards.

Finding and hiring new employees under these pressures and considerations is a strategic function with a high priority for the whole organization, and one that will have lasting effects on the services you deliver, the consumer satisfaction you can expect to earn, and the performance that will have a direct impact on your reimbursements (see Making Performance Real).

COVID-19 Risk Management Plan August 11, 2021

We are excited to return to sunny southern California for The 2021 OPEN MINDS Management Best Practices Institute at the picturesque Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa, August 23-26, 2021. To help plan your in-person attendance, visit for a schedule of events happening throughout the week.

The resurgence of the COVID Delta variant has certainly created new challenges for the country and for our families. Fortunately, the available COVID vaccinations have been very successful in preventing symptomatic infections and illness. But I did want to let you know that our team at OPEN MINDS is committed to making our executive events as safe as possible and have an active risk management plan in place. I wanted to share with you the key elements of our plan:

We will continue to monitor any changes in the CDC recommendations for the continued safety of the public. If you have any concerns or questions, feel free to reach out to a member of our team at or by phone at 877-350-6463. We look forward to seeing you at The 2021 OPEN MINDS Management Best Practices Institute.

Monica E. Oss
Chief Executive Officer

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