Building your office staff can be a daunting challenge. Physicians are busy caring for patients, and many lack formal training in hiring and human resources. However, hiring decisions are key determinants in the level of success for your practice.
The office manager is an especially crucial member of your staff. He or she must be a “Jack of all trades”, possessing both clinical and business acumen. In addition to keeping the office running smoothly, the manager has to supervise practice staff, handle patient complaints and oversee bookkeeping and finances. So, how do you find the right person to hire?
I spoke with experts on the subject to discover how your primary care practice can hire the right office manager. Here are top characteristics to look for, warning signs to look out for and questions to ask to identify the best candidates for the job.
Experience and Education
The amount and type of experience and education required for success as an office manager will vary somewhat from practice to practice. All candidates should have at least a high school diploma, but in most cases, a college degree or higher education is preferred. The necessary background will depend largely on how many of the practice’s business and/or medical functions your office manager will be expected to assist with.
The necessary level of education will also depend partially on the size of the practice. Small or midsize practices may not require, or have the ability or finance a manager with an advanced degree. You should expect someone who has an advanced degree such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or related level degree.
Even more important than education, may be a potential candidate’s work experience. The person you hire must be able to handle operations, staff, bookkeeping, billing and finances. A common methodology to follow is 3-5 years of experience for a small to midsize practice. As for a larger practice, experience should be even longer.
Qualities and Characteristics
In addition to education and experience, there are some important qualitative and behavioral characteristics the office manager you hire should possess.
Personality is key. An office manager must be friendly, even-tempered and outgoing. They must possess excellent people skills, with the ability to communicate effectively with everyone passes throughout the office, whether a physician, patient or even pharmaceutical sales representatives. The office manager should also show empathy towards everyone in the office, no matter their role. The office manager should enjoy conversing with coworkers as well as listen and offer solutions to staff problems.
Your office manager must lead the way in meeting daily patient care responsibilities while also completing all necessary administrative work. They need to help streamline routine processes and effectively motivate practice staff to work more efficiently. And, of course, all good leaders know when it’s best to handle things themselves, and when it’s best to delegate.
Your manager must also be an effective negotiator who can quickly mediate and resolve conflicts. Medical offices are high-stress environments, and it’s not uncommon for, say, a patient who has spent a long time in the waiting room to become irate. The manager you hire must be unafraid of stepping in to help resolve issues amongst staff, physicians and patients.
The office manager must possess an excellent eye for detail, with strong follow-up skills to ensure tasks are completed. While an office manager is able to complete schedules, reports and other operational responsibilities, a good manager is able to see the job as much more. A good business manager has the ability to influence the atmosphere and relationships on the team.
Questions to Ask During the Interview
To help surface the qualities you seek in an office manager, there are some key questions you can ask candidates during the interview process. How the candidate answers during an interview is a strong indication of how they will perform in the role.
What did you like best about your past position? The answers you are looking for should show evidence of interpersonal skills and desire to improve operational efficiency. The right candidate should also understand and appreciate the fast-paced, fluid nature of medical office work.
What did you like least about your previous position? Acceptable answers include low pay and unreasonably long working hours. However, almost any other answer is merely a reflection of poor performance on the candidate’s part. If a candidate answers that a previous managerial position was disorganized, that is poor performance on the candidate’s part as a manager.
What hours would you like to work? You want to hear that candidates are willing to work a variety of shifts, including evenings and weekends. This shows that the manager is aware that working with all members of the staff is important. An office manager needs to be at the practice as much as they are needed.
What leadership roles have you been involved in? Dig into a candidates’ work history. What successes have they had? What failures have they had in the past, and how did they respond to those failures? What did they perceive as the most important elements of the role of office manager?
Ask open-ended questions. Listen for decisive, yet thoughtful answers. Have candidates provide examples of the biggest surprises they encountered on the job, the hardest decisions they had to make, what sorts of choices they made and why. Answers to these questions shed light on what type of leader the candidate will be, and further show how they will handle difficult choices and situations as a manager at your practice. If you are looking for specific characteristics in a candidate, ask them to provide an example of a time when they displayed that characteristic. You must determine if their response satisfies the characteristic that you were hoping to fill. It is also important to ask yourself that if the situation the candidate described were to happen in your practice, would this be the appropriate response.
Listen. Rather than listening for a specific response, read between the lines to understand the motivation behind a candidate’s answer. For example, if a candidate explains a scenario with an irate patient who they moved to another room to speak one-on-one, one could infer that the candidate was concerned about the other patients in the waiting room, even if that is not necessarily what the candidate articulates.
Red Flags and Warning Signs
Just as there are important skills and characteristics you want to look for when screening candidates, there are some red flags you want to look out for, as well. These warning signs can help you spot potential weaknesses and weed out problematic candidates before they make it to the offer stage.
Negative talk. A huge red flag is a candidate that speaks negatively about physicians or staff they previously worked with, especially if the candidate was in a managerial position. If they attracted people who were immature and unprofessional, it gives insight about their management skills. This candidate should have spotted those characteristics prior to the hiring process, or had the ability to deal with the problems once they became evident.
Compensation Inquiry. Asking about salary over the telephone is a red flag. Salary questions are not appropriate until the candidate has seen the office, met the staff, and understands exactly what the position entails. Subsequently, asking about hours at any point in the interview process is also a bad sign. This shows that the candidate does not understand that the hours of an office manager are whatever they need to be.
Putting Candidates to the Test
Administering a test to office manager candidates can be an effective screening tool. The material covered on the assessment will depend upon the particular needs of your practice and the specific knowledge or experience you want to ascertain in applicants.
Some tests are given to evaluate personality preferences for a particular cultural fit, while others assess intelligence, service skills and ethics.
Trust Your Instincts
Finding the right office manager isn’t easy—but you can make the process simpler and more effective. Before you begin screening candidates, decide what sort of education and experience is necessary for the role. During the interview process, look and listen for the qualities and characteristics that are important for success at your practice, and be on alert for red flags and warning signs. Administer a test if you want to check for specific skills or knowledge—and when in doubt, go with your gut.
By following these guidelines, you can hire the right medical office manager for your primary care practice.
1315 Walnut ST. Suite 619
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Toll free 800-472-9060