Hiring the right lab personnel

Nov. 1, 2011

The strength of your personnel determines the quality of your lab.

Like almost all clinical laboratory managers, you're struggling with this issue. You're not getting a healthy mix of people in your new hires, and you might even be having trouble meeting CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) and other regulations. The ongoing shortage of medical technologists puts you at a big disadvantage: you have a much smaller pool of applicants, and you have to fight harder to get them.

To consistently attract and hire top-quality lab personnel, you must make adjustments in how you approach the process. What used to work won't anymore. “Help-wanted” ads won't get the job done. You've got to set in place a standardized system for recruiting, interviewing, and onboarding in order to pull in the talent you need. Here are some tips in several key areas that can give you an edge.


Every month, employed medical technologists look for new opportunities. Get their attention by taking a page from the playbook of a very successful recruiter: always be advertising, always be attractive, and always be interviewing.

•  Always be advertising.

Consistent advertising for positions is a little like setting up a trotline. A trotline is a long line set with multiple hooks that does your fishing for you while you go off to do something else. Set it where the fish are likely to be, and come back periodically to see what you've caught. You'll catch more fish with less work than you will by casting a single line every time you need a fish.

How does that work for “catching” employees instead of fish? Set your trotline by regularly advertising in multiple places: on your website, in trade magazines, on Craigslist, and on the “Big 3” players in social media: LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. That's where your fish are, so that's where you need to be.

•  Always be attractive.

In all your communications, you want to appear as attractive as possible to your potential employees. This is your “bait.” Use photos, videos, or even audio to jazz up just about anything: your website, your company's LinkedIn or Facebook page, blog articles, local papers, internal and external communications—everything. You want your lab's image to be up-to-date and forward-thinking: show off your cutting-edge technology! It will help you to attract modern and progressive people, including the younger workers you will often want to add to the mix in your lab.

•  Always be interviewing.

If you come across an interested applicant, take the time to talk to him or her. Don't miss out on great talent. That will also fine-tune your own evaluation skills as you get more practice. So it's a double-bonus: you get more workers to choose from, and you get better at making judgments about their fit for your facility.


Capitalize on your larger pool of possible employees by making improvements in the quality of your interview process: utilize hiring tools, make multiple “touches” or points of contact with your candidate, and involve your team.

•  Use hiring tools.

Personality profiles or assessments such as Caliper, DiSC, and Gallup are wonderful instruments for gaining more insight into a candidate's work ethic, style, and fit. You can even have a “control” group: assessments of your best current employees give you a great benchmark for evaluation. What is good in your best people is what you are looking for in prospective new employees.

•  Make multiple contacts with the candidate.

Conduct multiple interviews. If you like what you hear in the first one, set up another one and another one, until you're confident that you will be making a good hire. Always start with phone interviews because they are both time- and cost-efficient. You can easily set up a standard question list, so that you make sure all your bases are covered with each candidate. If a candidate passes that first test, invite him or her in for a face-to-face meeting.

•  Get your team involved.

It can be difficult to make a completely accurate judgment on the basis of one meeting. If you like what you're seeing, try setting up a second face-to-face interview. But this time, invite others in your organization to meet the candidate and give you other perspectives.

You could even go so far as to set up a “trial day” or some kind of job shadowing experience with the candidate and a current employee, so both you and the potential employee can see what a typical day might look like on the job. How comfortable does he or she seem in the environment of your lab? What skills that you need does he or she have? Let potential employees show you what they can do.

At this point, if you are satisfied, you can feel comfortable in making your offer. (But keep in mind the state of the market for labortarians—the employee is the one with the advantage here. You'll shoot yourself in the foot if you try to lowball the deal.)

The Onboarding Process

Don't just throw new employees into the deep end to sink or swim. Establish a positive (and hopefully long-term) employee relationship by providing support during the initial “settling in” phase. Take the extra but very worthwhile step of providing quality training and a mentor for your newest hire. Keep tabs on progress by keeping an open dialogue: survey employees about job satisfaction and always look for ways to improve your value proposition. If you have a failure, do an “autopsy” of it so that you know what went wrong and don't make the same mistake again.

These steps can seem like a lot of work, but your increased efforts to attract and hire the best employees will pay off for you in higher-quality personnel. And, that, in turn, means a more stable, successful, and effective lab.

Peggy McKee, MBA, is owner of and senior recruiter for PHC Consulting of Celina, Texas. Visit the PHC website at www.phcconsulting.com.