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February 13, 2003
A Competitive Advantage in Physician Recruitment
by Keith Michael Sarich, MHA, CHE

To say a physician recruiter’s job is easy in a most competitive environment would be like saying climbing Mount Everest is as simple as a walk in the park! Obviously, the role of a recruiter in today’s wild and turbulent health care world is at best, a non-stop flurry of e-mails, cold calls and constant disappointments. In a profession with far too many positions available across the country for the physician and literally thousands of hospitals, health care organizations and headhunters vying for a very finite number of physicians, passive or actively looking, it becomes apparent that a recruiter needs more than a great smile and firm handshake to survive. Let’s face it, with recruiters using the same technology-driven tools such as the Internet, it still comes down to a disproportionate supply and demand curve. To prove this point, a review of just one of a myriad of physician recruitment sites currently on the Internet reveal endless opportunities posted by countless numbers of search firms. Assuming a recruiter makes all the right moves; from superb sourcing and qualifying to post-placement management, can there still be a missing element? Perhaps an untapped tool with the capability of increasing the fruit of a recruiter’s labor?

To find that answer, let’s first make some assumptions. Let’s assume within the world of physician recruitment, the playing field is essentially level. Populated with many well-trained and seemingly motivated recruiters, with adequate support and access to technology competing for a finite physician pool. Now assume that job fill requirements are increasing across the board, which they in fact are. We find that one recruitment firm essentially mirrors the next one and so on and so on. Clients and candidates do differ, but much of the mechanics of recruitment remains the same today much as it was done say fifty years ago, minus the technology factor. No doubt that technology has sped up the “process” of recruitment; increasing accessibility to both candidate and client while reducing costs in specific areas of doing business. The barrier to entrance has become easier to overcome, evident with the proliferation of small “mom-and-pop” recruitment firms that are also enjoying economies of scale and using technology to their own, cost-effective advantage. A good example of this would be the various free (still) Internet websites that offer no-cost job postings. Enter the powerful role marketing plays.

Phillip Kotler, author of “Marketing Management” describes a key concept, “competitive advantage”. According to Kotler, three variables are necessary to achieve competitive advantage. With so many recruitment firms mirroring the next, competitive advantage becomes the key issue when discussing the success and failure of a recruitment firm. Kotler describes the three as Differentiation, Cost Leadership and Rapid Response to Entry. The second and third variables describe competitive pricing and rapid response/entrance into a new or existing market accordingly. They have some impact on the recruitment success, but not much. Pricing for services, whether in a contingent or retained arrangement are pretty much set in stone and vary slightly in response to market swings. No great surprises there. Rapid response/entrance into a market does relate to a start-up recruitment firm. However, it is clear that the “market” of physician recruitment, which of course is a service-related entity in a mature phase. This brings us back to the first variable, Differentiation. I know what you’re thinking. How can Differentiation be a factor if I already told you that recruitment firms essentially mirror the next? The fact is, many do, but not all. The ones that truly differentiate themselves over and above competitors are the ones I am referring to. These are the recruitment firms that adhere too and actually use a modified form of what has been described as a “savior” in the business context. We call this Customer Relationship Management, or CRM. The bottom line with CRM is simple. It can and often times does increase profit margins by as much as 100% in a single year by simply having an incredibly intimate knowledge of your customer/client! All well and good, but let’s get back to Differentiation. CRM is great, CRR is greater! You ask, “what is CRR”? CRR is Customer Relationship Recruitment. A modified and enhanced version of CRM, tailored specifically to the world of physician recruitment. This is where differentiation becomes evident and is producing results that are envious to other recruitment firms. For “high energy” recruitment firms, CRR is much more than a concept, it represents the core value of how business is conducted. CRR reflects an almost fanatical quest for superior, not simply good or great service, but truly superior customer service in all aspects of recruitment. I stress all aspects. CRR extends to both candidate (physician) and client (employer) and is evident well before sourcing occurs. Are you aware that it costs almost three times more to gain a new client versus keeping the candidate or client you currently have? CRR mirrors CRM in this philosophy and is the basis for retaining clients and grooming long term relationships with candidates. Accordingly, a candidate takes on an extremely high-profile persona.

Someone with a complex dossier of tangible as well as intangible wants, needs and desires that must not only be addressed, but also met in the appropriate context. A recruiter using CRR goes far beyond the mechanics of recruitment if CRR is to be effective. Every pertinent aspect of a candidates wants, needs and desires must be systematically broken down using a “what-if” scenario that presents a check and balance for the recruiter to use as a verification tool. CRR recruitment at the very least represents an intense desire to go far beyond “normal” recruiter expectations. Listening becomes paramount. Asking key questions that qualify, re-qualify and re-qualify yet again, without belaboring the point provide the meticulous check and balance that is CRR. Documentation borders on the fanatical as well. An ASP-based software CRM application that provides a comprehensive record of all candidates and clients that includes a large degree of minutia as well is often utilized. What constitutes “minutia”? Let me put it another way, sweat the details! How about family members birth dates, anniversary dates, medical school graduation dates, first solo (physicians love to fly); just some of the intangibles that a recruiter using CRR has at his or her disposal. You can bet that a well-timed congratulatory card to a physician’s son or daughter graduating high school goes a long, long way. That’s CRR. To be truly successful, follow Murphy’s Law. What can go wrong in the world of physician recruitment will go wrong. Plan for it! Remember those “what-if” scenarios? With CRR, a recruiter takes nothing for granted, assumes nothing and expects disaster to occur at any point in the recruitment process. CRR demands that objection handling be ready and waiting at a moment’s notice. With CRR, timing is critical. Being at the right place at the right time is the difference between success and failure. It’s that simple. To combat potential adversity, CRR demands that intimate knowledge of both candidate and client be extracted and used effectively by the recruiter. By intimate knowledge, I am referring to knowing the “hot buttons”. An example of a hot button would be the candidate’s dominant buying motive. With CRR, a recruiter knows a significant more about the idiosyncrasies and nuances of a candidate and client, hence the greater likely hood that a successful placement would occur. CRR in its simplest form is “covering all the bases”. It’s not rocket science. A reliable contact CRM software, either off the shelf or ASP-based is strongly recommended. Modifications may be necessary however. The beauty of CRR is that it really is a state of mind. CRR mirrors three admirable traits, or perhaps a better definition; skill sets. They are attention to detail, accountability in everything you do and intense, sustainable motivation. Armed with these skill sets, an open and progressive mind and the technology available to today’s recruiter, CRR will differentiate you and your recruitment firm from the rest of the playing field!

  About the Author
Keith Michael Sarich, MHA, CHE of
Keith Sarich, MHA, CHE, CNC has held adjunct positions with Indiana Wesleyan University, Governors State University and as a visiting Adjunct, American College of Medical Staff Development instructing in the area of physician recruitment. He is currently a Regional Director, Naval Reserve Recruiting Command, Raleigh, NC.

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