Daniel Shifrin, R.P., M.S. is a recently retired pharmacist who enjoys sharing his insights about hospital pharmacy. He is proud to own one of the largest collections of Pharmacy Stamp First Day Covers.
Using Externship Instead of Standard Hiring Practices to Determine the Best Candidate for the Pharmacy Job
When I was a Pharmacy Manager, I wanted to hire a Pharmacy Technician.. This procedure was a long drawn out process. I filled out the appropriate new hire form and attached a job description. Both my boss and I had to sign the form. The paperwork then went to the Vice-President over the Pharmacy for their signature.
At this point, the paperwork could go to one of two places: 1) it could go to the Director of Human Resources for their review and signature or 2) it could go to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). If it went to the Director of Human Resources, it would be reviewed, signed, and passed on to the recruiter for the next part of the process. However, if it went to the CFO, it usually meant that there was a hiring freeze, since it was very close to the end of the year or the end of the fiscal year. Thus, this position could be frozen for several months.
When the recruiter received the signed paperwork, they usually had a folder filled with Pharmacy Technician resumes. Generally, I had hoped to have 4-5 good candidates from this stack of resumes. If not, the recruiter would run an ad in the classified section of the Sunday newspaper. (It should be remembered that this was before the internet existed. Nowadays, an ad would appear on a job posting website).
It should be remembered that the above part of the process could last several weeks. Quite often, paperwork could be on someone’s desk waiting for it to be reviewed. Furthermore, paperwork might be returned for additional documentation or justification of a position. Even signed paperwork could be lost or delayed in getting to the next person in the process.
Once several candidates had been selected, they were scheduled for interviews. Interviews generally lasted two hours, with part of the time in Human Resources and the other part in the Pharmacy. In the Pharmacy interview, candidates were interviewed by myself (the manager), other supervisors, and several staff members. Interviews generally consisted of a resume review, the general interview questions, and a candidate’s first impression. It was crucial to make certain that this person was the right Pharmacy Technician for the job.
Once a candidate was chosen, their references were contacted and they had to have a background check. They generally needed to give two weeks notice at their other job before starting. In addition, it was necessary for the candidate to complete paperwork, testing, and orientation before starting the position.
This was a long, tedious, process that generally took several months from start to finish. Thus, it was crucial to make certain that this person was the right Pharmacy Technician for the job. One did not want to go through this process a second time (and sometimes one may not be allowed to go through the process a second time).
So here it is ten years later and the process for hiring a Pharmacy Technician (or any position for that matter) is basically the same. Is the process that exceptional that we decided to maintain it while the rest of the world changed? There are four factors that have always been used to determine the right candidate for a position.
My friend set up an interview for me for a hospital pharmacist position in her facility. I was fresh out of school and had little experience. I also knew nothing about hospital pharmacy.
I wore a three piece suit and a red tie. The Director was in awe of how I was dressed. He paraded me around the department as he introduced me to his staff.
“Look at that blue suit,” he exclaimed, “And I love that red tie.”
He was impressed by the way I was dressed. I got the job.
It’s said that it takes 15 minutes to determine if a candidate is right for the job. I was usually able to determine if the candidate was right for the job in the first 5 minutes. Sometimes it was sooner was that.
I was seeking an Assistant Director of Pharmacy. My boss knew of a candidate and sent me his resume. It was well crafted and very well written. It was gorgeous. I eventually hired the person.
He was awful. He fought with the staff and was a major disappointment. But his resume was beautiful.
I’ve always found the emphasis that we put into resumes as mind boggling. I look at a piece of paper arranged in a particular format that is attractive to the eye. I know nothing else about the person. Yet, after skimming this piece of paper, my gut reaction (most times it’s this way) tells me to bring the candidate in and perhaps hire them.
3. Interview Questions
I worked as a Career Service representative for a career school. I helped students get jobs. One of my most favorite mock interview questions was “So tell me about yourself.”
This was usually the first question asked during a regular interview. It was also the make or break question of the interview.
I strategized with the student. I used videos, and helped them write a detailed response. I had the student practice until the answer sounded natural, tweaking it where it was needed.
I did this with other interview question as well. It always amazed me how most interviews consist solely of canned interview questions. It’s almost like an open book test, or a test where you know the questions in advance.
During an interview, sometimes we’re extremely impressed by a candidate’s response. However, what we don’t often realize is that the candidate has the questions in advance. What’s more they’ve had an ample opportunity to write and practice their answers.
I was ready to hire a candidate. My Human Resources recruiter needed to check their references. She called the names provided by the candidate. She asked them questions about the candidates ability, work ethic, and loyalty. She got all good remarks.
Is this the most insane thing ever? We ask the candidate to supply us with names of people who are going to say wonderful things about them. We value the reference’s comments. We base whether we’re going to hire a candidate on what these references have to say.
You know they’re only going to say good things about the candidate. A candidate would have to be a fool to provide a reference who is going to say bad things. But, we give the reference the utmost credibility and hire the candidate based on their remarks.
Let’s look at these points. I’m picking a candidate on:
1) how pretty they dress,
2) how well they design and embellish their resume,
3) how well they memorize beautiful answers to standard interview questions,
4) and what wonderful comments are given by people which they provide.
We’ve improved technology, equipment, and the way we accomplish tasks. So why do we still hire the same way? Why do we bring a candidate in, judge them on how they dress, ask a few canned questions, call their references, and after 30- 60 minutes assume that they’re right for the job?
I found a better way. Pharmacy is unique. It’s one thing if your seeking a seasoned employer. However, most pharmacy students (both pharmacists and pharmacy techs alike) must complete some sort of externship program in order to graduate from their program. There are three kinds of externship programs.
1. The Teaching Facility Externship
I worked for a teaching hospital. Our hospital had medical residents and nursing students performing their externship. In addition, several times a year, I had a pharmacist extern from one of the local colleges. The pharmacist extern would spend all their time with the clinical pharmacist. They would make patient rounds, provide medication information, and consult with patients about their drug therapy.
Their externship was purely clinical and it allowed them to complete their externship requirement. From our point of view, it allowed my hospital to state that we were a teaching facility. Our hospital provided education and training to future pharmacist externs.
I did not like this type of externship for the following two reasons:
1) I rarely saw the extern. He spent all his time with the clinical pharmacist. He did not interact with me or my staff. Even, if I had an opening for a clinical pharmacist position, I would probably not hire him because I knew very little about him.
2) The extern was only exposed to the clinical aspect of the department. My pharmacists had a broad knowledge of the operation of the pharmacy. They filled unit-dose carts, compounded IV solutions, and entered medication orders into the computer. They prepared chemotherapy, updated code boxes, and closely interacted with key professionals.
Unfortunately by working solely with the clinical pharmacist, the pharmacy extern did not get a true picture of what the hospital pharmacist did. He may not even like the role of a hospital pharmacist if he were to get the job.
2. The “Free Help” Externship
The students needed to complete an externship in order to graduate from the program. The students hoped the externship would lead to a job. Unfortunately, the employers did not see it that way.
They viewed the externship as “free help”. The extern would work for the facility during their 200-hour externship. They would complete the tasks for free.
At the end of the externship, the employer would thank the extern. The employer would give them a good evaluation. However, they would not hire the extern. Instead, the employer would request another extern (who would also work for free).
After about a year, I stopped sending externs to this facility. Granted, I’ll admit that not all externs are a good fit for a facility, but this facility was not hiring any of the externs. This was quite disappointing.
The employer panicked. Without an extern there would be no one to complete the necessary tasks at their facility. I knew they had a need— so why didn’t the facility hire any externs to complete the essential tasks?
Because they wanted “free help”. They wanted someone to complete the work, but not have to pay them or provide benefits.
Be careful of this type of externship. The “free help” may seem enticing, but it shouldn’t be the only criteria for establishing an externship.
3. The “Test Drive” Externship
I worked for a career school. In the Pharmacy Technician Program, students were placed in a Pharmacy while completing their 200-hour externship. From the student’s point of view, this allowed them to complete their externship and gain experience in their selected field. From the employers viewpoint, the 200 hours allowed the employer to judge the quality of work demonstrated by the extern.
The employers who participated in this type of externship truly benefitted. They were able to “test drive” candidates and gain valuable knowledge before bringing them onboard. The employer learned of the extern’s work ethic, and determined whether the extern would be a good fit if they were hired.
Obviously, an employer cannot hire every good extern. They simply may not have a plethora of position available. However, by using this externship method, an employee can keep a detailed evaluation of the extern. This way, when a position arises, the employer can quickly contact the extern and see if they are available.
Furthermore, most employers know of other employers seeking good pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. Fellow employers would welcome knowing that a good student recently completed an externship in a colleague’s facility.
This is the best type of externship for hiring a pharmacist or pharmacy technician. It is truly better that the standard hiring procedures. Thus, it is recommended that employers participate in this externship process— for it offers more advantages than a process from ten years ago.
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