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Ensuring a fair trial

by in GP Practice Management, Interviews, Recruitment

Recruitment is a tough – and time-consuming job, which means ensuring you hire the right person for your vacancy is crucial. Nobody wants to go through the process of hiring a new face, only for that person to be unsuitable for the role, leaving you back at square one. Equally, it’s important that any likely recruits have enough knowledge about their potential new role to make an informed decision about whether it’s right for them – ideally before they’re hired.

With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that many employers – including GP practices – are building ‘work trials’ into their recruitment process. These unpaid sessions allow an organisation to test how a potential employee handles the pressures of a real working environment and ensures they have the required skills. It also helps them understand the role better and meet their future team mates.

A current thread on the Practice Index Forum suggests that more practices are using this idea before asking a candidate to sign on the dotted line. Popular trials – or work experience if you prefer – range from an hour through to half a day or beyond. The idea is to give a candidate enough time in the practice to enable them to get a good feel for what their job will entail – and for them to be appraised. Work trials should aim to verify:

  1. Skill and cultural fit: does the individual bring the required (or additional) skills to the team, how do they get on with team and patients?
  2. The candidate’s decision-making skills: what are thought processes like, how quickly do they learn?
  3. If they walk the walk: It’s important candidates can deliver on what they’ve said in an interview – and if the work really suits them. Do they have a willingness to learn? Are they prepared to ‘muck-in’ for the get-go?

Careful of the law

However, it’s worth factoring in here that practices need to be careful to ensure the trial isn’t so long that it falls into a grey area of paid work – an issue that trade unions are monitoring carefully. Following some high profile cases of ‘unfair’ work trials – most notably supermarket chain Aldi, who advertised 150 unpaid trial shifts in order to prepare a new store for opening – the idea is under the spotlight.

This has promoted ACAS to make their thoughts clear – it has taken the position that it’s not illegal for businesses to utilise unpaid trial shifts – as long as they’re part of a genuine recruitment process and don’t constitute more than a few hours work. The organisation adds that anyone working a full shift, or sometimes even multiple full shifts, should be paid at least the National Minimum Wage. In order to ensure this happens, they recommend discussing payment or expense terms before beginning any trial period. They also consider it necessary to agree upon the length of the trial period, what the procedures for informing the applicant of their job status will be, and to ask for some form of evidence of these agreements.

Getting the trial right

With the legal side out of the way, how can Practice Managers ensure they get the most out of a work trial – to the benefit of the practice and the candidate?

According to posts on the Practice Index Forum and conversations with recruitment experts, here are some top tips:

  1. Consider whether the candidate will have to perform a test, help with an actual task or simply observe goings on.
  2. Ensure someone chaperones the candidate during their trial – this is clearly important in a practice environment.
  3. Make sure the chaperone is fully briefed on the format the trial will take and try to avoid taking responsibility yourself – opt for one of the team members.
  4. Following on from the above, ensure the candidate knows what’s happening.
  5. Consider asking the candidate to sign a confidentiality agreement.
  6. One suggestion from a PM is to conduct a mini test. “We get them to file two names alphabetically (amazing how many people can’t file alphabetically) and ask them to type an email to a patient to check how they would present information. Been well worth doing both the test and the observation.
  7. Create a scoresheet of core competencies that the candidate can be judged against – and try to make the trial relevant to those competencies. The job description should be a good starting point.
  8. Try to ensure the trial is as realistic as possible – which means avoiding bringing them in at quiet times! In so many ways they need to see the practice at its busiest.
  9. Ensure the relevant teams know what to ask and what not to!
  10. Have the candidate meet the team. While they are in the building have them eat lunch with the team or meet a few team members. See how well they fit in with everyone in the community and culture. Some things generally to look out for include are they engaging with the team? Asking questions or sharing more about themselves? Are there any unusual behaviours that might cause trouble later on? How do they seem to respond to the team? Is there a nice flow of conversation?
  11. Encourage feedback as quickly as possible and discuss findings in depth – this will help to work out your position while the information is fresh in your mind.
  12. Invite feedback from the candidate – listen carefully to what they have to say and encourage them to be open and honest.
  13. Factor in nerves – it can be daunting meeting a new team and learning about your new roles, so factor this in to evaluation.
  14. Finally, the one piece of advice that repeatedly came back from recruiters is to make sure it’s a fair trial – and a two-way experience. It has to work for both parties, so ensure the candidate can ask questions about the role and the team.

Overall, work trials can be hugely positive for practices. With a little bit of planning and a well thought out couple of hours, they can ensure you hire the right candidate – and one that wants to work with you.

Do you conduct work trials before hiring someone? How do you ensure they work for you? Let us know by commenting below, or take join the discussion on the Forum.

Useful recruitment resources for PLUS members:

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Practice Index

Practice Index

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