Hello, I’m Dr. Jeff Kingsley and this is another edition of Riding in Cars with Researchers. I was speaking at the Society for Clinical Research Sites Oncology Conference in Austin, Texas and my topic was building an all-star team in clinical research. My focus was hiring for attitudes rather than aptitudes.
Aptitudes vs Attitudes
Attitudes are your personality traits; how you’re wired internally. Do you really like to cross T’s and dot I’s? Do you like to talk to people? Do you like working on teams? Maybe yes, maybe no. Your aptitudes are your skillsets – your ability to do math and write well. Think about the SATs – the standardized aptitude tests that we took when we were kids – it was about measuring skills that you can do rather than your personality traits or how you’re wired.
I believe firmly that clinical research is harder than your alternatives. If you are a research coordinator, you’d have an easier life being a nurse. If you’re a principal investigator, you can have a simpler life being a physician and not doing research. So we need to do everything we can to make the life of a clinical researcher as easy as possible. If you hire somebody who has to work in a team-based project and they’re not a team-oriented person, then it’s going to tax them more. It’s going to be more stressful for them and you will have higher turnover. They might be able to do it short term, medium term, but it’s going to drain their energy and either they’re not going to be a fully committed team member or they’re going to be turnover – one or the other.
Hiring for Attitudes
I can teach you aptitudes. I can’t teach you attitudes. I can coach attitudes. I can coach for empathy – your ability to care for another human being and really bond with another human being and understand another human being and what they’re going through. I can create policies around it, but I can’t force you to be empathetic. I need to hire for empathy. If I’m running an organization that requires high levels of teamwork, I can force you to work on a team. I can create SOPs around it. I can coach you around teamwork, I can mentor you around teamwork. I can write you up for making unilateral decisions and not working with the team, but what I can’t do is actually force you to be a team-oriented individual. That’s something that some people relate to more than others, and so I think it’s really smart of us to hire for attitude and train for aptitude. I can teach you to cross T’s and dot I’s. I can teach you how to run or read a research protocol, how to do visit #3 in this particular trial, how to do an EKG, how to draw blood. I can teach you where to find the known side effect profile in the investigator brochure. But I can’t really teach attitudes. So I can either hire you because you’ve got great aptitudes or because you’ve got a stellar CV. Your CV says you’ve got 10 years of experience as a research coordinator, and you’ve been in a private setting, and you’ve been at an AMC and oh, it’s such a great CV. I can hire you because of your CV and hope that you’re a culture fit and you have the right attitudes that we need in clinical research and in our companies. Or I can hire for the attitudes and culture fit and train you for the aptitudes. If you’ve got both, wonderful, that’s an easy hire. But given the choice between the two, I would always hire somebody who is a culture fit with the right attitude over somebody who happens to have a stellar CV and isn’t a culture fit and doesn’t have the right attitudes.
Rules of Engagement for Interviewing
#1: You do not ask yes/no questions. If I say to you, “are you a team player?”, you’re going to say yes. If you say no, you are really bad at test taking skills. You’re going to say yes! Yes/no questions are no good. It’s a waste of both of our times doing the interview because the person is going to say what they know you want to hear.
#2: Don’t ask leading questions. Even if I don’t ask yes/no, if I ask open-ended questions, but if I lead with, “We’re an organization that really strongly believes in teamwork. Give me an example of a time that you….”, again, you just biased the question. Don’t do it, it’s not necessary. You can say that stuff after the fact. Just ask the question and ask questions that the person doesn’t see coming. Ask questions that are open-ended, not yes/no, and ask questions that would be tough. Then look for red flags and positives.
Some examples. If I ask you, “give me an example of a problem that you had working in a team-based environment, what you did about it and what you learned about it?” It’s a great question; it’s very straight forward. If the person can’t give you an answer, they don’t work in team-based environments. They don’t have a clue how to work in a team-based environment. And you’re hiring a novice who doesn’t know how to work in a team-based environment. If they give you an example from 20 years ago, discount it. Maybe don’t count it at all as it was 20 years ago. If they give you an answer that’s filled with the word “I”, it tells you that the person doesn’t think from the standpoint of a team. If the person says we were trying to do X, Y, and Z. And what we were finding out is that this was happening and that was happening, so we took a step back and we held a meeting. We did a root cause analysis and we uncovered that blah, blah, blah. And then we implemented this, that, and the other thing, and what we learned was had we done this additional step in advance, we would have fostered a better environment throughout the entire course of this endeavor. That answer tells you that this person really legitimately is a team-based player. That’s a hireable person. Ask those types of questions.
I gave an example at the oncology conference. I’ve asked plenty of applicants when I’m looking for organizational skill. Now, that’s really an aptitude, not necessarily an attitude, but I’ve described people. I’ve asked, tell me how you do your good laundry. No one sees that question coming. Tell me how you do your laundry and then you can watch how detailed the person gives a response. If they give a very superficial response, they’re not a very detailed oriented person. If they give a very detailed oriented response, it helps you understand how the person thinks. Okay, so those are my thoughts for the day. Hire smartly. Many times when we have turnover and there’s a lot of turnover in clinical research, we get desperate. Don’t get desperate. A warm body is not worth it. Take your time, hire the right person, hire for attitude, train for aptitude, and take your time so that you reduce your turnover. It’s well worth it.
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