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Hiring pharmacy staff without actual experience

Like many pharmacy manager-owners, I have conducted a few interviews in my time. Some were highly collaborative and resulted in all-stars still working strongly with us today. Other résumés turned into napkins or scrap paper.

What is the desirable pharmacy staff personality trifecta?

It has been said that drafting an NFL quarterback is a crapshoot. There are simply too many variables to predict what scouts and managers can foresee. If they find that hard, they should try selecting great pharmacy staff out of the candidates available to us!

What if there were three personality traits that pharmacy leaders could hedge their bets on while interviewing pharmacy staff candidates?

Jason Chenard notes
Author’s sketch of three critical staffing character traits
Jason Chenard notes
Author’s sketch of three critical staffing character traits

A learned conclusion

Like many pharmacy manager-owners, I have conducted a few interviews in my time. Some were highly collaborative and resulted in all-stars still working strongly with us today. Other résumés turned into napkins or scrap paper.

Over countless interviews in the past 15 years, I have come to recognize some traits in the people that last. Since many staff we interview do not have decades of tangible pharmacy experience, we have to dig deeper to find the ones who will become indispensable.

What do we look for in a person who will become a great pharmacy staffer?

First, they a desire to do some good. While this sounds simple, it is true that some people simply care less about doing a good job, whatever that job is. They often need to be told what to do next and precisely how to do it instead of seeing it coming.

In an interview, I find the great ones telling me stories that point to their meeting a cause greater than themselves, like a volunteer task or being proud of something small that others would not have been driven to stick with.

Maybe they were part of a committee to collect non-perishables for a food bank, swam in a club for 10 years or can tell a story of their progress in piano. These hint at someone with a potential for learning something as complex as dispensary workflow by having a growth mindset and caring about advancing one-step at a time.

More recently, I hired someone who told me she read an article of mine in Canadian Healthcare Network and subscribed to my newsletter. Even if she was trying to earn bonus points, her motivation was evident. The fact that she knew about these resources tells me she is engaged and genuinely wants to do good.

In an interview, you might even ask them to tell you what they know about your pharmacy.

What other traits should we look for?

A second trait of people worth investing in is contentment with what they have. Small things keep them happy and they have a generally positive outlook on life, which pays dividends in a stressful pharmacy environment. They are able to find joy in small things, which keeps them in the fight longer. They might say things like: 

“I love playing music. Any instrument will do.”

 “I just like being part of a team and feeling helpful.”

 “It’s a wonderful area, I want to be part of the community and meet others.”

A specific test-worthy area is revealed when you ask about wage expectations. They might say, “No idea, whatever is fair, I’m happy to have a steady place to work.”

Appreciating what you have sets you up for an entry-level position with a small wage band that has been compressed by rising minimum wages for small business.

Ceiling over floor

A third desirable find in long-lasting character is a high ceiling. Since they do not come with years of tangible experience, they need potential. Find ways to hear examples that demonstrate coming far in an area over time.

I met one candidate who worked for three years as a farm intern and was now motivated to own his own farm. He started from something small, believed in himself and worked his way to the top of his field.

I interviewed a single mom with two kids in sports, who was managing her calendar well. Imagine if she was surrounded by your support and a team who cared about her.

A very strong pharmacy assistant I work with is retired after 30 years at Canadian Blood Services. She started in an entry-level job decades ago and can now pull blood. Not only was she commanding when someone fainted during my vaccination clinic, but her ability to build new skills has her independently running our blister pack production program.

Another staff member I think highly of migrated from Nigeria with two kids. She worked a virtual job as a customer service agent and has jumped through numerous political hoops and endless paperwork to get here. Recognizing people for what they can become is harder than seeing what they are, but it is worth it.

Hiring in pharmacy has never been harder. We are vitally low on inventory of experienced assistants, technicians and pharmacists so it is up to out-of-the-box leaders to grow their own.

Who are your hidden gems?

For solutions to what’s not taught in pharmacy school, visit layeredleadership.ca and subscribe to Jason’s weekly newsletter: Rested, Fueled & Ready.

 

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