URGENT MESSAGE: Job fairs can be an efficient and cost-effective method of finding suitable employees to fill open positions in urgent care centers. With diligent planning, a job fair can save valuable time by speeding up the interview process and can bring talented and qualified applicants right to your door.

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Vice President of Strategic Initiatives for Practice Velocity, LLC and Practice Management Editor of JUCM — The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine.

Finding the “right” individuals to work in an urgent care center can be challenging—particularly for positions that deal directly with patients, such as front office specialists, medical assistants, technicians, nurses, and collections agents. You require professionalism, reliability, and skillfulness on the job, but you also need someone who will set patients at ease, follow operating procedures, pay attention to detail, and embody the center’s culture and values.
Although your first mandate as an urgent care operator is to provide quality healthcare, you’re also running a business that sells an essential service. As with retail stores, restaurants, hotels, banks, and other “service” businesses, urgent care employees must understand what it takes to provide outstanding service resulting in a patient experience that spurs positive word-of-mouth and repeat visits.

As an employer, you may understand exactly the type of individuals you want on your team, but how do you go about attracting them to your center?
Conventional hiring practices entail placing an online or newspaper Help Wanted ad, weeding through responses and resumes, setting appointments, and then interviewing applicants. This can be a time-consuming and inefficient process that is stressful for everyone involved. Good candidates often fall through the cracks as they become impatient with delays and get snapped up for positions elsewhere.

A job fair, on the other hand, brings your center and potential employees together in a unique way that is time- and cost-effective, yet results in higher-quality new hires. It brings employers and job seekers together for the purpose of applying and interviewing for jobs. Defined more precisely, a job fair is an employment strategy to fast-track the meeting of job seekers and employers.

What Are the Benefits of Hosting a Job Fair?
A job fair brings together people with complementary interests—those who are looking to fill a position and those who are seeking employment. Hosting a job fair provides many benefits to urgent care operators, including:

    • Efficiency—Rather than bringing individuals in one at a time at separate times until all candidates have been interviewed, job fairs allow employers to interview multiple applicants all in one day, typically on a day that is less busy (or a day on which the center is closed) so that everyone with a stake in the decision can meet and take part in the interview process. In addition, unsuitable candidates can be screened and excluded en masse.
    • Quality—Résumés do not always tell everything that one needs to know about an applicant. A résumé may be weak when an applicant is truly qualified or has attributes that don’t translate well to a resume; on the other hand, a strong résumé may mask unpleasant personal attributes. A job fair allows employers to meet and interview people and get to know the candidates apart from their resumes.
    • More applicants—A job fair, when advertised properly, may draw in far more applicants than a simple online or newspaper classified ad. Job fair publicity can reach a wider audience of qualified applicants.
    • Avoids bias—By holding a job fair on a day when everyone with an interest in the outcome of hiring has the opportunity to sit in on the interviews, discrimination or personal bias can be avoided. Everyone who comes to the job fair has the opportunity to present their résumé and take part in an interview with decision-makers.
    • Sells the business—Another benefit to holding a job fair is that, through promotion of the fair, others in the community become aware of the urgent care center and the services it offers. Think of the job fair as an “advertising” investment! In addition, potential employees with medical needs may choose to make use of the center’s services once they learn more about the center during the course of their interview. Many people who are between jobs are without health insurance, yet their healthcare needs continue—and urgent care centers provide affordable alternatives to emergency rooms for self-pay patients.

Are There Disadvantages to Holding a Job Fair?
Compared with the benefits of holding a job fair, the disadvantages are relatively minor. For example, space may be an issue, particularly if the center is open while the fair is taking place. Some urgent care operators choose to hold their fairs during off-peak times, such as Saturday afternoon or a weekday evening.

In addition, there are costs involved in advertising and provision of refreshments for applicants and meals for staff. If the fair is an all-day event, nonexempt staff who assist on a scheduled day off may be entitled to overtime pay.
Last, it can be difficult to plan accordingly when you’re unsure how many applicants will attend.  How will your fair function if two or three people show up when you anticipated 50, or if you planned for 50 and 100 lined up before you even opened the doors? The effectiveness of your promotion should dictate turnout, but in some communities with high unemployment it could be risky inviting “all” to apply. Most, if not all, of these factors can be offset by thorough and meticulous planning.

Keys to a Successful Job Fair: Planning and Using a Checklist
Before the fair:

  1. Designate one or more individuals in your operation to be responsible for planning the fair. A certain amount of organization is involved (ie, marketing, refreshments, information packets), so someone needs to be held accountable for assuring everything is in place. The timeline for organizing the event will depend upon the number of open positions and how many candidates you anticipate interviewing.
  2. Decide on a venue. Is there enough space in the urgent care center to hold the fair? Can traffic be routed away from patient care areas if the fair takes place when the care center is open? Not only is it critical that a center not interrupt its patient flow, but it also must maintain patient privacy. Is there a room that will comfortably seat all individuals who will be involved in the interview process, including the applicant, out of sight and earshot of other applicants? Reasons for holding the fair at the center are that prospective employees get to see the work environment—and as prospective patients, become aware of the center and its offerings. In some instances, it may be best to hold the fair at a time the center is closed, but if this is not possible, identify “off peak” times. As a last resort, hold the fair at an off-site venue such as a hotel or library.
  3. Advertise—Prior to the event, you will need to provide fliers announcing the fair to unemployment centers (such as county and state Jobs and Family Services offices), churches and social service agencies, colleges and universities (targeting both placement offices and nursing program administrators), trade schools (including those focused on medical assisting), professional organizations, and any other likely sources of the type of employee you are seeking (ie, lab and x-ray technicians, nurses, administrators, front-end staff, accountants). Consider paid advertising in local and regional newspapers and magazines; posting on job-related websites like Monster.com, CareerBuilder, and even Craigslist; advertising on your center’s own website; announcing the fair on your center’s social media (Twitter and Facebook) pages; and even reaching out to local radio stations. Casting a wide net entails finding ways to reach the widest, most diverse audience and attracting the largest pool of potential hires.
  4. Design an information packet with materials that can be provided to job seekers describing the urgent care center, types and volume of clients seen, hours of operation, positions that are open, benefits, specific job requirements, descriptions of ideal candidates, and any other information that may be illuminating and helpful to potential employees. Include the center’s mission statement and nondiscrimination policies.
  5. Design a “marking” sheet—Interviewers may want to take notes on each candidate who is interviewed. Specific questions may be necessary, and including them on this sheet will help to ensure that important questions are not missed. It also reduces the possibility of inappropriate or irrelevant questions by novice interviewers. Include spaces for the job seeker’s name, job applied for (if there is more than one job opening) and other pertinent information that might help interviewers distinguish between candidates after the job fair is over. Interviewers should discuss questions to ask and required/specific criteria beforehand. Perceptions of bias can be reduced if every candidate is asked the exact same set of questions.
  6. Create name tags—All individuals who will be taking part in the job fair should have a name tag. Name tags should also be issued to job seekers; this can be extremely helpful to hiring managers when there are multiple job candidates going through the interview process.
  7. Refreshments—Decide whether you will offer refreshments to the applicants, such as coffee, water, juice and/or light snacks. Doing so leaves a positive impression upon applicants—even those who are not hired are still prospective future patients. If staff is to be present all day to interview applicants, arrange meals to be delivered as needed.

The day of the fair:

  1. Ensure that at least one staff member is designated to greet job seekers at the door and direct them as needed. This person should provide job seekers with a name tag and an information packet, explain how the process will work, show them where to wait, invite them to the refreshment table or to the washrooms, and answer any questions.
  2. If a large group is expected, consider placing a staff member in the waiting area to casually converse with participants. This not only helps puts participants at ease and provides an opportunity for applicants to ask questions about the business, but often applicants will disclose valuable information or impressions to others outside of the formal interview.
  3. Assign a staff member to escort job seekers to the interview room and back to the designated waiting area when the interview is complete. This person may also want to gather feedback on the job seeker’s impression of the overall experience, including suggestions on how to improve for the next fair.

After the fair:

  1. Discuss the candidates for the advertised positions—This may be done the same day, when everyone’s memory is fresh, or at a later date when everyone has had time to read their notes and organize their thoughts.
  2. Follow up with all applicants—A courtesy letter to those who were not extended offers will be much appreciated and will reduce the possibility of phone calls inquiring as to the “status” of their applications.
  3. Document “lessons learned”—A staff debriefing is useful to gather impressions regarding what worked well and what could be improved should another job fair be planned at a later date. Solicit feedback from everyone who was involved in the fair.
  4. Assign someone to create a “job fair file”—Once everyone involved has had a chance to voice their opinion regarding the event, the planner should create a file for future job fairs to ensure a smooth and organized experience.

As can be seen, the bulk of the work involved in holding a job fair occurs before the actual fair takes place. Thorough planning well in advance ensures that the day of the fair is stress-free and allows employers to focus on finding the perfect candidate(s) for their position(s).

Eugene Urgent Care Draws Crowds Applying for Jobs at New Centers
In 2014 and 2015, balloons and a massive tent in the parking lot of one of Eugene Urgent Care’s centers alerted both prospective applicants and the community at-large of job fairs being hosted at the medical facility. The company hosted the major hiring events in advance of new clinic openings and drew crowds, said Operations Manager Jessica Downs.

“Both were super successful,” she said. “It’s a good way to weed through applicants quickly and get a feel for them.”
Downs explained the basic process used for the Eugene job fairs. Each event was scheduled for midday (during less-busy hours for the urgent care centers), outside the Eugene Urgent Care facility with the most parking. Downs had managers from each department on site to greet applicants and have an initial conversation. The prospective employees were then rated using a “sticky note” system, Downs said, so that staff would know who managers wanted to bump up in the interview process—but applicants couldn’t tell what the ratings meant.

The streamlining procedures were necessary since at one job fair the center received nearly 90 applications for five entry-level position openings. The urgent care center offered refreshments and giveaways, too, which helped boost attendance, Downs said.

One lesson learned from the job fairs: “Make sure you have a couple people from the front office on hand so you have more than just one person talking to those arriving. It’d be helpful to see ahead of time where the résumés are coming in from so you have the right people to talk to those applicants,” Downs said.

Eugene Urgent Care opened its first location in 2008 in Lane County, Oregon, and has expanded to seven centers. The urgent care chain was founded by an independent alliance of Eugene–Springfield Emergency physicians and other specialty practitioners who wanted to provide affordable, accessible care to the region.

“The job fairs were really a good way to get through a lot of applications very quickly and get a baseline for the prospects,” Downs said. “It’s definitely something we’ll do again.”

job fair web exclusive
Social Media Sharing Boosts Turnout at Practice Velocity Job Fair
Facebook was abuzz in the weeks leading up to Practice Velocity’s April 23 job fair to hire 20 or more medical billers at the growing northern Illinois company.

That was thanks to a dual effort of Practice Velocity’s incentive program for employees to share the event and make referrals, and an aggressive Facebook advertising promotion. Employees were entered into a drawing for each social media share they made for the job fair event, and winners received an iPad or gift certificate. When the job fair rolled around, 37% of the 278 applicants said they heard about it from Facebook or another online source.

“The demographic we were trying to reach was the passive job seeker,” said Jennifer Wood, director of People Operations (known as human resources in some companies). “We want people who are employable, that can keep a job, that want a job. And those people aren’t looking in [the] traditional Career Builder website, classified ads in newspaper outlets.”

In 2014, 58% of all U.S. adults used Facebook, according to a Pew Research Center 2014 survey. Newspaper circulation is falling. That same year, only 20% of Americans in the 25–34-year-old age bracket were daily newspaper readers; and only 23% of those in the 35–44-year-old age bracket were daily subscribers.

Practice Velocity further incentivized applicants by promoting a $1,000 signing bonus opportunity for those who successfully completed 90 days on the job. Woods said the hope was this financial boost would help job candidates who worried about starting in a new job without benefits for the first 30 or 60 days.

Practice Velocity promoted the job fair through a broad media blitz—using radio, newspaper, and weekly publications advertising, too. Sending out a press release about the event also netted some free coverage in the local newspaper’s business section.

On the day of the job fair, candidates were asked to bring a résumé and come prepared to interview. They were brought into a large room with beverages and snacks, given a short presentation on the company and its culture, and then funneled through 5-minute interviews.

The flow of candidates went pretty well, but Woods said she would change a few things at the next one. The company is considering employing the Clockwise software it offers for urgent care patient check-in to better schedule the flow of applicants.

“We have that technology,” Woods said. “We should use it.”

Woods would like to use “minglers” at the next job fair to answer questions and chat with candidates while they’re waiting for an interview. She would also schedule more interviewers to help frontload the process.

Overall, Woods said the job fair was a raving success. Of the 278 applicants, 60% fell into categories of “yes” or “maybe” for hiring consideration. That gives Practice Velocity a large pool of prospects to pursue for the current job openings and future ones that will come from turnover or continued expansion.

“We should be able to fill vacancies much more quickly,” Woods said.

Looking for a Few Good People? Host a Job Fair

Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc

President of Experity Consulting and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine