Tips on finding, hiring the best research staff

Ask for input from existing staff

Finding qualified and high-performing clinical trial workers who can work harder under more challenging circumstances takes patience and time.

Managers need to identify people who can work efficiently while under stress and fit in well with the clinical trial site's existing team, says Wanda Kay North, PhD, MBA, RN, CCRC, CIM, manager of The Center for Clinical Research at St. Joseph's/Candler Health System in Savannah, GA.

North offers this advice on how to find and attract the best qualified people for work at research sites:

• Involve staff in decisions about potential employees: "I've involved the team in the hiring process, which hopefully makes them feel like their input is important in hiring someone," North says. "When we interview, we make sure the staff has time with that candidate."

When coordinators talk among themselves, they can go into the nuts and bolts details of the daily work and find out in a coordinator-to-coordinator conversation about any issues the job candidate has had on the job, she notes.

Current employees can also help market the position to potential hires by discussing positive attributes of the job.

"They can talk about the support they get from their manager and administrative staff," she adds.

After the research team meets with a job candidate, North would meet with each person individually to learn what he or she thought of the person.

"I'd like to see if they identified any issues and what they gained from spending time with the person," she says. "We're all different and focused on different things, so there might be an area that they've identified as important, and they want to get feedback from the candidate about this subject."

Also, North looks for trends in her staff's comments. I more than one person pointed out a shortcoming in the interviewee, then it would make her stop, go back, and find a way to speak with the job candidate again to see if this really is a problem.

"There have been times when an employee will come back and say, 'I don't think this person is going to work out, and this is why,'" North says. "If they have valid points they've identified, then I wouldn't hire the person."

• Thoroughly check potential employees' records: "If I hire someone with previous coordinator experience, I get a list of studies they've done, the number of patients they've enrolled, and what their enrollment goal was," North says. "I want to see if this person was good at identifying patients and enrolling patients in the study."

If a coordinator had enrolled only one or two patients for a study when the goal was 20-25, then that suggests the study was either very difficult to enroll or there are other issues going on, she explains.

"Everyone wants to find someone who is a go-getter and good at beating the bushes in finding patients for studies," North says.

"I've learned to check not just references, but their educational background," she says.

Also, North asks for a variety of references, including one from a monitor that has worked with the job candidate and a personal reference.

"Sometimes a personal reference has said something that makes me think I would not want to hire this person," North says.

Most people are leery about saying anything negative when they're asked for a reference, but occasionally someone will be candid about the job candidate's shortcomings.

Sometimes a job candidate will appear to be the ideal employee for a position, but issues will arise after they're hired, so it's good to have a short trial period.

"Within 90 days you can pick up on any issues," North says.