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Hiring Administrative Staff: A Basic Overview

By Corporate Relations and Business Strategy Staff

Regardless of work setting, many practitioners find themselves in positions that involve managing administrative staff at some point during their careers. Since psychology education and training rarely includes the business and management skills needed to hire, train and supervise administrative staff, stepping into this new role can feel particularly daunting for some practitioners.

Whether your administrative support needs involve a part-time billing clerk, a full-time office assistant or someone to manage a large records room, taking some simple steps to organize your hiring efforts can help you get the right person for the job. In the first of a series of articles addressing staffing and personnel management, this article provides an overview of how to approach hiring administrative staff.

Assessing Your Staffing Needs

Before hiring a new staff member, it is essential that you examine your administrative needs, This initial step will help you determine the activities you need help with, the skills required and the type of person who will best fill the position. This step will also lay the groundwork for planning your recruitment strategy, establishing appropriate compensation, providing training and conducting performance evaluations.

The specific duties and skill requirements will vary depending on the type of position you are considering (e.g., general office assistant, billing clerk, medical records director, managed care coordinator). However, general questions to consider with regard to any position include:

  • What job duties do you need help with?
  • Do you need full-time or part-time administrative support?
  • Are there particular days of the week or times of day that you need coverage?
  • What type of education or job experience would a new staff member need to be successful in the position?
  • Does the job require specialized skills?
  • What type of employee would fit into the organizational culture?
  • What type of support would this new staff member need (e.g., supervision time, particular training, office space, computer access)?

Writing a Job Description

Next, use the information gathered from your staffing needs assessment to develop a job description. A job description is a formal, written statement that details what the job is and how it is done. A solid job description will help you advertise or list the position, clearly communicate your expectations to job candidates and determine the standards of performance you will use to conduct performance evaluations.

A job description should have a clearly identified “job summary” that, in a sentence or two, explains the general nature of the job (e.g., complete billing and claims documentation for clients seen each day, pull and file charts for clinicians, audit client charts and ensure that all records are complete and up-to-date). Keep the job summary succinct and definable, to emphasize the primary activities and give employees adequate structure. Keep your job descriptions clear, concise and specific.

Although there is no standard format for a job description, in addition to the job summary, most descriptions include the following information:

  • Job title
  • More extensive list of duties and responsibilities
  • Decision-making, supervisory and budgetary authority
  • Requisite knowledge, skills, experience and education

Determining Pay and Benefits

Compensation consists of both direct payment for work (e.g., salary, wages) and indirect payment (e.g., time off, insurance benefits). When determining the level of compensation for a job, consider what will be equitable, both in terms of other positions in your work setting and similar jobs in your community. Think about the complexity of the work, the necessary skills and experience, the time commitment and the effort required to successfully perform the job. If you are hiring for an existing position that is open, use the previous salary as a baseline salary from which to start and adjust as appropriate.

If you are developing a compensation package for a new position, you may need to gather additional data. Conducting a brief survey of what other local employers are paying for comparable jobs, searching the classified ads in the local newspaper and on the Internet and contacting employment agencies in your community can provide valuable information to ensure that the pay rate you establish is equitable compared to similar external positions. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics is another excellent resource, with data on wages, earnings and benefits broken down by occupation and geographic area.

When determining a salary range that fits your budget, remember to keep an open mind about the various combinations of benefits you could offer an employee (e.g., flex-time, telecommuting, medical and dental insurance, holiday and vacation time, assistance with child or eldercare, tuition reimbursement). In a competitive job market, offering unique benefit packages that meet the needs of your employees can help you attract and retain high-quality staff members and may provide you with tax benefits. After considering these factors, talk to your accountant about tax implications and other budgetary issues and identify a target salary range and benefits package to offer for the position.

Publicizing Job Openings

When you are ready to begin recruiting for the position, review the job description that you created and consider how you can connect with the kind of individual who would be a good fit for the job. Some other factors that are important to consider with regard to your recruitment strategy include how much you want to pay for advertising, how many job openings you need to fill and how quickly you need to fill the position.

Here are some suggestions for reaching potential job candidates:

  • Use your network. Call colleagues and other contacts and let them know you are trying to fill a position.
  • Post a help wanted ad in the local newspapers or on well-known, job-finder sites on the Internet.
  • Post available positions on your professional website.
  • Visit or send information to job placement offices at local colleges or trade schools. Some administrative positions may require specific business education or training as a medical office assistant.
  • Use an employment service or temporary staffing agency. This option is most beneficial when you need to fill several positions, hire new employees frequently or want the flexibility to evaluate someone on a “temporary to permanent” basis.

Hiring and Selection

Once you have generated a pool of interested candidates for the position, you need to select the best person for the job. In general, the selection process consists of identifying the best candidate using screening tools, such as the ones listed below.

  • Application. This form should provide you with basic data for each applicant (e.g., contact information, education, past work experience, and job-related skills).

  • Resume. A resume can provide you with additional information about an applicant’s skills and work experiences that may not have been captured on the application form.

  • References. Calling professional references or requesting letters of recommendation can provide you with collateral data and allows you to hear more personal, qualitative accounts of the applicant’s strengths.

  • Background checks. Be sure to check with your state’s department of labor and any relevant regulatory agencies for specific clearances you may be required to obtain for employees. For example, you may need to conduct background checks with the state police, FBI or child abuse reporting agencies.

  • Interview. An interview is designed to predict job performance based on the candidate’s verbal responses to questions. Additionally, an interview provides important information about how well applicants handle stress, think on their feet, interact with others and respond to feedback. In general, structured interviews are better predictors of job performance than unstructured interviews are, so plan ahead and use your staffing needs assessment and job description to guide your interview and help you determine the standards for evaluating interviewees.

  • Performance-simulation tests. These tasks allow you to see the candidates actually perform job-related activities (e.g., typing, filing, data entry), so you can compare their performance to self-reported competencies.

  • Psychological tests. Although many different types of psychological tests (e.g., intelligence and achievement tests, interest inventories, personality tests) have been used in personnel selection, great care should be taken when using them as part of the hiring and selection process. Test usage must comply with equal rights legislation and the tests you use must be predictably related to job performance in the position you are hiring for. Therefore, unless you have developed the appropriate competencies in the use of tests for employee evaluation and selection, be sure to consult a psychologist with expertise in this area, as well as your attorney, before adding these tools to your selection process.

This brief overview of the hiring process highlights some key areas to consider when making additions to your staff. Future articles in this series will address some of these subtopics in greater detail, such as writing a job description, structuring employee benefits and conducting performance evaluations.

NOTE: The material presented in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Many aspects of hiring, selection, compensation and personnel management are governed by equal opportunity and other employment law and may vary by state. When designing a hiring and selection process or writing office policies and procedures related to personnel issues, be sure to consult your attorney and/or a human resources management professional, as necessary.


Date created: 2005