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How we found the right partner

Faced with finding a new partner, Dr Steve Brown and colleagues were able to call on expert help – it also turned out to be a great opportunity to assess the future of the practice

When our senior partner announced six months ago he was going to retire I felt daunted by the process that lay ahead. But looking back I can see that recruiting a replacement was a very positive experience for the staff and partners.

To begin the recruitment process, the four remaining partners met and considered the following questions.

• Did we want a replacement or could we all work harder? • Did we want to replace with a nurse practitioner, or perhaps more than one?• If it was to be a doctor, would we want a salaried partner or a profit-share partner?• Did we want full-time, part-time or job share?

We discussed where we were now and where we wanted the practice to be in five years. We decided on a full-time profit-share partner and that we would consider a job share. We all committed time and energy to the process and considered how and where to advertise, how to shortlist, how to interview and how to make that final choice.

Recruiting experience

As a trainer I had more experience of interviewing and shortlisting than my partners, so I approached a recruitment consultant friend who offered to help us. Over the next six weeks we had three evening meetings and numerous email contacts. At the first meeting we discussed the advert, which we hoped would be simple and would convey something of the style and ethos of the practice. We put the advert in the BMJ and Pulse for three weeks.Items covered in the advert were:

• flexible about full-time or job share• paperless (not paper light)• high-quality achievement (efficient)• training practice• recently extended rented surgery (smallish investment needed)• good transport links (though some motorway noise) • good local schools (competitive grammar schools).

We asked applicants to write or email for an application pack, consisting of a comprehensive job description (adapted from the BMA), a practice leaflet and practice description, and we each wrote 100 words about ourselves. Our consultant had suggested we create our own application form, and we decided to do this. This would test the commitment of applicants, prevent a deluge of CVs and we would be able to shortlist without discrimination. The form had a front sheet that asked for basic personal details and gathered information on:

• education, including school and university, postgraduate qualifications• past jobs, current job, including salary, why this particular job • references, entitlement to work in this country and criminal convictions.

Secretaries sent out application packs and processed completed forms. These were numbered and acknowledged by letter. The front sheet was detached so that at shortlisting we did not know the age or sex of the applicant unless they had chosen to state such details in other sections of the form. We decided to allow informal visits to the practice.We had our second meeting with our recruitment consultant before the closing date to consider shortlisting. We decided to write a job specification and some of the requirements were:

• commitment and enthusiasm in previous jobs• no drug or alcohol abuse• relevant hospital experience and an interest in training • communication and IT skills• self-motivated learner• sense of humour• flexible.

We designed a marking sheet when shortlisting which matched the job specification.All four partners marked each application form. We then met one evening and compared our marking. Out of more than 50 applicants there were six who we agreed really stood out and we were able to select three more. We then earmarked times to interview candidates, some after work and some at weekends. We wrote to all those who were not shortlisted. Our recruitment consultant helped us to plan the interview questions and we did some role play. We tried to use open-ended questions exploring areas on the job specification. We asked the candidates to do a Belbin teamworking questionnaire and a short computer test. Examples of questions we included were:

• Why are you interested in a partnership?• Which hospital job did you most enjoy and why?• Tell us about a recent humorous experience.• What is your learning style?

We allowed plenty of time for these questions. After the interview we had a short discussion and marked the candidates using a standard marking sheet. We did not discuss these marks with each other until we had interviewed everybody.Three candidates stood out and we invited them for a second interview. We suggested they sit in on a surgery before the interview, and asked them to bring a video of a recent consultation, provided specific consent was obtained. The second interview lasted two hours. More detailed questions were asked, such as salary, parity and duties.In the end we all chose the same candidate and they accepted. The two who were not selected were phoned with reasons and positive feedback.

Dr Steve Brown is a partner and trainer in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire

Main learning points

• A vacancy is an opportunity to think about the future of the practice• Set aside time for the process and don't cut corners• Be prepared to pay for help with interviewing or shortlisting • Relate the interview questions to the job specification • Be open as individuals and as a practice• Remember it's a two-way process

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