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Why we used a recruiting agent to find our new practice director

Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones's practice felt the new contract was such an important business challenge it spent more than £5,000 and used a consultancy to find a new practice director

To lose a practice manager during the run-up to the new contract could have been a disaster. But we decided to see it as an opportunity. We set out to recruit a practice director who would increase business opportunities for the practice.

We wanted someone with the skill to ensure we made the most of new GMS. We wanted a strategist rather than an administrator and we were prepared to pay ­ up to £40,000 a year. We weren't worried whether they had an NHS background or not.

What we wanted was business expertise. After all, come the new contract GPs will be competing with a whole range of health care providers and we want to be winners.

We decided we needed to adopt a business approach to tracking down the right candidate. This is why we appointed a recruitment consultant.

We did some research, and this, plus word-of-mouth recommendation, led us to a consultancy we liked. We met them, discussed their strategy and fees, and decided we would use them ­

just getting this far was a major decision in its own right.

This consultancy had recruiting experience both in general practice and in the wider

business world. Once they were hired we discussed with them:

lthe strengths and weaknesses of our partners and staff, our potential for development, and gaps to be filled by the new practice director

lthe job description ­ we based this on annexe C of the new GP contract

lthe personal skills, qualities and experience needed for the role

lthe salary ­ the post was advertised at between £28k and £40k; we included an element of performance-related pay

lthe right place to advertise ­ nationally (The Daily Telegraph) and locally (the Manchester Evening News, which included a month's posting on its website)

lthe selection process itself ­ we soon realised that our previous approach was completely out of date.

Our consultant negotiated a favourable rate for the adverts, advised us on what to put in the application pack ­ and we waited for the inquiries to come in.

We received 35 or so, which the consultant screened. We then received 24 actual CVs which the consultant sifted according to previously agreed criteria, helping us to narrow down the choice to 10 candidates.

The next stage was to decide how to conduct preliminary interviewing. The consultant advised that we do it by phone which saved time and money (especially as one of the applicants lived at the other end of the country).

None of us had any experience of interviewing over the phone before; we are all now enthusiastic converts. You can clarify the CV, get an idea of the candidate's understanding of and enthusiasm for the post, and, using a standardised list of questions, assess whether they meet the criteria for the job.

But more than that, it gave an extra dimension to the interview. Despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of eye contact we felt able to ask more candid questions and we felt the applicants were candid too.

The consultant conducted the interviews in our surgery, but we listened in by speakerphone so we could all ask questions.

After further discussion, we were down to a shortlist of three.

The three candidates were invited to an assessment day; we employed locums so that all the partners could be present. The candidates were interviewed for an hour each, gave a prepared 15-minute presentation on how they saw the role of practice director, and were asked to provide a written response to two scenarios (a fictional staff dispute and the financial checks and balances required in a small business).

The interviews were led by the consultant but the partners had ample opportunity to participate. We also sought the views of any staff who had shown the candidates round the practice.

At the end of this intensive process we agreed that we were fortunate to have found not one but three candidates who were eminently suitable. Luckily, we all favoured the same one; she has an MBA, a commercial background and no NHS experience, but we are confident that we have got the person we need.

So was it worth it? We have spent many unremunerated partner hours working with the consultant and interviewing people on the phone and face to face , but the selection process used by the consultant was definitely more thorough and effective than we would have managed by ourselves.

The cost has also been considerable ­ over £5,000 when fees, advertisements, locum time and other expenses are taken into account. However, this is relatively small in comparison with the salary we will be paying the practice director, and the cost to the whole practice of getting it wrong.

Melanie Wynne-Jones is a GP in Marple, Cheshire

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