Recruiting has changed over the past two years. How you find your next PT now is much different than it was prior to the pandemic. The show’s guest today is Brian Weidner, the President of Career Tree Network, is a recruitment advertising and human resources firm that helps physical therapists connect with career opportunities. Brain discusses with Nathan Shields in this episode how PTs are now making employment decisions with a greater focus on personal dynamics and lifestyle. That’s why we need to show PTs how the job can fulfill their lifestyle goals and their own needs. If you want more on how to find your next PT, tune in!
I’ve got a frequent guest, Brian Weidner, President of Career Tree Network which is a human resource company and a recruiter for PT employers. Brian was letting me know that he does 95% of his business with physical therapy employers and physical therapy owners. Brian, thanks for joining the show. I appreciate it.
Thank you. It’s nice to be back.
We’ve talked in a couple of episodes in the past about recruiting physical therapists and what we need to do to procure and acquire physical therapists. Once they’re on the hook, how do we get them in the door? Those have been some valuable episodes. Over the past years of doing the show, the recruiting environment has been essentially the same as it has been most of the time. Sometimes it’s hard to find physical therapists, especially on your geography. It’s cool to bring you on to talk about what you’ve noticed. We’ve noticed a lot of changes since the pandemic started and what it takes now to get physical therapists in the door. I’m excited to bring you on. Let us know about what you’re seeing in the environment right now, what owners need to know, and what they need to do to start finding talent.
During COVID, the height of it was an interesting time to be a recruiter as all of our clients stopped hiring and started laying off people. It’s not great days to be recruiting talent when all of your clients are letting people go and furloughing. There was a period of time when we have a lot of active projects and then all of a sudden, our clients no longer had needs. Since October of 2020, I’ve started seeing our clients coming back. As the vaccine is rolled out and continued to have more people adopt that, we’re seeing pretty much everybody and their brother is hiring a PT. The market is the strongest that I’ve seen.
We started the company in 2007 and it’s the strongest demand for PTs that I’ve seen in our time. Not only is the demand strong now, but we also have a few other factors that are interesting to where we are. One of those is that during COVID, the employment has been like musical chairs where PTs are in a position but it’s maybe not full-time. They might get furloughed or their employer closed. There are all these factors. Even new grads from May of 2020, a lot of them are still without their first full-time position. It has been an interesting time where a lot of times we look at people that are changing positions frequently. We use different indicators based on the resume to make decisions and evaluations of people.
With COVID, we would have to be more lenient to be more understanding of that short-term employment or that PT that hasn’t been comfortable seeing patients at all. They haven’t worked since the pandemic began. We’re seeing some interesting trends around that. It’s easy for me to recommend flexibility. It’s easy to say, “Be more empathetic to PTs,” but it’s trickier when you’re the clinic owner and you have someone that hasn’t seen a patient since April of 2020 and now their resume is on your desk. Due to the fact that everybody is hiring PTs, we’re seeing that speed of the hiring process is important. It’s always been a factor but now with such high demand and the job market is incredibly strong, if you’re not acting quickly on candidates, they’re moving on to other opportunities.
If we’re looking back on what it was like immediately during the pandemic and for the first six months or so, either people were letting people go or scaling back their hours for a period of time. As they started ramping up 2 to 3 months after the big hit, they had their pick. It was an odd time to be a PT owner because rarely, if ever, has it been such that there were PTs available to hire like there were at that time. Some of my clients had an easy time finding some physical therapists and bringing them on and preparing ahead of time for the ramp-up. Now that we're back into the full swing of things in most places, it's June of 2021. It has been hard for my clients to find PTs. They're having some success with the new grads but it's getting harder. It's getting back to the way things were or even tougher than they were prior to the pandemic.
New grads are like a unicorn in a certain sense. They’re always very attractive for clinic owners to hire but signing a new grad to your team is sometimes a difficult task. Even when you do have the new grad signed, a lot of times, they make another employment decision without telling you after they’ve signed. The clinic owner thinks they have the new grad lined up. Everything is in place and they’ve done credentialing. All of a sudden, on the first day, they say, “My parents decided to go to Hawaii,” or “I move to my girlfriend.” You couldn’t even predict and now, they’re gone. It’s a tough scenario.If you’re not acting quickly on candidates, they’re moving on to other opportunities. Click To Tweet
What are some of the things that you’re noticing now compared to pre-pandemic? What does an owner need to be aware of in order to secure some of these available PTs? What are you advising PTs to do compared to what you might have recommended before the pandemic?
What we’re seeing now is that PTs are making employment decisions with a greater focus on personal dynamics and lifestyle. COVID has woken a lot of people up to say, “Do I want to work in this setting? Do I want to drive this distance from my house? Do I want to live in my current town? Should I move back to be closer to my family?” When they look for positions, they’re looking for jobs that are going to better meet their lifestyle. This is something that might be a generational thing as well. We’re seeing it clear now with COVID where they care more about the work schedule than they do about your mission statement.
As a practice owner, a lot of our clients have to buy into our values and believe in our mission statement. That’s important to a certain extent. However, PTs are more concerned about their own work schedule than they are in your mission statement. We need to ensure that we’re showing PTs how the job can fulfill their lifestyle goals and their own needs. Always being clear about the logistics of the job is something that is important. Oftentimes, those logistics are not used within the recruitment process by a lot of private practice owners where the practice owner leads in more with, “Come and join the team. We offer a great work environment.” They’re using loose marketing phrases when the candidate is more concerned about the logistics of the job.
What you’re recommending then is making sure that your ads are more focused on what you can provide in terms of the lifestyle that they want, whether that’s in the community that your clinic is in or in the schedule that you’re able to provide a greater focus on in terms of lifestyle.
It’s being clear around the flexibility of work schedule, the hours that the clinic is open, any weekend requirements, mentioning the number of holidays that you give off per year, compensation and all those logistics of the job. Especially now, because of the fact that there’s such a high demand for PTs, we need to be more upfront about the salary and benefits which is also uncomfortable for a lot of organizations. I had a PT that I was talking with. He’s relatively happy in his position. He’s in an outpatient setting. He said, “I could get another part-time position or I could leave my current role and go somewhere else.” I said, “What would it take for you to leave your current position?” He was like, “Honestly, the salary.”
There are a lot of PTs that are sitting on the sidelines that are willing to explore and change positions but they don't want to jump through all the garbage of the recruitment process. They don't want to apply online or do multiple phone screens. All they want to know is, "My kid has a soccer game every week at 5:00. Can I go to my kid's soccer game? My current job pays me $68,000 a year. Is this new job going to pay me more?" There are all these logistical things that people are factoring in.
Being more upfront with some of those things, would you recommend they put all that in the ad? Is that something they would simply introduce earlier in the conversation than they normally would?
Putting it all in the ad is a good thing. What we’re seeing is that PTs especially are not coming forward until they’ve done a good level of research. When we contact someone via text message about one of our clients, they don’t respond to the text right away and say, “Tell me more.” They want to know who’s the employer and what’s the address of the clinic. They’re researching. In recruitment for some areas, you have more of a chance to play with the candidate back and forth. You can, “How are you? What are you interested in?” There’s this conversation that unfolds. Unfortunately, with the PT market and the high demand for their skills, they are able to be blunt in terms of what they want. A lot of times, that bluntness is uncomfortable.
It can be uncomfortable for an owner that’s not sure of what they would offer somebody. It’s important as the owners go into this knowing, “What is your salary range?” Don’t start talking about what you’re going to offer that person with that many years of experience after the interview. It’s important to have your salary ranges determined ahead of time, salary and/or hourly. If it’s a new grad, I’m going to offer them this. If they’re out 2 to 3 years and they have a couple of certifications, I’m going to offer them this. If they’re ten-plus years of experience and productivity in the outpatient clinic, I’m going to offer them this. Would you recommend they be more sure about what they’re going to offer ahead of time?
You have it worded correctly as well especially if the pay for new grads is set in stone. For example, you could share in the advertisement that, “If you’re a brand-new grad, we start our new grads at whatever it is per year or per hour. We go up from there based on experience and qualifications.” That way, you’re not sharing everything with the candidate because you want a little bit of wiggle room. You don’t want someone to say, “They don’t pay what I’m making. I’m not going to come forward.” At least, they have that data point, “This pay for this position starts at whatever it is and then it goes up from there.”
Maybe this is hard to say across the entire country. What is a general range you’re seeing for new grads as they’re coming out in 2021?
I would refer people to APTA. They have salary data within the workforce development section of the website. They have robust salary data that I referenced as well. The only downside is it hasn’t been updated. The last time it was updated was in 2016. You can do some cost-of-living adjustment to bring it up. They have it broken down by practice setting, years of experience and geographic area. That will be the best because it’s all member-driven.
The last time I spoke with Will Humphreys about recruiting and he recruited our company, Empower Physical Therapy in Arizona. His range is somewhere in the low $70,000-ish for outpatient ortho staff. Maybe that’s higher nowadays because the demand is so great. I don’t want to say it got into the high $60,000, but it was at least in the low $70,000-ish from what I recall.
When you have a candidate surfacing, we need to be competitive with the salary and benefits. We also need to realize that the PTs are not just concerned about the money. If they ask about salary, that doesn't mean that that's the only thing on their mind. They are often looking at salary as a component of it. Some of our clients get scared or turned off from the candidate if they even ask about salary during the interview process. They would say, "That PT asked me about salary. He's only concerned with money and we can't pay as the other guys pay." We have to be competitive. Maybe salary, in particular, is not your strongest suit, but then how are you compensating for that in other ways? Can you be more flexible with the work schedule? Can you offer more continuing education? Can you do different things outside the box that are nonfinancial that would still differentiate you as an employer?
Maybe when they ask that question, it’s not necessarily their prime motivation asking about salary but it’s just checking a box, “Did you meet a minimum standard?” If you can meet that minimum standard and check that box. Now, I can move on and say, "Do I have the flexibility that I want? Am I able to have a lifestyle that I want? What are some of the other expectations? What is the clientele?" It might just be one of many questions that they're asking to cover all their bases. What are some other things that you're noticing that are different from how things were, pre-pandemic?
One additional area, we've seen PTs are physically moving and relocating to new areas which are somewhat new. In the past, we haven't seen these many experienced PTs that are willing to move somewhere. All of the moving that we're seeing is for personal reasons. They're looking to relocate to a certain area because their family is there or whatever reason is personal to them. The days of a PT relocating specifically for a job are likely behind us. We have travel PTs who travel around on the temporary assignments but it's very rare that I've seen a PT tell me like, "I'll go anywhere in the state of California. What do you have in California?" It would be great if people were more flexible, but there’s not that level of flexibility.PTs are making employment decisions with a greater focus on personal dynamics and lifestyle. Click To Tweet
Now, we see it more on the PTA side, the physical therapist assistant side. Maybe if a clinic was looking for a physical therapist assistant, you could find someone that would relocate for the job, but on the PT side, we’re not seeing PTs relocate for a specific job. That means then, the best candidates for your job already live in your geographic area or have some personal connection to your community. We often have clients in more remote areas and they’re like, “How do we get a PT to move here for the job?” It’s a very difficult scenario because PTs don’t move just for jobs, at least what I’ve seen.
The recommendation around that is those PTs that are in your geographic area, that’s a prime audience for your talent pool as you’re looking to hire. Finding a PT outside of your geographic area to relocate to where your clinic is, is a very difficult and costly challenge. The strategy is since those local candidates are the best candidates and are the ones that we need to pay attention to, A) We can’t discount people without fully considering them for the jobs and B) We also need to look at making direct contact with that pool of candidates. We can’t just post the job on Indeed and hope that the small audience of PTs see it.
One action that we did in the past was emailing out the list of licensed physical therapists in the state and getting their attention in that regard. Is that something that you do quite often?
Yes. Email is still a good source. We’ve been doing a lot with text messaging. First, I was nervous to do text messaging but over the years, we’ve found that it’s even more successful than email. We send multiple emails to the licensure list and then we do additional research to identify email addresses for people. What’s interesting is within those multiple emails, we send at least three email messages about one job to people. Usually, it’s the 2nd or 3rd email that gets the person to reply. If you’re sending out emails, I would recommend sending at least 2 or 3 email messages to the same person.
Interestingly, you’re using texts more and understandably so because people typically respond or at least they read their texts. Whereas you might not have that open and read rate with emails like you do with texts. I can see how you might use that more often to your advantage.
The texting is great. Originally, we were texting people individually. We would individually research phone numbers and we don’t know which phone numbers are correct. If we were trying to find your phone number, Nathan, we use an online people search-type software website to find possible phone numbers. The websites give us multiple phone numbers. We would send a text to every phone number that we would find for the person. Later, we came across different ways to automate that process and make it easier. It’s still very time-consuming because when you send out the text, that’s just half of the process and then you have to respond to the texts. If you send out 500 text messages, you have a lot of replies coming back in, questions and updates but that’s what we’re paid to do.
Have you used any social media ads whether it’s Facebook Ads or other social media avenues to access people and promote?
Yes. The easiest way would be to post the job on those social platforms. LinkedIn and Facebook would both have ways to post jobs. Otherwise, you can do a lot of cool targeting ads on Facebook. There's a lead generation ad that we've used in the past where we're posting it and we can narrow it based on job title or people that have an affinity to certain organizations. The targeting function is good there. You are getting leads coming in. The downside is sometimes the people don't realize what they're clicking on. It's not like they're applying for the jobs which is a good thing for us to talk about. There's a difference between the candidate on Indeed who hits submit after uploading their resume versus the guy on Facebook or Instagram who just happens to click. All of a sudden, you get access to his email address. That second guy on Instagram is not applying for your job. He's maybe interested. He's open to talking to you.
There’s still a lot of work to do after that.
It's asking questions like, "Why do you want to come work for us? Why should I hire you?" That's way too early to ask those kinds of questions. It's more of developing those relationships, nurturing the candidate and answering questions. In that aspect of recruitment, it's an important aspect right now with where we are because a lot of candidates are interested passively and open to exploring where we like it when a person uploads their resume and sends it to us.
That’s the easy part.
Unfortunately, we’re not quite in that same spot anymore. Being willing to engage with talent, talk with them and have some dialogue back and forth are important.
What do you find the success rates are with these different channels to access potential candidates? Whether it’s social media versus text, email, posting on Indeed, ZipRecruiter or any of the other sites, is there one that’s far and away the most effective or least effective?
The least effective and the most costly is direct mail. It used to be that my wife is a PT. We get letters and multiple postcards every week. I’m sure you’ve gotten them over the years. Companies are realizing that direct mail is very costly and the response rate is low. When you’re doing proactive recruitment, you need multiple follow-ups. When we’re sending out the text messaging, we’re not just sending out one text. We’re sending out 2 or 3 texts to the same people.
It’s the same with the email address. We’re sending at least three emails to the same person. Direct mail would be the one to avoid. It’s tempting because we have the licensure data and there are a lot of mailing addresses on there. Instead of using those mailing addresses for direct mail, I would recommend using those to develop a list of the candidates that live closest to your clinic and then trying to research those people, sending them emails, texts and calling them rather than sending the direct mail piece.
Has social media worked very well for you in the past?When you have a candidate surfacing, we need to be competitive with the salary and benefits. Click To Tweet
Not really, for the cost of it. When we first started doing Facebook Ads, they were pretty good in terms of generating people that are willing to talk but over time, it got more expensive and fewer quality results. The targeting was not great. It's good to try it and see how it goes, but what we find in terms of the most successful would be emailing, text messaging and posting it on Indeed.
If you were going to recommend a plan of action or a recruiting strategy for a PT owner it would start with the obvious. Place the ads where there are supposed to be the state boards, local colleges, Indeed and ZipRecruiter. Make sure the ad is out there where it needs to be. If you’re going to do some active recruiting, then it’s going to start with getting that list of state-licensed providers, especially the ones that are near you and start honing in on their email addresses and texts. That’s how you’ll be more active.
You want to do a geo-targeted list based on the people that live closest to your clinic. We found that you need at least 300 people on the list in order to get a slate of candidates to surface. You may have to play around with the zip codes to get more of a closer radius if you’re in a larger geographic area. Once you have the 300 people on the list at a minimum, then you would go out to online search websites to try and find phone numbers and email addresses. Usually, the state licensure data does not provide that. You’re manually researching each and every person on that targeted list. You’re getting multiple email addresses and phone numbers, then you’re able to do the direct contact via email and text. You could also cold call people too but we found that cold calling has become less effective as well. A lot of the recruiting tools that we started with and that historically, direct mail and cold calling shifted into more email and text messaging. In some ways, it has become easier to recruit because when you’re sitting and cold calling people all day, it’s draining. Sending out mass emails is easier in some ways.
Even then, dealing with the geotracking, finding emails and cell numbers, at point, I would think most owners would say, “Who else could do that for me?” I don’t know if I have a lot of time. Maybe I have a couple of hours a week if I’m set up in such a way that I have some admin time that I could focus on that. Even touching it just a couple of hours a week means that the rest of the week, nothing is getting done to recruit that next PT.
That’s why we’re in business to a certain extent. Even if you get the licensure data, and then you do all the research or you have someone on your team do it, then you have to start thinking about, “How am I going to email these people? Do I just put them in the BCC line? Do I subscribe to email software? What’s that going to cost me? What do I put in the message? How do we ensure that they get a quick reply to it?” On the texting side, “Who on my team is going to send out these texts? How are they going to reply to them? Do I have to buy them a cell phone? How long is it going to take to send out these individual texts? What do I say in the message?” There are all these factors. It’s easier said than done. That’s why when a practice has a position open. There’s a lot of stress and anxiety around it because they don’t know what to do. They have the job posted and are like, “I have the job posted and we’re not getting people coming in.” They know that there’s something else they could be doing but the barrier to perform those step is pretty rigorous.
If they were to take that step and try to send out emails and texts, are there any particular topics or subjects that get a better response rate? I’m sure you don’t want to be all about how amazing you are or maybe you do. What kind of content should an email or a text consist of to get a response? You have to do it multiple times. One email or text might not do the trick. Is there a certain topic or a thread that is followed through with each of those?
Conceptually, we have two different hurdles to jump over. The first is, "Are you even open to exploring a new position?" That's the first one, yes or no. "Are you open to exploring any job out there?" A lot of people are retired or happy in their current position. Once you have that dialogue going, then you lead in with the logistics of the job where you're trying to show people like, "This clinic is close to your home. It's located down the road. We offer flexible work schedules. We're utilizing these technologies. We're doing a continuing education annually of $2,000. Would you be open to exploring further?"
The first is, “Are you even open to explore any jobs?” The second is, “Are you open to explore the job that I have?” I try and keep the messages short as possible. I like to do more back and forth with candidates. It’s more time-consuming. It might be called drip marketing where instead of blasting all the content all at once, you go back and forth and drop little marketing elements within the conversation that you’re having because then people feel more invested in the conversation. They’re more engaged to continue talking to you versus if you just send them like, “Here’s a link to the whole job advertisement.” I feel like you’re giving them too much information.
I like how you address it because it’s not, “We’ve got this position open at this great facility. Come check it out,” and promoting you. It’s rather, “What do you need? How can we help?” and more focused on the potential candidate.
It needs to be around their needs and the logistics. The other thing that I would say is that you should sell first and screen later. My wife got something from a private practice owner, trying to recruit her for the job. It said something like, “Come and see if you have what we need for our position.” It was like, “Come forward, send me your resume and see if you are what we want.” It was like, “You’re contacting me about this job. I don’t want your job. You can screen me later but first I need to raise my hand and say, ‘I’m interested.’”
You don’t want to start being competitive around like, “We only hire the best. If you’re not going to work hard and be passionate about our practice, you don’t even need to come forward.” It feels fun to say that kind of stuff. It feels powerful to be like, “I’m the employer. I’m building a great team here. Do you have what it takes to become part of our growing team?” To me, that’s like nails on a chalkboard. Thinking about it from the PT perspective and for me talking to PTs all day, most of the PTs I’ve talked to are relatively happy in their current position. They don’t need to leave. They’re fine staying where they are but at the same time there, they want a job closer to home, better benefits or schedule.
That's where you want to focus on those things. Maybe you also have to know your audience. These people are in demand. If you're going to someone who's in demand and say, "Are you good enough to come work for me?" You're out of touch.
It’s a matter of building that interest first and then screening later. Screening is always important. Everybody wants to hire the best people. We need to do a thorough screening and interview process but we don’t need to start interviewing someone until they’ve been excited about the job and we know that they’re interested. If I’m contacting someone through a resume database, my first thought process is, “How do I share details with them about the job? How do I learn more about what they’re looking for?” I’m not worried about screening them at all until the very end of the conversation after I’ve confirmed that they’re interested. Once you start asking, “Are you willing to work until 6:00 PM? Are you willing to do all these logistical things that the job requires?” They feel almost threatened sometimes if you’re asking those screening questions too soon.
There’s a lot of the stuff that you shared in recognizing how things have changed away from direct mailers and more towards engaging through electronic devices. Is there anything else you would like to share about how things have changed since the pandemic?
I have one more area. We’re seeing some hesitancy from PTs to leave their current employer, maybe with some feelings of loyalty where that employer was good to them during the pandemic. Maybe they did extra hours, kept their pay going or survived the pandemic at their current employer. There’s a question mark of, “Is this future employer going to be stable? I’ve already built my seniority at my current employer. If another wave of COVID comes, will my new job be secure? I know what I’m getting with my current employer and I feel safe but what about this new opportunity?”
There are some themes in there. You can play that up for your current staff who might be looking to leave where you can start playing into like, “We were good to you guys during the pandemic. Here’s a list of the things that we did. We want to try and keep you. Now that things are more stabilized, we want to build and retain our team here.” That’s one area because we’re hearing a lot of our clients saying that their current staff is leaving and that’s why they’re hiring. It’s not all due to growth. It’s, “I could have had a growth hire but then my person gave notice and now I’m scrambling.”You should sell first and screen later. Click To Tweet
The first step in recruiting is the retention of your current team, but then also thinking about that hesitancy and trying to reinforce the stability of your organization within the interview process. It’s talking about how long you’ve been in business, the stability of what happened during the pandemic and how you took care of your employees during the pandemic. Also, showing to the PTs that are maybe interested to come and work for you like, “We have an employer here. We are an employer that’s stable with a solid foundation."
It’s not only highlighting and promoting that to potential recruits but also highlighting that for the PTs that are on board.
That’s important. It has only happened a couple of times where the private practice owner realizes that the person leaving is due to their own fault. It’s always that the PTs are leaving the team due to outside circumstances. You wonder if that’s true or not like, “Is there something else that you could be doing now to maintain and build your current team so that the person thinking about leaving or the person that has their resume posted online stays and sticks around with you?” Maybe it’s time for the person to leave. There are all different circumstances why people leave jobs. When you have good people on your team, it’s not specifically tied to recruitment but more on human resources.
You want to try and retain your current staff and think about that. It’s some of the stuff like the stability piece, reinforcing of the benefits, doing a salary adjustment, offering a retention bonus or other factors like, “We’ve been through COVID together. We want to give everybody a retention bonus for sticking around and staying on with us through COVID. We’re having a celebration now that COVID is behind us.” Trying to retain that current team is important because as you grow, we can’t always be replacing people. We have to be adding to the team as well.
The last thing you need when you’re ramping back up is for the current team members to step aside or step out of practice altogether. That’s a double whammy. You’re not only looking to hire for growth. Now, you have to hire to replace and you don’t want to be in that position. Thanks for your time, Brian. It’s awesome you shared so much great information, especially noticing the difference in how recruiting has evolved over the past years. If people are in that situation where, “It’s time to grow. I’m ramping up. I’m in that place. I need to replace somebody,” how do they get in touch with you and get your help?
Our website is CareerTreeNetwork.com. We have all the information about our company and services on there. There’s also a link where people can book a time to chat with me on the phone. I’m always happy to talk and help. Even if it doesn’t turn into a client relationship, if I can help out, I’m always happy to do so.
Thanks for your time. I appreciate it.
Thank you, Nathan. This was a lot of fun.
Brian Weidner is the President of Career Tree Network, a recruitment advertising and human resources firm based in Milwaukee Wisconsin that helps Physical Therapists connect with career opportunities.
Since 2007, Brian and his team have helped thousands of Physical Therapists achieve their career goals within a new position.
Outside of the office, you might find Brian playing princess with his daughters, watching heist movies, or eating sushi.
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