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Ep 423: Perfecting The Candidate Experience


Delivering a high-quality candidate experience isn’t easy, but it has arguably never been more critical with the recruiting challenges employers are now experiencing. Over all the years that candidate experience has been an industry talking point, what has become clear to me is that it is fundamentally a strategic rather than a tactical issue.

My guest this week is Carlos Fernandez, Director of Talent Acquisition at Houston Methodist. Houston Methodist puts innovation at the heart of its corporate strategy, and its approach to candidate experience reflects this.

In the interview, we discuss:

• Recruiting challenges in the healthcare sector

• The quality of candidate care mirroring the quality of patient care

• Standing out as an employer.

• Candidate experience strategy

• The “Know Me Experience” and voice of the customer research

• The role of technology

• Virtual chat, candidate capture and auto-scheduling

• Using technology to connect candidates with humans quickly

• Change management

• The future of talent acquisition
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Interview transcript:

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Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Hi there. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 423 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. Delivering a high quality candidate experience isn’t easy, but it has arguably never been more critical with the recruiting challenges employers are now experiencing. Over all the years, the candidate experience has been an industry talking point. What’s become really clear to me is that it is fundamentally a strategic rather than a tactical issue. My guest this week is Carlos Fernandez, Director of Talent Acquisition at Houston Methodist. Houston Methodist puts innovation at the heart of its corporate strategy and its approach to candidate experience really reflects this.

Matt Alder (1m 54s):
Hi, Carlos, and welcome to the podcast.

Carlos Fernandez (1m 56s):
Hi, Matt. Pleasure to be here.

Matt Alder (1m 58s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please, could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Carlos Fernandez (2m 4s):
Absolutely. My name’s Carlos Fernandez. I’m director of talent acquisition with Houston Methodist. We are a hospital system of seven hospitals here in the greater Houston area, one long-term health facility. We have over 28,000 employees over 50 recruiters, four sourcers, and my oversight is over talent acquisition, what we do from a sourcing outreach standpoint, and our recruitment technology. I’ll just add, we were recently recognized by Glassdoor on their top employers’ list as one of the top hospital system employers in the country, and then Forbes as one of their top large hospital employers as well.

Matt Alder (2m 46s):
Congratulations. It must have been a lot of work that went into that.

Carlos Fernandez (2m 48s):
Yes, yes. We’re very excited. Certainly it takes a village to level these results, but we’re very excited on our side.

Matt Alder (2m 57s):
Tell us more about the recruiting challenges that you have, the healthcare recruiting challenges that are out there. I suppose, both the long-term issues and the specific things that have been driven by the pandemic.

Carlos Fernandez (3m 12s):
Absolutely, Matt. It all starts with our frontlines and our patient caregivers. The resiliency that they’ve shown throughout this period has been core to what we do from a patient care delivery model. We’re seeing certainly our share of attrition from an employment standpoint due to some of that burnout that has been pandemic-related. We are definitely seeing a rise in some of our nurses and clinicians going the agency contract route where they’ll pick up travel assignments and pick up shifts starting at six to eight week shifts where it can be very lucrative, but, at the same time, can be very short-term in nature where they’ll take on future assignments.

Carlos Fernandez (3m 57s):
We are seeing some of our workforces go in that direction. We, in return as an employer, to meet our patient requirements, are going to the agency route as well. It’s something part of the new normal. Are we seeing that as really the trend? Is it a bubble that we foresee or is it something that will be accounting for the continuing future? One other item I’ll add is really the blurred line between consumerism in healthcare with patient-facing, patients wanting that same level of care, whether they’re here in the hub of the Texas medical center or their community hospital, their pharmacy, their outpatient facility, their primary care physician, at the same time, those same patients are in some cases, candidates.

Carlos Fernandez (4m 49s):
They’ve been a patient themselves in one of our hospitals or have a family member or friend. It’s very key that we continue to deliver that same level of care and unparalleled candidate experience that we’re providing on the patient care side.

Matt Alder (5m 10s):
I want to talk about Candidate experience in a bit more detail in a minute. Before we do, though, are there any really acute skill shortages across the specialties that you recruit for or is there just a general shortage of experienced talent?

Carlos Fernandez (5m 24s):
It certainly boils down to supply and demand. I think it is a portion that there are several programs here locally and nationally that play into the patient care professions that we’re recruiting for. At the same time, it’s the level of competition. Certainly, as I mentioned, the Texas medical center, the world’s largest medical center in the country, center for research and innovation, but at the same time, our community hospitals have the same level of care that our patients are looking for down the street from their residents. It is definitely competition at an all-time high in a candidate-driven market, no different than other industries, but there is very much a shortage in, say, CRNA programs and key skillsets in healthcare that we see.

Carlos Fernandez (6m 15s):
We are looking to continue to develop our positions to align to the shortage as well.

Matt Alder (6m 26s):
Tell us more about how you really make yourself stand out as an employer. You mentioned maybe the awards that you’ve won. Tell us a bit more about that.

Carlos Fernandez (6m 36s):
Yes, absolutely. Our core values and culture are key to how we operate on the patient care side, but it really resonates with how we interact with our colleagues, our community, our constituents, certainly on the talent acquisition and HR side. Really, it’s how we build those relationships with our colleagues. We may not be delivering patient care ourselves, but we have incentives that really resonate within our organization. For example, a patient satisfaction bonus that all our employees are eligible for. Even our non-patient care providing a workforce where each time a patient visits our hospital, there’s a survey provided.

Carlos Fernandez (7m 23s):
Based on that level of feedback, there’s a bonus attributed to it. It really just reinforces that in our core values are our I-care, values, integrity, compassion, accountability, respect, and excellence. It is something very unique that we really celebrate as an organization and is core to our business strategy as well.

Matt Alder (7m 46s):
You mentioned that your candidate experience needs to match and mirror the high quality of your patients’ experience. What’s your candidate experience strategy, what tactics do you use? How do you ensure that it’s the high quality that it needs to be?

Carlos Fernandez (8m 4s):
We approach that on a few different fronts. One, in particular, is an exercise that we went through several years ago, pre-pandemic. It was centered around what we call our Know Me Experience. That boils down to knowing the candidate as early as sourcing, to application, to interview process, to their selection and hiring, onboarding, and ultimately them building their career with Houston Methodist. It’s really that personalized, customized experience. It is certainly a journey and not a destination. We really are continuing to evolve in that fashion from technology and innovation, to how our processes are succinct, and ultimately, intuitive from the candidate side.

Carlos Fernandez (8m 48s):
In addition to that, it really boils down to the recruiter experience and how they interact with our candidates, the hiring managers, and how they, in return, interact with the candidates and the cadence with the recruiter. It also boils down to ways that we capture data. For example, we partner with an outside vendor on a voice of the customer survey, where we pull the recruiters themselves to do a self-evaluation. The hiring managers rate the recruiters, the candidates both selected and non-selected candidates rate their overall experience. It goes into various different competencies around the pre-application process in the career site, navigation on the ATS, the process as part of the interview, and communication, and then, ultimately if they are hired, their onboarding experience as well.

Carlos Fernandez (9m 47s):
It is one of the key data points that we leverage in addition to some of the tried and true measures that we see on the talent acquisition side, but it helps us continue to refine and reflect on where we’re performing well, and then where we have opportunities as well.

Matt Alder (10m 7s):
I want to dig a bit deeper into the part the technology plays in that and the technologies that you use. Before we do, though, just to talk about innovation a bit more generally. What’s your organization’s strategy around innovation and what part does HR and talent acquisition play in that?

Carlos Fernandez (10m 26s):
We’ve adopted a fail fast learn and adapt faster methodology. That is our center for innovation within our hospital system. It’s led by several leaders across our enterprise from our operation side to our marketing, to our finance, in research, and our CHRO, and our VP of talent and experience have a seat at the table. They tag up with our HR team across the map. We, through that effort, have been able to really draw and implement several different technologies on the HR front, including talent acquisition, as well from that HR center for innovation has evolved as part of that, where we’ve been able to leverage various different technologies from recruitment chatbot to Virtual chat to, most recently, our ATS that we launched last year.

Carlos Fernandez (11m 31s):
We are assessing additional technologies as we speak. It really is that rapid assessment of operational leaders across the enterprise. That’s one of the areas that is very unique. It’s not as siloed R&D center that was built from the ground up. It was really launched by those operational leaders and really, kudos to our executive team that really evolved and developed that to ensure that, again, the operational leaders were core to that coming off the ground. It was really an organic conversation that started and evolved and really has become quite the system in place.

Matt Alder (12m 19s):
You mentioned the technologies that you’re using there, and obviously, technology underpins a lot of the things that we’ve been talking about it. Tell us more about the role that technology plays, and also which technologies you use.

Carlos Fernandez (12m 35s):
We’re continuing to evolve and assess new technologies as part of, again, that Know Me journey for candidates, from sourcing to hiring. We’re a couple of years now into play. We launched the paradox candidate capture for primarily nursing, and that’s been very successful. We’ve hired over a thousand experienced RN positions, which there certainly are purple squirrel roles when it comes to the complexity to hire and match the market need. Additionally, we’ve gone with virtual chat, certainly during this pandemic period, is become the norm.

Carlos Fernandez (13m 17s):
We are most recently starting onsite events again, but Virtual chat is definitely here to stay. Through our employee health clinic team, we’re able to launch an interview scheduling software that syncs in with Outlook and that’s been very beneficial for ease of use, taking some of the administrative burden off our recruiters and really some of those transactional responsibilities in scheduling. That’s been very beneficial. Most recently, we are assessing asynchronous video as well to really capture that employer brand and the testimonials directly from nurses that want to hear from other nurses, pharmacists that want to hear from other pharmacists, and so on, and continuing to assess.

Carlos Fernandez (14m 6s):
If I may add, the one other factor here is that we really looked at that that fail fast, learn faster model again in some instances where we determined some technologies are just not a match. We did launch a voice technology platform. We are still going through that implementation process, but we did see during the pandemic period, it was not driving the results that we had measured as part of the ROI so we paused that and are assessing that further, but it’s part of that adoption process that we mobilize very quickly determine what matches, what works from a metric standpoint, and where we need to really put our resources towards.

Matt Alder (14m 55s):
It’s the organization’s overall approach to innovation strategy that allows you to do that, to test and implement things quickly and then move on if they’re not working?

Carlos Fernandez (15m 7s):
Exactly, yes. Really part of that is the change management. With that infrastructure in place, it has helped, not only from the leadership adoption standpoint but the end-user adoption standpoint, where, as with any technology, specifically within our organization, the WIIFM comes into play. The “What’s in it for me,” whether it’s the leader or the end-user. We work to engage the end-users, whether it’s the recruiters or HR partners as soon in the process as possible so we can really measure that success and have them part of that process in that build.

Carlos Fernandez (15m 51s):
Additionally, as part of that change management, engaging them early in the process. Our process is not centered around replacing roles. It’s really about supplementing the recruiter and sourcer process. That’s been beneficial for us as well.

Matt Alder (16m 7s):
Just going back to the candidate capture initiative you were talking about with nurses, because it sounds like that was particularly successful. Can you talk us through how that works?

Carlos Fernandez (16m 20s):
Certainly. First off, we are no different than other talent acquisition departments out there. Our recruiters do have a home life at some point so they do go home to their family and friends, et cetera. Connecting with candidates across hours can be challenging and balancing that time. We were looking and we were on the market for a platform that would allow us to connect with candidates at all hours of the day and be able to position us to connect as well with candidates across the country. With nurse shifts specifically, it is a 24 by seven operation.

Carlos Fernandez (17m 1s):
We have nurses that are working three 12 hour shifts on most cases, two to three 12 hour shifts per week. Those can range from three different shifts levels from 7:00 PM to 7:00 AM, 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, and then hours in between. A lot of times those nurses, they’re coming off their shift at seven in the morning or they’re going into their shift at that same time. The standard hour, standard nine-to-five, eight-to-five, et cetera, it does not match up. A lot of times if we contact a nurse, we’re not hearing back for several hours.

Carlos Fernandez (17m 43s):
To position technology to be able to connect with candidates was a huge win at all hours of the day. We positioned it initially for what we call med surge nurses. That’s primarily the multitude of service lines, generally, an entry point for an experienced RN. Then they go into specialties, but starting there where we have scalability across our enterprise, across the entities, and then be able to position. Were utilizing the auto-scheduling feature. We leveraged that conversation to engage, learn about the candidate’s experience level, and then ultimately connect them with our sourcing team.

Carlos Fernandez (18m 28s):
One of the key parts of that is we wanted to position it where, ultimately, what we’re doing is we’re minimizing that throughput, leveraging technology to be able to connect with candidates, ultimately, with a human being quicker. Whether that’s the sourcer, whether that’s the recruiter, or it’s ultimately the hiring manager, we saw that that throughput was key on building efficiency and effectiveness throughout the process. That was our initial pilot. We also ran a pilot with what we call medical assistants, which are the support staff that works alongside a physician. We didn’t see the same level of resources but part of that was because we didn’t leverage the auto-scheduling feature as part of that pilot.

Carlos Fernandez (19m 15s):
Really, it was about leveraging the pilots, seeing what results were immediately, and then once we saw results on the nursing side, we expanded that to all service lines for experienced nurse positions.

Matt Alder (19m 27s):
As a final question, taking into account everything that you’re doing, the technology that you’re using, the experimentation, the innovation, what do you think the future of talent acquisition looks like? Where are we heading? What would we be talking about if we have this conversation again in two years time?

Carlos Fernandez (19m 47s):
Yes, definitely a fascinating question and loaded one at the same time, Matt, but definitely, the future is now with AI, innovation, and candidate attraction. Really, one of the things that we see here is organizations need to continue to evolve when it comes to how we engage with candidates and disseminate information from those engagements, specifically ATS systems, CRM systems, different databases. It’s key that we’re routing information, one-touch ideally, certainly, the more clicks a candidate has to grow through, the more the drop-off rate. Most recently, I think there was a study from Appcast and Sherm that indicated the application drop-off rate is over 90%.

Carlos Fernandez (20m 34s):
Anything we can do to limit that process, ultimately capture that data one time and one time only, and create much like an online shopping cart. A candidate can build their profile one time, enter their information, and then ultimately, carry them forward to that application and formal expression of interest. It’s going to be very key for us, and ultimately, connecting with candidates quicker, more efficiently, more effectively. That’s a couple of the areas that jump out from my standpoint.

Matt Alder (21m 11s):
Carlos, thank you very much for talking to me.

Carlos Fernandez (21m 14s):
It’s an absolute pleasure, Matt.

Matt Alder (21m 47s):
You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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