Interview with Sarah-Michelle Tayler
Sarah-Michelle is an experienced Human Resources Professional in the healthcare industry as well as a Life and Business Coach. Based out of Phoenix, Arizona, she manages a 3 week boot camp for Medical Assistants and offers placement within the clinics that she represents. During the boot camp the MAs receive hands on training in CLIA, VFC, Medication Management, Vitals and shadowing Lead MAs. Her passion is helping people embrace their greatness while achieving their goals. She is an expert in helping individuals create targeted resume and cover letters that highlight their key accomplishments and leadership abilities, helping them develop a confident and dynamic job interview style with compelling answers to the most common interview questions, and helping them improve their voice and body language so that they stand out as the best person for the job.
Please can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and your journey to becoming a Staffing and Recruitment Manager in the healthcare industry?
I’ve been doing HR for 19 years. Back in 1996 I was working at Target doing HR generalist duties, back in the day they called it clerical, but in today’s world that would be an HR generalist. I really liked interacting with employees and soon-to-be employees and that’s when I decided “you know what, I’m going to change my major and actually go for HR.” It was just that stepping stone of starting in at the ground in a generalist position. I slowly advanced over the years into different HR roles.
I then later in 2006 worked for Verizon. At Verizon I was the HR recruiter and then I had advanced to HR business partner where I was supporting up to 1200 employees on different issues, anywhere from employee relations, investigations, to separations. It was a little more than just your normal staffing and recruiting but I did also help with internal career progression and there’s a little bit of staffing involved in there. Then in February of 2014 there was a generalist position open at the healthcare clinic at Mountain Park and when I looked into it that’s when I decided “I need to change gears here because I’ve done the retail side, I’ve done call centers for numerous years, let me tap into the healthcare industry as healthcare is not going away.”
So I wanted to get in on this market and started as a generalist. I did that for 6 months. Then the HR director asked me, since my background did have a lot of recruiting, he said “hey we really need a recruiter, what if we bring this in house?” So I did that for 6 months and then the HR director came back to me and said “hey, we want to put together this boot camp because we want to streamline the processes”. At a lot of organizations not everyone has training programs. We wanted to be able to streamline that process. That way everyone got the same training so everyone learned the same, because if someone else taught you, it could be like “well so and so taught me this way so I don’t know what your process is.” So we said “OK let’s scrap all that” and that’s why we do this bootcamp.
Can you go through the whole process of how the bootcamp works?
There’s about 10 or 12 different schools that I work with in the Phoenix area that run programs for medical assistants. I partner with the career counselors at those schools and I say hey send me your top graduates. Sometimes these are graduates that are just now graduating or they could have graduated within the last couple of years, that maybe haven’t found placement yet.
I work with them, but I also put it out on Linkedin and Jobbing. I get a little over 300 resumes of folks that apply because the word has just gotten out there that Mountain Park is willing to hire newer grads whereas there’s a lot of other healthcare centers out there that want you to have 9-12 months of experience and that’s so hard to get when you’re just out of school. It’s a little bit of a “Debbie Downer moment” when it’s like “here’s the job, this is what I went to school for and this is the job that I want, but I can’t get it because I don’t have that 9-12 months experience so must I volunteer for 9-12 months?” Who could work for free basically for 9-12 months? I do a little bit of both, I hire folks that are fresh grads and I also have some experienced folks in there because I’m trying also to meet the needs of our business and what our operations directors look for in candidates. So I get the best of both worlds.
I hire folks that are fresh grads and I also have some experienced folks in there because I’m trying also to meet the needs of our business
So what I do is I reach out to all of them and call them all for a full interview and ask them 20 different questions. It’s usually just getting to know their background and where have they been, what got them into medical assisting. From there I explain the 3 week boot camp process to them because it is very structured in the boot camp. It’s 50 percent classroom style training and then the other 50 percent they’re doing shadowing and rotation amongst the different clinics throughout the valley.
We have 5 clinics in the valley, 3 satellite clinics. In our clinics we have family practice and internal medicine, pediatrics and women’s health. So it’s a onestop shop and most of the MAs, whether they are recent grads or they’ve been in the field for a couple of years, may only have worked in one specialty. So this gives the opportunity to get to see what’s out there and see what you really would like to be in. There’s some folks that I say even if you get into a position like pediatrics or something then maybe if you’re not too crazy about it, do it for 6 months, have it under your belt, and then you could go anywhere within the company. We always have transfers then they can go and get into a department if they really want that might potentially be a hard niche field. I only have one clinic that has internal medicine and that’s a hard niche field.
So the bootbamp really broadens their horizons and gives them more options than your typical MA graduate that’s just come out of school?
Absolutely. And the beauty of it is, I hire experienced MAs and a lot of times those experienced MAs have worked for either specialty like ENT, or pain management clinic, and that’s all they know. This gets them a little bit more exposure into some totally different realm for them that’s more in line of where this is going to go for future. So it’s a benefit for everybody and what we offer is a total work package. So us versus private practice, private practice might offer you a little more compensation. However that’s all they’re offering. They’re not offering paid time off or medical, dental, vision insurance either. Things of that nature, this is a total work package for everybody.
Since 2006 you’ve also been a business and life coach. What was your inspiration behind that?
A lot of what I do in HR, I work with employees who are going through something. I’ve had an employee who’s gone through rape, I’ve had an employee who was held up by gunpoint, so they’re going through something traumatic in their life. Could be domestic violence. And I’ve gone through a lot of adversity in my life, so I just want to help people. If I can share my story and help them get through it or at least offer them the guidance and resources for it, that’s what I do. Part of it’s that. The other part of it is, a lot of what I help folks with is, on the finance side, the budgeting. A lot of times people haven’t explained to them how credit cards work or maybe they didn’t know that they were supposed to have a budget and now they’ve gotten themselves into debt and they don’t know how to get themselves out. So I’ll meet with them to show them here’s a couple of different ways to get yourself out of debt without having to go to debt management places that are charging an arm and leg for you to already get out of debt.
In terms of recent MA graduates who perhaps are looking for their first role, what ways can they really improve their resume and what specific advice would you be able to offer them in terms of being able to stand out from the competition?
Getting 300 resumes a month just for this boot camp I’m not hiring 300, I’m hiring 25 of my top folks out of just that 300. What I usually tell people is “highlight whatever skill sets that make you stand out.” For example, 85 percent of my patient population speak Spanish. So if you are a bilingual MA that speaks Spanish, put it on your resume, put it out there. We have a high Somali population at our East Phoenix clinic and same thing, if you speak Somali great, because those are the types of candidates that I do seek out first. We do have a patient need for it, so a definite business need, so that’s what I’m looking for. Quickly I’ll look at the resume and I’ll look to see have they listed bilingual, if so in what language, and can I utilize that for our clinics? Because that’s what the business need we have is and that’s what our upstructures are looking for, so I’m also kind of vetting that out for the hiring manager as well, as we have that need. So anything, skill set, that would make them more marketable, that’s what I would say to put that out there.
I don’t just hire medical assistants. In any given week we have 50 open positions and it ranges anywhere from customer service to anything clinical but then we also have finance and IT. So for example in IT, any time they have certifications, they’re A Plus certified, Network Plus certified, again that makes them more marketable. So it’s those things that they should be honing in on their skill sets and definitely putting that on their resume.
A lot of times what I see, especially when they come from the schools is that the school counselor is the one who’s done their resume. So that’s where I’m like “hey you want to make sure that you’re doing your own resume” because a lot of times there’s copy paste and that leaves plenty of room for errors. As I’m doing the phone interview I might make mention “hey you did your externship here” and the candidate’s going to say “no that’s not where I did my externship”, and I find out the counselor just copy pasted. Then I’m having to go back and say “OK so where did you do your externship, how long was it for, how many hours? Tell me about some of the duties.” It could look a little bit of falsification of application. That’s what I would caution and I do give that feedback if I’m talking to them – “hey next time you might want to read over your resume before your counselor sends it out!” Ideally you should be doing your own, but if you don’t have that skill set, or the knowledge, or the counselor’s offered to do it, you definitely want to make sure it’s got your name on there, that it’s run by you first as far as what’s going through.
So you’d say that really is one of the most common mistakes you see with MAs when writing their resume, not highlighting the most important skills that are going to make them marketable and perhaps not personalizing, not writing it themselves?
They lose the personal touch. And also, what I’m noticing, they’re listing every single class that they took to get the MA certificate. I couldn’t care less what classes you took because at the end of the day, if you got your certification then I know you took those classes. And that’s why I would say take those things out and put in your skill sets, you know, tell me that you’ve got x amount of years of customer service experience, that maybe you’re really good with vaccinations, that whatever those things look like, that’s what we’re more interested in, not what classes you took.
In terms of the actual cover letter itself, what sort of specific advice could you offer MAs in ways that they can improve so that they really stand out? And what are some common mistakes you see with the cover letter itself?
Usually for MAs there is no cover letter. In this type of environment I usually tell them it’s an entry level position, it’s not like a requirement for it, so it’s not that they have to have it. If they do have a cover letter, here’s some of the things that they do want to put in there. Show the company that you have done your research on the company and how can you benefit the company. Just telling me that “hey I saw that you guys are hiring for a medical assistant and I’m interested”, that tells me nothing, right? But saying “hey although I’m a recent graduate I am a dependable team player, I’m open to learning about family practice or internal medicine, pediatrics, women’s health.” Sometimes they’ll share with us for example “I’m a patient and I had one of your doctors at your South Phoenix clinic deliver my baby and because of that that’s what made me decide that I really wanted to be a medical assistant and I know Mountain Park’s the home for me.” And that’s what I’m looking for is someone that says “hey here’s either a personal story or something that connects the two of us together”, then I want to entertain that option. For example, if they have a skill set I’m looking for like I speak Somali or I speak Spanish or I’m a patient of yours and I know that you guys could use someone like me in your clinic. Something like that tells me “you know what, I need to look into you a little bit more.”
One of the things that you help individuals with is developing a confident and dynamic interview style. How do you help them with that and what specific tips could you offer graduate MAs when preparing for an interview?
Like most companies nowadays we do what’s called behavioral based interviews. What that tells us is how have you handled a situation in the past is going to predict how you’re going to handle that same situation in the future. I tell all of my folks “write this down, go grab a pen and paper, if you aren’t writing this down Google search behavioral based questions” and I say “you do that you’re going to get thousands of examples. Then just click on one of them and you’ll get like – tell me about a time you had to make a decision with little or no guidance, what was the situation, what did you do?” So that’s where I go through and we look at a couple different situations, and those are actual questions, and we go through them to make sure that we’re on the same page as far as what we’re sharing.
Usually what I’ll do is I’ll say, for example “you’re telling your friend about this date that you went on, and you’re like hey I met this guy, we went to dinner, we went and saw a movie, and that was the end of the date.” And I say “what’s your friend going to say?” “Oh they want to know where did you meet the guy, where did you go to dinner, who paid, are you going to see him again?” It’s exactly the same thing in an interview. You’re just telling a story. But you want to have a complete story. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. You want to make sure that as you’re telling the story you’re not leaving those specific details out.
As I explain it that way and then we re-go over the question (so tell me about a time you had to make a decision with little or no guidance) then we start really thinking about “OK, yes, here was this time. I had this patient where they didn’t have a schedule for the day, the provider was busy with another patient, I really wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t have anyone else to ask, so I looked at the schedule and I saw that we had a time slot in there for right after lunch that no one had taken, so I just went ahead and put the patient in. I later told the provider about it or I told whoever I needed to tell. The patient was able to get seen, they were happy, the provider was happy. I had my own critical thinking or I made the decision without having to seek out that guidance.”
In terms of body language, obviously when you’re telling a story it’s going to be a lot easier for them to open up in the interview. But how do you help them with that, body language, the way that they can prepare so that they really stand out in the interview?
I go over some dos and don’ts during an interview. You don’t want to chew gum, you don’t want to have your cellphone on if it’s on vibrate, the minute it starts going off that’s going to throw you off track. So we go over a couple different examples and I will kind of play these out in class. I give all of my MAs real life stories. I’ve got 19 years work so I’ve got plenty of stories to share and I’ll tell them.
A lot of times they’re laughing. For example, I had a girl one time that I was interviewing and there was a pen stain on the table. I’d asked the girl a question and she was trying to rub out the pen stain that was on the table, and she wasn’t answering the question. She was still thinking about it. Then I forgot what question I asked her because I was so worried about did she get the pen stain off the table. It’s just those types of things that throw you off, whether you’re the interviewer or the interviewee.
I tell them, for example, if they talk with their hands, how about hold your hands, how about sit on your hands? There’s different ways that you can do something. I’ve interviewed someone who talked with her hands but she also had a soda that was there and she was ready to knock that off. At one point I had to move the soda, so that’s how much of a distraction it was.
As I tell these stories the class usually laugh but I say “you guys laugh but these are real life stories that I’m sharing with you.” I always tell them bring in a piece of paper and a pen, as some of these questions are 2 and 3 questions within a question. Take some notes, don’t write down the whole question, take some notes because you’re not going to remember by the third question I ask if I’m saying tell me about a time you had to make a decision with little or no guidance, what was the situation, what was the outcome? By that time I might have forgot what was the original part of the question, but that’s where if you’re taking some notes you will be able to give that answer back and not have to constantly say “can you repeat the question?” Because then it looks like you’re not actually listening.
So what do you think would be the biggest mistake you see MAs make when they’re applying for positions in the clinics that you represent?
If they are an experienced MA a lot of times they come with that negativity of whatever happened at their last clinic. That’s where you have to separate yourself from that negativity and figure out what was the real reason why you left. And figure out in a way to where it doesn’t make you sound so negative, because as a hiring manager I’m thinking “can I picture you on my team? How would you be with other folks? Is there a provider that I can put you with that you will mesh well?” With hearing a bunch of negativity it’s a turn off for whether it’s providers, a hiring manager, the HR person. So I would say leave that aside and figure out a way to properly, positively position it.
And/or lack of confidence. Sometimes I see with the newer grads it’s that lack of self esteem, lack of confidence and so forth. That’s where you need to just go in and say “you know what, even though I might be a new grad I am willing to put in 110 percent, I want to learn every department, I’m OK with being crosstrained.” You have to show that you’re very team oriented, that you are flexible, because again that’s what the hiring manager’s going to be looking for.