Next Up Podcast: Re-evaluating job candidates post-COVID-19 with Jason Hutton


Hello and welcome to Modern Healthcare’s Next Up, the podcast for women who are emerging healthcare leaders. My name is Kadesha Smith. I’m your host and I am also the CEO of CareContent, a digital marketing agency for healthcare organizations.

Today, we are talking about evaluating job candidates and job opportunities — and how health systems may need to adjust their process since the COVID-19 pandemic.

We all know the pandemic is not over. Still, it certainly has made its mark — especially in the workforce. As many employees began working from home, they got a taste of freedom. They saw that they could complete their jobs from anywhere. And now, they’re expecting that same level of flexibility.

At the same time, some workers have a new set of priorities — one that their current job may not align with. Many are making career changes to adapt to their post-COVID-19 values.

In the healthcare world, many employees are feeling overwhelmed, burned out, and unhappy. And they’re considering leaving their jobs, or they’ve already taken the steps to do so.

On the flip side, medical schools have experienced an influx of applications. This may be due to a newfound inspiration — a concept that’s being referred to as the “Fauci effect.”

Employers — including healthcare organizations — must adapt to all these changes. Some candidates may not be on a typical career path. Others may offer a new, recently-necessary skill set. As a result, organizations may need new approaches to find the right candidates.

Today, we’re talking to Jason Hutton, Vice President of Human Resources at Access Community Health Network. ACCESS provides preventative and primary services to more than 175,000 patients in the Chicagoland area at their 35 Joint Commission-accredited community health centers. Prior to his role at ACCESS, Jason has 15 years of experience in Human Resources in roles ranging from Senior Director to Vice President.

Now, let’s move on to our conversation with Jason about evaluating job candidates and job opportunities since the COVID-19 pandemic.


MODERN HEALTHCARE: Hello, Jason. How are you doing?

JASON HUTTON: I am doing super fantastic. Thank you for having me.

MODERN HEALTHCARE: Thank you so much for being on this podcast. We are talking about evaluating job candidates and opportunities. This was supposed to be post-COVID, but it’s clearly not post-COVID — we’re very much still battling COVID. But just, after sort of that initial height of it, how people are really looking at job opportunities and looking at candidates differently. Before we get into our discussion, I just want to read a few data points. The first is that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record 4 million people quit their jobs in April of 2021. That’s the highest number since they started publishing this data in 2000, and resignations are highest in the tech and healthcare industries.

The second is that roughly 3 in 10 healthcare workers have considered leaving the profession. In April 2020, more than 1.5 million women healthcare workers — 12% of all the jobs are held by women in healthcare — they either lost or left their jobs. And then the last point is that almost two dozen medical schools in the U.S. have experienced a 25% increase in applications. So, there’s this great resignation from healthcare, but then there’s also these new folks interested in it. You’ve worked in human resources in healthcare at provider organizations, at payer organizations. Can you tell me what’s different about evaluating candidates and filling positions since the pandemic started?

JASON HUTTON: I was just having this conversation with my recruiting coordinator. And the numbers are crazy, right? There are 11 million jobs open right now across the country. And no matter where you go, this is kind of like the employee’s choice. They can go everywhere, they can do anything. The pandemic has created this space for people to kind of sit and think and re-evaluate their lives or what they want to do. And then, this created these pathways for them to start making money at home by doing other things. If they didn’t have time to kind of think about — hey, I want to start my own business or I want to do something different — this was the perfect time.

You’re at home, you’re around family, you have the opportunity to brainstorm. And some people are saying, you know what? I don’t want the 9 to 5 anymore. I don’t want to have to report to anybody anymore. So, let me start my own business. Let me start doing something different with my life. Let me take control of my life. I’ve seen a lot of that happen. We’ve lost individuals at Access Community Health to them starting their own business.

The other thing that we’re also seeing is that some of these companies are closing their brick-and-mortar headquarters. They’re going 100% virtually. What has that done to them? They’ve opened up their borders. They’ve opened up their recruiting line. So, now you can sit in California and have your CFO work in New York or have your Chief Human Resource Officer working in Texas. And it’s all the same because technology kind of brings us together. Now, there’s always this thought, hey we should always get together — that human interaction works. Well, some people are bypassing that because technology does bring us together. You’re seeing a lot of these organizations who say we don’t have a brick-and-mortar anymore. So, now let’s open our borders, so that we can go out and get the top talented individuals that don’t necessarily live where we are, but they live other places — and we’re open to that.

So, you see people leaving organizations where they’re kind of bound to the region or the geography from where they are, to going to these national corporations that — they don’t care where you stay. They don’t care where you are anymore because you can work from a coffee shop. You can work from your bed now, and it doesn’t affect the business that much anymore. And I think CEOs and Chief Human Resource Officers and VPs of HR, whomever are looking at that and saying, you know what? There’s a possibility for us to say — even myself, being in the healthcare space and knowing that we have 35 health centers — I’m urging some of my senior leadership team members to think about some of their roles that they have open.

MODERN HEALTHCARE: Yeah.

JASON HUTTON: Does this role need to be here? And if it doesn’t need to be here, then let’s go to Minnesota, let’s go to California, let’s go to Texas. And let’s go and find these candidates where they are, because some people are looking for organizations such as ours to work for. It’s probably not where they are, but guess what? We have technology. Let’s bring it all together. Let’s figure out a way for these individuals to get here.

Those are two prevalent things that I’m seeing. There are some other things, there are some health issues. You know, people taking care of family — those things are going to be a part of it as well. But the two biggest things that I’ve seen: People starting their own businesses and organizations opening up their job reqs to now say you can work remotely no matter where you are, and we won’t call you in unless we absolutely, positively need it. So, that’s like “never.”

MODERN HEALTHCARE: Yeah. That sounds like it opens up dual flood gates. So, you have candidates who have their pick of the market, and then you have healthcare organizations who also now have their pick of candidates because they’ve opened up these boundaries. And it seems like they’re willing to do this at any level. Even at the C-suite level, even at the senior leader level — you can literally not be here and still be effective at your jobs.

That kind of leads to my next question of, how does this shift expectations? Before there were certain things that maybe you as an HR leader would look at — including location, including background — that maybe have changed since the pandemic. Educational requirements — maybe now a certificate is more suitable. What do you think has changed in how you evaluate expectations and how you set expectations?

JASON HUTTON: We take a lot of time to really think about our job roles and our job descriptions, and the education or the experience that’s needed. This conversation is near and dear to my heart, and I’ll give you a quick example. My sister is a nurse; she’s been a nurse for 20+ years. But in Texas — and pretty much across the entire country — she is not as desirable to organizations because she doesn’t have a BSN as opposed to the 20+ years of nursing that she has. Who would you rather have working on your side? Would you rather have a nurse that’s been there, done it for 20+ years? Or would you rather have a new nurse that has a BSN that only has maybe one or two years?

That nurse could definitely be talented, but who would I rather have? I would rather have the 20-year nurse because she’s seen and done every single thing. She has the hands-on experience. And this is again, as we’re re-evaluating our job descriptions, what’s important? Yeah, this person needs to have a bachelor’s degree. Really? Why do they need a bachelor’s degree to essentially talk to a patient? If this person has 10 years or 5 years or 6 years or 7 years of experience, isn’t that just as valuable as a person going to school and doing these certain things? To me it is. It makes sense to me. I’d rather have the hands-on experience than somebody saying that they go to school and they did it.

I’m not discounting a person that goes to school. Not saying that at all. And that’s why on the job descriptions, what we’re doing is, it’s an either/or situation. You’re either going to have a bachelor’s degree with a small amount of experience, or high-school diploma, whatever it is. Or you’re going to have experience, and it has to be a lot of experience — 10+ years of experience doing this job role. That makes me a lot more comfortable when hiring a person. When I know, yeah, they might not have the education — that does not make them an uneducated person — they have the years of experience. That’s much more valuable, too. So, we’ll take that.

If there’s another candidate that has the education and the experience — that’s great. But we have to look at our job descriptions and our job roles, and we have to compete. In the previous question you asked me, some of the other organizations — we’re competing against that as well. So, we have to position ourselves where we’re looking at candidates, and not so much around their education — but around the experience that they bring to the organization.

MODERN HEALTHCARE: In the technical space, this was again, readily accepted much earlier on. For a lot of technical skills, you’re self-taught. You’re going to get the certifications as new updates to whatever the technology is comes out, and there’s nothing a bachelor’s degree can do to help you with that. It’s really all about getting that education on your own, and you keeping your skills sharp and being self-taught. 

So, I’m glad to hear that that’s coming. Especially since we learned during the pandemic that, that experience — I mean, they were taking kids out of medical school early just because they needed help, right? You needed that extra capacity. Can you think of someone that you took a chance on? Somebody that you brought on to the team for a role, even though they may not have fit the perfect description?

JASON HUTTON: I can think back — I used to work for a company called Family Health Network and this is the most prevalent one that I can think of. He’s now vice president of whatever region he is right now. I think he’s in Colorado. But there was a young man that we took a chance on. He went to Michigan State, he took classes at Michigan State. I think he was maybe a semester-and-a-half or two semesters away from graduating but didn’t finish. But what he did was, he positioned himself in a better light. He was in Michigan. He worked for the governor’s office in the governor’s healthcare division. And that’s where he cut his teeth — he learned all about Medicare, he learned all about Medicaid. He learned about payer systems, he understood what the Affordable Care Act was all about. So, really he just educated himself. 

When we first took the interview, I thought that there’s no way this young man was going to be able to be a part of this organization without having a degree — just me being naive. But he came in and he completely blew the socks off of everybody because of his knowledge and what he’s seen and what he’s implemented, and the things that he’s done. You know, at the time he was a 25-year-old kid. Now, he’s well into his 30s, doing well for another organization. He’s vice president — he still hasn’t completed his degree yet. 

It’s like at this point, does he go back to school? But we gave him that first opportunity to be with a real organization that was on the forefront of doing health insurance. And at the time, Family Health Network had the largest Medicaid membership — he was working for one of the top non-profit organizations in Chicago and really did well for what he was doing. And he just, kind of, took off. So, that was just us taking a chance on him. At the very least, if he didn’t impress, he could always be an assistant to somebody. But, his knowledge of Medicaid and Medicare, and the work and the grants that he put his work and time into was phenomenal. And that was a true testament to him and us just kind of taking a chance on that young man. So, he’s doing well.

MODERN HEALTHCARE: Awesome. So then, let’s talk about folks on the opposite end. You’ve mentioned people who have left their industries to start a business. You’ve mentioned people who are just looking at their life like — life is too short. I want to do something more meaningful.

Some of these folks might be coming to healthcare with very non-traditional backgrounds. Some of them might be coming needing that flexibility, because they now have added responsibilities at home. Maybe they’re still e-learning with kids or caring for aging relatives. If you’re a candidate and you don’t necessarily have the background, but you know you could step into a senior leadership role — what would you say are the top three steps those nontraditional, off-the-beaten-path candidates should take to make themselves appealing?

JASON HUTTON: I would say — one, you have to educate yourself on the industry. If that’s something that you want to go into, then you really have to know it in and out. You have to spend time with people. You have to ask the questions. You have to be knowledgeable of the industry that you’re trying to step into. It’s something that’s invaluable. 

In the last question, you asked me about a person who took a chance on — well, he did the leg work. He did a lot of leg work. Now, he was fortunate enough to get an internship with the governor of Michigan during that time. And not everybody is going to get that opportunity. But you can still talk to your aldermans, you can still write letters. You can still read publications. You can use LinkedIn as your proxy and just say, hey listen — I’m trying to get into the healthcare realm. What can I do? Or, I have a question about this. Would you be interested in having a conversation with me? You’ll be surprised how many people would spend 20-30 minutes of their time just really talking to you about the things that they love to do the most, which is healthcare.

Two, I would definitely use the social media platform as a way to show that you’re truly, truly interested in what you’re doing. And it doesn’t mean that you have to be flashy. But if you’re volunteering somewhere — and I think that’s probably going to lead to my third point — if you’re volunteering somewhere, then you might want to post it, tag some people.

In today’s age, we have to look at the changing of the guard, right? Baby Boomers are on their way out, and their ways of thinking — you know, I’ve worked 25+ years. I don’t use the computer as much — but those are the people that are aging out. What’s coming right behind us is our generation, in which we grew up on a computer. Learning and understanding what a computer was and playing crazy, silly games like Oregon Trail and — that’s our life. The CEOs and the vice presidents today are my age or a little bit older, and they’re getting younger by the second. So, they understand what social media means to our group.

I’ll say the other thing probably is volunteering. If you’re going to learn, then that means you need to get out and you need to volunteer. Don’t always think that you’re going to get something back from it in the form of monetary, but you’re going to get education back from it. And those are things that you’re going to be able to use as you’re looking for your next opportunity. Putting those down on a resume. Believe it or not, recruiters now go out to LinkedIn. They go out to Facebook, they go out to Twitter and Instagram. And we’re looking up applicants if we can — if their profiles are not private — and we want to see what they’re doing.

MODERN HEALTHCARE: Yeah.

JASON HUTTON: If you are showing that and you’re volunteering, that’s half the battle. People know that you’re truly serious about what it is that you’re trying to get into. And when you come for that interview, then they have a different understanding of who this person is sitting in front of me. Those things right there are things that I would say if you’re trying to break into it, you have to make yourself attractive from those standpoints.

MODERN HEALTHCARE: Just to sum up what you said, it sounds like — the first thing you need to do is sort of that discovery. Talk to other people in the field. Have those informational conversations to understand what their path was, what you need to be looking out for.

JASON HUTTON: Yup.

MODERN HEALTHCARE: Second thing you said sounds like personal branding. Use your social media presence as a way to brand yourself as an up-and-coming person in this field.

JASON HUTTON: Yup.

MODERN HEALTHCARE: And then third is volunteering as your form of getting the education. If you didn’t go to school for it, you don’t have a background for it — volunteer. Offer yourself up to get the education you need. And those things on a resume or those things on a LinkedIn profile can make you attractive for a role that you may not have a background in.

JASON HUTTON: Absolutely.

MODERN HEALTHCARE: Last question: What about some of those softer skills, the things that people can only learn about you once they meet you? What are some of those skills that folks should be cultivating if they’re looking to make a career change?

JASON HUTTON: I think we can always come around to the most necessary ones. Leadership, teamwork skills, communication skills. Communication’s huge. I talked about the changing of the guard — our Baby Boomers did a fantastic job with communicating. They over-communicated sometimes. 

In today’s age, we’re using text messages and we’re doing things — you have to go back to picking up the phone and having a conversation with a person. So, no matter where you go, you’re going to have to communicate. You’re going to have to make sure that everybody understands what the plan is, what your role is in the plan, and how to execute, how to move forward. And that can’t come by osmosis. You have to be able to write, speak.

Teamwork is always going to be something I talk about. You cannot go about this by yourself — there’s no way. I grew up playing football all my life. One of the things that, playing a sport — and this is why I look for a lot of athletes — teamwork is going to be huge. You have to lean on the person next to you because, without them, you can’t get your job done. Without you, they can’t get their job done. It’s this constant level of teamwork and communication at work and harmony with one another, and you have to be able to do that.

Some people will say leadership skills, but not everybody has that. So, I would say work ethic, and flexibility and adaptability. The flexibility one is huge. Organizations change on a dime, and you have to be able to be flexible and adapt to the changing of what the organization is going through. And it could be internally driven or it could be market-driven. It can be driven by a lot of different factors. But as an employee, you have to be able to change and roll with whatever’s coming and adapt to that. That’s how people get promoted. That’s how individuals are able to move up career ladders because they are able to adapt to any other changes that come along with the organization and thrive in that. 

It’s always easy to point the finger and complain and say, “Oh, this will never work.” But it’s those individuals who might complain — they probably don’t complain at work. They complain at home to their spouses or significant others. But it’s all about — okay, what do we have to do to get the job done? Okay, let me roll up my sleeves and get this thing done. I might not like it but I’m going to adapt to this and we’re going to bring about the change, and I’m going to be successful in doing that.

There are some other things out there. Problem-solving skills — those are huge. Interpersonal skills — those are huge. But I think those soft skills are something that people should definitely work on.

MODERN HEALTHCARE: Agreed. And I’m going to add one because we talked about how, you know, remote workflow is now our norm — the art of knowing how to raise your hand and say when you need something.

JASON HUTTON: Oh, yeah that’s great.

MODERN HEALTHCARE: Because we’re not in an office together, right? We can’t tap each other on the shoulder. We don’t see each other’s body language in meetings. You have to be proactive enough to raise your hand and say, “Here’s what I heard, here’s what I expect the challenge to be, and here’s what we will need to resolve this challenge.” You cannot expect people to pick up on that anymore. You have to actually initiate that.

JASON HUTTON: Yup. Wave the white flag. You have to be able to say to yourself, you know what? This is too much, or I’m overwhelmed and I need help. And I feel comfortable because my team has been able to come to me and say, “Hey, listen. I need help with this.” And I’m the first one to say, okay what do you need? Let me jump in or hey, I’ll take this off your plate. And I think they work harder. They understand what the mission is and they’re able to be focused in on those tasks. When you’re able to sit there and say, “Hey, listen. I have support for you, or I’m going to support you through this.”

MODERN HEALTHCARE: I feel like this was like a team management 101 class. Thank you so much for this.

JASON HUTTON: Not a problem. Anytime.

OUTRO COMMENTS: Thank you, Jason Hutton, for that insight on how health systems can evaluate job candidates and job opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how opportunity seekers can prepare themselves for their next move.

Again, I’m your host, Kadesha Smith, CEO of CareContent. We help health systems reach their target audiences through digital marketing that focuses on the right content.

Look for more episodes of Next Up at modernhealthcare.com/podcasts, or subscribe at Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or your preferred podcatcher. If you’ve been enjoying Next Up, please go ahead and leave us a review on your preferred podcatcher as well. Thank you again for listening.


Source: modernhealthcare.com

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