Healthcare IT job seekers be warned: Doctors aren’t the only ones who need a good bedside manner.

Celia Harper-Guerra, Allscripts (Nasdaq: MDRX) senior vice president for talent acquisition, explains that while the electronic health records provider is an IT company, its employees routinely interact with healthcare professionals. More than good software chops, the company looks for job candidates with “soft skills,” what Harper-Guerra describes as the ability to communicate and work with colleagues and clients. And because those clients are almost exclusively doctors, the company also puts a premium on job candidates who have some background in healthcare.

“When we go into doctors’ offices, we have to have that knowledge,” she said.
Harper-Guerra spoke as a panelist for the North Carolina Technology Association‘s “Emerging Technologies + Trends” series. This installment was held Wednesday in Durham, North Carolina. Joining Harper-Guerra on the panel were L.J. Brock, senior director of global talent acquisition at software firm Red Hat (NYSE:RHT); Simon Sawyer, IT site manager for financial services firm Credit Suisse (NYSE:CS); and Donald Thompson, president and CEO of IT company I-Cubed.

When Allscripts hires for a position, the company typically brings in three applicants, each for one day. In addition to presenting before a panel, candidates must also participate in a role-playing exercise where they can demonstrate their soft skills. Candidates also participate in a team-building event to further show their skills. Harper-Guerra says Allscripts looks for people who can be collaborative. And that’s not all that different from others in the IT space.

Here are some highlights from the panel:

Be a team player.

In a university setting, students are judged and evaluated on their individual performance and individually many of them can shine through their technical prowess, Thompson said. But I-Cubed looks for candidates who show how they can transition their individual skills into a team environment. Thompson and Harper-Guerra said that these soft skills are lacking in many interns and recent graduates because they’re just not taught in college. “It’s not just about the code,” Thompson said. “It’s about how the code adds to the business.”

Be versatile.

At Red Hat, the most difficult position to fill is a solutions architect, a position that blends technical knowledge with sales capabilities. Brock said that there are many candidates who excel in one or the other, but few who can do both. Thompson said that I-Cubed also values those skills because while the company needs people who can pump out code, the company also needs those people to explain the technology to clients.

Referrals as recruitment tool.

Companies increasingly turn to their own employees to tip them to top talent. Harper-Guerra said when she worked at Cisco Systems (Nasdaq:CSCO), the company received more than 1 million resumes annually. Fewer than 3 percent of them were routed to hiring managers. A candidate can stand out if someone at the company already knows them. Red Hat tells employees to be ready to communicate the Red Hat message so they can tell prospective candidates what it’s like to work at the company. “Everybody is a de facto extension of our talent acquisition team,” Brock said.


Hiring companies don’t put much stock in them and former employers don’t say much anyway — attorneys have advised many managers to state only the dates of employment for their workers. And if a reference is able or willing to speak, they’ll probably say favorable things about the candidate. Job seekers don’t list a reference who will say otherwise, Harper-Guerra said.

And finally, a tip for companies: Groom good bosses.

Harper-Guerra said when she joined Allscripts from Cisco in 2009, turnover was high. Allscripts wasn’t lacking for applicants, but it just couldn’t keep many of the people it had hired. Surveys showed why. People were unhappy with their bosses. Now Allscripts evaluates managers on a regular basis and turnover has decreased.

“Employees come for the opportunity,” she said. “They stay for the investment.”

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