Three different types of NHS organisations show how using values based recruitment and tailored interviews can provide high quality candidates who want to be part of their team



North East Ambulance Service

This summer North East Ambulance Service Foundation Trust received a bronze award in the UK National Contract Centre Awards in recognition of its work recruiting emergency call handlers.

The trust has standardised recruitment assessments across the organisation so that five core values form the basis of their recruitment: committed, professional and accountable; working together; delivering consistently; shaping the future; and showing we care.

The recruitment team recruit staff for 999 and 111 contact centres and the Patient Transport Service, as well as emergency care and administrative and support roles.


Candidates for 999 and 111 contact centre jobs had to pass a remote situational judgement test

As part of the recruitment process for 999 and 111 call operators a standard set of materials and assessments have been developed, which are rotated so candidates who reapply do not see the same set of questions or role plays. These assessments were developed based on feedback from contact centre managers on the specific behaviours that make a good emergency call handler.

The most important behaviours required are empathy, the ability to question appropriately, to control the call, to listen and interpret responses correctly. Given the nature of the role it is also essential for the call handler to be able to work quickly and accurately between two screens in order to hit response times.

Neil Gatenby, recruitment business partner at North East Ambulance Service Foundation Trust, says: “We have had instances where people had great behaviours but they weren’t able to use the system properly. You do get some people who have got a great deal of life experience and fantastic behaviours but might find the technical side of things more challenging.”

Shortlisted candidates have to pass a remote situational judgement test, where they are presented with various scenarios and potential outcomes.

Those that pass this are then invited in for an online assessment, which examines their ability to accurately input information quickly and correctly first time, to move between multiple screens and to make informed judgements based on policy and procedure guidance to ensure that they would not deviate from established procedures.

‘Everything we do is about making sure the patient gets the best possible care’

Following this test, the candidate then has a personality assessment, which assesses if they are “fit for the role”. Part of this involves receiving computer generated calls.

The first call could potentially be from a suicidal person or somebody trying to resuscitate their partner.

“Some applicants may not fully understand the role and its challenges. It’s really important to make sure that the role is for them, because it is vital we recruit the right candidates,” Mr Gatenby says.

For those that pass this, there is one more day of assessment, in which candidates are interviewed by the contact centre management team, shown a video on what it’s like to work at the contact centre, and have a behavioural role-play and interview. In the role-play they are faced with a difficult patient and have to try and use appropriate questions to get the best resolution for that person.

This assesses their ability to openly probe and treat the patient with empathy and dignity.

Mr Gatenby admits that it’s a long process but is clear about why it has to be so. “We have to be confident that the candidates aren’t putting themselves in a situation that they find too challenging, personally and emotionally, that the role is right for them and that we are getting the best possible person for the job, because everything that we do is about making sure that the patient gets the best possible care and most appropriate responses.”

Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust

Northumbria Healthcare Foundation Trust, which employs around 9,000 staff, is implementing values based interviews across the trust for the recruitment of all types of staff and at all levels.

Since the beginning of this year, around 450 people working in clinical, managerial and non-managerial areas across the trust have been trained in how to conduct them.

‘To score well on putting patients first, candidates have to show a willingness to listen’

Values based interviewing is centred around identifying staff who exhibit the trust’s core values. Northumbria has five: patients first; safe and high quality care; responsibility and accountability; everybody’s contribution counts; and respect.

Joanna Cook, one of the two organisational psychologists in organisational development at Northumbria, explains: “One of the strategic objectives of the trust is to embed the values in everything we do, and recruitment is just one part of that. All of our recruitment and HR processes are reflecting that objective.

“Anyone coming to work for Northumbria will see references to the values in the job advertisements and will be interviewed against them,” she says. They will then be assessed against the values at the end of their probationary period and at subsequent appraisals.

The organisational psychologists developed the values based interview approach in a very structured way. “We tried very hard to identify the behavioural competencies that made up each value so we could base questions around it,” Ms Cook says.

North Tyneside general hospital

Northumbia Healthcare has trained 450 people in how to conduct values based interviews

For example, in order to demonstrate that they put patients first, a candidate will be asked to give an example of when they had shown compassion or sensitivity towards another person in the past. “Because it’s the best predictor of what they will do in future,” she adds.

The interviewer will have a list of aligned and non-aligned behaviours and they will rate the candidate on each so that an overall score for each question can be calculated.

To score well on putting patients first, candidates have to show a willingness to listen; a willingness to do all that they could to act on the patient’s wishes; they made an effort to ensure that the patient was emotionally and physically comfortable; and that they had verified that the patient was happy with what they were doing.

Banks of specific questions have been developed using this approach for different types of staff, and managers are also able to add their own questions. “You can’t ask a lot of questions about values and not ask candidates about how they can technically do the job,” Ms Cook says. “Managers also include questions which relate to the technical ability of the person to do the job.”

NHS Blood and Transplant

Earlier this year, the relaunch of the NHS Jobs website, with its added functionality, provided NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) with the ideal opportunity to include competency based questions on their application forms.

For each job that was advertised NHSBT included a short summary of the job, information about the organisation and any experience or specific knowledge necessary. To be able to find the right person for the position and the organisation, it also included information on how the role fitted into the organisational structure, and a person specification incorporating the values and behaviours required.

The values and behaviours were also used to develop questions for the NHS Jobs site application form, which enabled NHSBT to rate the candidates against pre-set criteria based on the answers provided.

Examples of questions include: “please give examples of when you feel that you have demonstrated good customer care skills” and “please give examples of where you feel that you have acted on feedback to improve your own performance or change your behaviour”.

‘Before, recruitment was very much a tick box exercise’

Gill Travis, head of recruitment and transactional services at NHS Blood and Transplant says: “We can now judge applicants on the quality of the answers that they give, whereas before it was very much a tick box exercise.”

One of the first posts that the new application form was used to recruit for was a planning assistant (band 3), which is an administration role.

“It proved very successful,” Ms Travis said.

A total of 87 people started filling out the application form, and 34 people completed it. Eight of the non-completed applications were blocked because candidates did not hold essential qualifications.

Of the 34 people who completed the form, 23 (68 per cent) were suitable for shortlisting and 15 were invited to interview. Two people did not attend, but of the 13 who did, only one person was considered not suitable for the post and seven people were offered roles. Feedback from the managers was that shortlisting was much easier and that the quality of the applicants was fantastic.

“The beauty of this is that it’s easy for the managers, it incorporates our values throughout the process and enables us to obtain a higher proportion of good quality applications - improving our recruitment effectiveness without increasing resources for application management,” Ms Travis says.

“It’s not just that we are asking some values based questions at interview. It is actually incorporating it from a very early stage and in all of our documentation that is given to candidates so they can clearly see what our values and expectations are.”

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