I Wasn’t Ready on Day One


My first job was at a boat dock working at the diner when I was 15. I wasn’t ready on my first day and all I needed to do was take orders and deliver people their food. I haven’t been ready on day one for any job since, but I have at least had the skills and knowledge I needed to figure it out.

In college, I learned how to do my research and find the information I needed. I learned to think critically, make reasoned decisions, and plan. The result was I have been successful in every job I’ve had, which isn’t to say there weren’t some bumps in the road. I left active duty and stepped into a full professor and department chair position and moved to an Associate Dean and then Executive Associate Dean position. In my career and in all the positions I held, I’ve hired hundreds of people.

When hiring there are four critical things to consider.
1. What position am I asking the person to fill and how much experience is needed?
2. What are the critical skills and does the person have them?
3. What training and mentoring do I have in place for the person?
4. What do I need to do to make them feel valued and respected from day one?

I’ve never hired anyone that knew it all on day one and didn’t need a little help. Not the new graduate nurse or the experienced physician or the supervisor. Almost everyone required six months of training or mentorship to be a productive member of the team. The more we did to train and mentor the better teammate the person made and the more functional the team as a whole. I used to say of new nurses that universities taught them to think like professionals, but my job was to make them proficient, underwrite their early mistakes, push them beyond their comfort level until they didn’t need me. It was my job to make them feel welcome and valued.

Don’t hire a new graduate with a Bachelors degree for a job that requires a doctoral degree. It won’t be the employee’s fault when they are unable to meet the expectations. Likewise, don’t hire new RN for a job that needs a person with extensive experience. When I was a Chief of Staff my Assistant Secretary started too many days with, “[Profanity], get you [more profanity] in here. Who wrote this [even more profanity].” It was always about a speech he was supposed to give that was written by a junior staffer. After a few incidences, I refused to say who wrote as the result would be a crying junior staffer in my office or a very angry one. Either way it was better to not tell him. Finally, one day I had my husband who has two PhDs write a speech for him to make a point. When I gave it to him without telling him who wrote it he replied, “Now this is what I need, who wrote this?” I took the opportunity to explain if you want someone to write like a person with a doctoral degree you should hire one. Shortly thereafter we hired a speechwriter with a graduate degree.

None of us are ready on day one. The problem is we often forget what it was like to be the new graduate or the new person. I keep a paper that a professor gave back to me bleeding red in my Ph.D. program and before I grade papers I review it. It reminds me what it was like when I was learning. We should all walk onto a nursing floor without saying anything, and take the time to remember what it was like that first day and week and month. Do you remember the day you first felt confident? Do you remember when the fear went away or the first time you ever ask yourself why you ever thought a specific procedure was difficult?

We all have a responsibility to the new graduate. We can’t make them ready on day one to handle a full caseload, but we can give them all the tools they need to be successful. We should never stop trying to make sure they are as cable as possible, but nothing teaches you to draw blood like doing it a hundred times, nothing teaches the best dressing like seeing hundreds of wounds, and nothing replaces experience. I was new once and I’ve never forgotten.

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