In senior care settings, loneliness, frustration and other emotional challenges can impact residents’ physical and mental health, so hiring for compassion and empathy must be a part of your recruitment strategy. Additionally, you should strive to hire employees with clinical knowledge of mental illness like depression, so your staff can detect and treat residents at the earliest sign of symptoms. Keeping these unique needs in mind will help you hire well-equipped employees who can provide quality senior care.

According to Mental Health America, more than 2 million of the 34 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from some form of depression. For older Americans, depression can often coincide with physical health conditions. For instance, the same study also shows that 600,000 people who experience a stroke in a given year will experience clinical depression. As such, professional caregivers and other senior living staff are crucial to counteracting these common symptoms amongst seniors.

According to Georgia Stevens, Director of Partners in Aging and Long-Term Caregiving in Washington, D.C., nursing staff members are the backbone of long-term and senior care. “They have that day-to-day contact,” she says and will be the ones to notice the subtle changes in patients’ emotional well-being. “Recruiting and retaining qualified, engaged staff, and establishing and maintaining a respectful workplace is of the essence.”

Here are some tactics for recruiting and hiring the right senior care employees who can handle residents’ and clients’ specific needs in these regards.

Develop More Specific Job Requisitions

To make sure you’re recruiting candidates with the right mix of clinical and behavioral skills, include detailed core competencies in the job requisition. Top behavioral competencies include: compassion, empathy, patience, communication skills, a good sense of humor, and acute observational skills.

Observational skills are important because older adults aren’t likely to verbally express depression. Instead, Stevens says, “They may have a very sad expression on their face, they may be more withdrawn, they may have a lot of complaints about physical issues as well as pain. That’s how it’s going to present.” Other competencies to seek – and to support with continuing education – are behavioral health, trauma-informed care, and person-centered intervention.

Use Assessments to Better Predict Skill- and Culture-Fit

“One of the best predictors of work performance is job simulation or job tryout,” says Martha Abercrombie, Product Marketing Strategist, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, who worked for 15 years in senior living human resources before coming to HealthcareSource. “However, asking candidates to demonstrate clinical competencies as part of the interview is not realistic. Another approach that offers greater predictive validity than relying on prior work experience alone, is to combine a job knowledge and a behavioral assessment as part of the application process followed by a structured interview.”

Conduct Structured Behavioral Interviews

This form of interviewing blends behavioral assessments that measure core competencies for the job with interviews based on those assessments. Structured interview guides help interviewers get beyond resume based questions by helping them probe more deeply into candidates’ personality traits and soft skills. Questions should also address the individual candidate’s assessment results to provide additional context. This combination of tactics enables you to understand each candidate’s clinical skills and soft skills alongside their fit with your organizational culture and dedication to resident-centered care.

Peer-Guided Walk-Throughs

Abercrombie also recommends giving interviewees exposure to the people they will work with and care for. “As part of the in-person interview process, provide candidates with a tour of the community or facility and observe how they interact with your residents,” she says. Asking current employees to do the tours gives them a chance to provide their feedback on potential new hires.

Caregivers working with older adults can and must do things differently. Advance the emotional and mental health of your patients and residents by hiring with behavioral health in mind.


Download our whitepaper, “A New Way to Look at Recruiting: Think Bigger and Broader” for more advice and insights about recruiting and hiring high-quality talent.


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Taylor Sisk

About Taylor Sisk

Taylor Sisk is a feature and enterprise writer who now specializes in healthcare issues. In his career, he’s interviewed ecologists, economists, undersea explorers, teenage philanthropists, sabermetricians, “Shark Tank” winners, hostage takers, Final Four champions, United Nations officials, radical priests, NASCAR legends, presidential candidates, and death-row inmates.