For the latest executive spotlight, we spoke with Justin Allison about his time starting and growing a healthcare staffing company, why it’s important to create content to attract new candidates, and ERO’s overall approach to gaining a competitive advantage through its marketing.

On starting a career as a recruiting working in healthcare staffing:

I can speak for at least 90 percent of the recruiters that I know, that most of us that are in staffing, in this game, are in it not because we sought it out. We happened to fall into it for various reasons, not really knowing much about it.

I didn’t really know that travel nursing existed, or hey, I didn’t even know what locum tenens existed until they’re having a conversation with somebody that’s in that industry. That’s common. It’s not extremely well known outside of the space itself.

I got into staffing at an extremely early age. I was literally fresh out of high school, and I moved out to the Sacramento area where my older brother was playing college basketball. We had an older cousin who was really big into IT staffing in the 90’s. This is the early 2000’s, by the way, is when I got into it.

Summer, right out of high school, I’m working as a lifeguard, and our older cousin, who we were living with at the time was reading the newspaper one day about the nursing shortage. He’s like, “Screw it. We’re going to start a healthcare staffing company.” And he did – him and his business partner. My brother and I, that’s how we got our foot in this industry. My very first experience in staffing, I was sourcing hospital organization charts, so I was calling into the administrative offices and seeing if I could source their org charts so we knew who the decision makers were, so we could go after those clients and get the contracts.

That was my initial entry into it. I learned a ton at a very early age. It was quite the experience, especially being that young. That’s where it all started, and from there, that company, Pulse Healthcare Staffing. It’s obviously long gone now. It grew like crazy for three years, and it was sold to a publicly traded company. A little time passed. We jumped on with Health One, which, they were an international nurse staffing company. Due to the laws changing, Visas et cetera in 2006, 2007, they weren’t going to be able to continue on as an international nurse staffing company, so they had to start a domestic travel nursing protocol.

I had come from a previous startup and been a significant part in building that, so it was a perfect match at that time. I came on board to essentially start the process of building that travel nursing vertical. I recruited my brother to come, and long story short, Health One became Rise, as Staffing Nerd met us. We rebranded about halfway through, after the great recession. The great recession, it was crazy. Everything tanked, and healthcare was one of the last things to tank, but what happened if the hospitals stopped buying the travelers, right? So, we had to shift a complete pivot from what we knew with contract travel nurse staffing to per diem. Per diem is brutal. We literally were on call 24/7. We’re making phone calls at 11 AM, three in the morning, to hospitals, to nurses, to get them a shift that day or that night, and we had to do that for a long time.

Not to mention, we had to take significant pay cuts so the company didn’t go out of business. So, came out of that and just blew up from there. Grew Rise, and Rise, as you guys know, got acquired. And then we exited and we launched ERO Workforce Solutions and pivoted into locum tenens.

On getting into clinician staffing and growth in the healthcare staffing space:

Locum tenens is growing. It’s crazy. We had never previously placed physicians specifically. We’d obviously done advanced practice clinicians off and on over the years, and the growth of the locum tenens space is pretty big. It’s not as big as nursing, it’s never going to be as big as travel nursing, but from not just the physicians, the MDs/DOs, but another huge, in-demand locum tenens practitioners are nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and CRNAs. PAs and MPs are probably the most in-demand in terms of overall growth percentage. They’re not using as many PAs and MPs as they are MDs and DOs, but it’s been trending the last year and a half. The upside for those is just going to continue to grow over the next couple of years, big time, as the physician population dwindles down a little bit.

So, that was one of the main reasons. It’s in health care. It’s close to what we’ve been doing for our entire 15 plus careers. The rates are a lot higher with locum tenens, so for one physician provider on contract, it’s equal to maybe two to four travel nurses. 

On hiring hospitalists:

They surfaced in the late 90s, that is the first time hospitals starting using hospitalists. But, they’re essentially physicians. If you guys know what a float nurse is, you can kind of parallel it with that to a degree. But basically, it’s a physician that provides care to patients 100 percent in the hospital setting only. They don’t have a primary care outside of the hospital. So, they’re covering for primary care physicians that can’t be in the hospital, and/or, they just simply do not want that additional piece to their career as far as managing a practice or a clinic.

So, they’re the ideal locum tenens traveler, from a physician standpoint, because they’re only working in hospitals. They don’t want to be tied down to a clinic, to a practice setting. So, those are extremely popular in terms of the demand and the growth upside.

On finding / sourcing the candidates that ERO places:

LinkedIn, primarily. LinkedIn is a massively successful platform for the recruiting world. When I started with LinkedIn, when I was still running the desk with Rise and I wasn’t managing, I got to the point with LinkedIn where I was solely placing nurses that I recruited off of LinkedIn, along with the nurses that were referred to me, from my former travelers.

So, LinkedIn was huge for me as a recruiter. As I start managing, building a team, leading a team, I train all my recruiters on LinkedIn, on how to hunt on LinkedIn. So, fast forward to now. Having a ton of experience recruiting on LinkedIn, and naturally, that was immediately what I was going to dive into source clinicians. That, coupled with Instagram, which is crazy. Because as a side note, I personally avoided social media outside of LinkedIn, which is more professional for networking, as you guys know. But I avoided social media like it was the black plague, for nine plus years.

All that changed, literally, in January when I watched Gary Vaynerchuk’s episode on that podcast and I was like, “Who’s this dude?” He completely, in that 50-minute episode, pushed my thinking on social media as a whole. For business, for recruiting, and frankly, you guys are in marketing, you live this daily, but I fully believe that this goes for us, ERO, and frankly, any small business, startup, wherever you’re at is this day and age, this era of the internet and internet 2.0 being social media, that every company should be a marketing company first, a healthcare staffing company second.

That’s a huge part of the strategy right now: where’s all the attention? All the attention is online, right? It’s on social media, and the phone is still always going to be the go-to tool for recruiting. You can’t build long-term relationships without talking to people on the phone or meeting in person, but you can start those relationships online and take them offline.

Justin: Gary. He was on Lewis House podcast in January, launching his latest book, Crushing It, which I’ve read that. I’ve read Crush It, I’ve read Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. Those are the three top of his five books. Phenomenal. If you guys have not read any of those, I would highly, highly recommend it.

On the topic of social media use in healthcare staffing:

There are companies that are out there doing it, but I would say, no.

I had a former colleague that was really big into IT staffing. He was killing it on LinkedIn in ’08/’09. He’s telling me all about this, I was like … I’d never really considered that. I had a LinkedIn profile, wasn’t doing anything with it. I was like, I’ve got to figure this out because nobody in my space, healthcare staffing is doing this: recruiting nurses off of LinkedIn.

So, it’s more common now than six, seven years ago, but overall on social media, no, absolutely not. Frankly, even for the companies that have a presence … I say this with as much humility as possible and I’m very early in all this too, but I’ve just completely been consuming so much content, specifically on branding, on building a brand through social media. So, I’m watching. I’m seeing what others are doing. There are some people that are killing it. There are companies that are doing a good job. But overall, no. I would say, effectively, less than five percent, if I was to throw a number out there. Take it with a grain of salt, of course. But that’s what I would say from my vantage point.

On a top-down approach to getting content marketing and social media marketing off the ground:

Everything starts from the top and goes down, whether it’s to be your marketing strategy, social media branding, or your culture.

Social media was, frankly, never important. That was one of the things … Even myself, personally, as a recruiter. I still had control. If I wanted to build my recruiting personal brand, I could have done that over the years. But even then, like I told you, I avoided social media because I don’t like the spotlight. I’m not doing anything for fame. I have no interest in putting my personal information out there. This was my mindset in terms of putting my personal information out there on social media, I just don’t like that kind of attention.

This is extremely important and we are going to do it, but we’re going to do it by providing value. That’s it. There’s not going to be any expectations in return, it’s just simply, how can we provide value to our community, and to our audiences online, through social media?

On developing systems and style outside of the office:

So I’m a DJ at heart. There’s a lot of preparation that goes on behind the scenes.

Even before I have to do a performance I will research who I’m going to be playing for and try to figure out everything and have multiple sets to flow through to pivot in real time. I put in a ton of work behind the scenes for a performance or before I push out a mixtape. There is so much time and effort that goes into it behind the scenes that nobody has any idea that even exists. The same applies to social media.

I’m putting in early morning late nights in terms of content, ideas, and building out videos or doing audio recordings. I would say on one part is yes it is organized but too it’s also I’m just freestyling because I’m learning. I do have a little system that I’m developing but I’m so early to this game with social media and branding. I’m only five months into it.

I’m formulating a more organized plan of attack with it but a lot of this stuff, ideas, things that I put out, it’s just stuff that is coming up real time and so I’ll write something about it, I’ll record it, little minute video on it or whatever the case may be. But it’s a lot reactive, transparent.

On implementing small growth tactics to larger healthcare staffing firms:

What I know now I 100% believe it would have worked in our last companies, but it also ties back to starting from the top down. Is leadership in on this? Are they sharing this vision on it? Now I get to decide that this is going to be a massive part of building our company. 

On how to reach out and respond on social media channels as a recruiter:

So Instagram, trying to be more on the photo side of it, short videos work. The photos capture the eye, the attention, along with whatever the context of that message is, LinkedIn obviously you get the longer copy, you can write articles. Everyone wants to listen or watch.

I don’t know where that this is all gonna evolve to but frankly I just think even seeing when people just write these novels on Instagram or LinkedIn and Facebook, it’s like who has time to read that? The attention span from some of the stuff I read is that the attention span of people on social media is less than six seconds. It’s less than the goldfish’s attention span.

On consistency and developing a personal brand as a recruiter in healthcare staffing:

Patience is so key with all of this. Be consistent with the effort, you be committed to what your strategy is or just what you’re trying to do and the value you’re trying to provide, the impacts that you’re trying to make. And be patient, I now have 10000 followers.

Ninety-five percent of those are just they’re worthless essentially. It’s just to be patient and to provide value and not expect anything in return, not grasp, ask for anything in return. Because it will all work out over time. I do believe that. 

On how Justin spends his time and what an average day looks like: 

I start my days at 4 am, I get up at 4 am every morning. I go to the gym, I work out, and then from there I’m off and working. The transition, I’m so fired up about everything we’re doing, just building part of the journey, this is the next chapter in our journey. It’s an overwhelming feeling of just excitement and gratitude. 

Every day’s different though, other than my morning routine, I stick to that, I’m not perfect of course. I’m not gonna tell anybody that I’m perfect 100% of the time because I’m not but that is my morning routine. I stick to that and that’s probably the most consistent part of my day. 

And from there it’s creating content, it’s jumping on video conferences in order to work on operations. I’m trying to build out the recruiting platform and the training program for when we’ve started building out our team. And really growing this thing. There’s just so much going on it’s awesome, and I’m loving every minute of it. And a big part of that is who is on the internal team right now, the pillars of ERO, the group of us is just we got an insanely awesome team.

I’m so grateful for my brother, a couple partners. It’s so fun it’s exciting, it does not even feel like work. I know you guys hear people talk about and you guys may feel the same way but it’s not, dude, I want to be in my office on a Saturday because there’s just so much we’re trying to accomplish and we’re trying to make an impact. So let’s get after it, let’s go all in. And that’s the mindset. That’s the day to day and every day’s different.

On differences candidates will recognize when comparing ERO to another locum tenens staffing company:

You’ll have to go back here to gain a little bit more understanding to the answer to that question. What is our purpose, our why? If we have that and as a company, we know why we’re doing what we’re doing. As a collective group, we provide for our clinicians and what we provide for our internal team members.

For the clinicians specifically with all of our experience over the years with multiple companies for all of us, we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of it all. All those lessons, everything we’ve learned, the good and the bad it’s creating what we believe into how we’re gonna take care and how we’re gonna provide for the providers. It starts with exceptional service. It starts with being authentic transparency and truly caring about that individual, that nurse practitioner or that physician assistant. Truly caring.

If you don’t care it’s not real, you’re gonna lose in the long run. You might win something in the short term but no thank you, we have zero interest in that. Our purpose for our clinicians is to provide them with that exceptional service, is to truly help them make the smart career choices that are best for them, that is not best necessary best for ERO, right? So it starts with that from the clinician standpoint.

For the clients, our hospitals, our clinics, the care centers — we developed over the years the standard that we have for the quality of our product from the client’s standpoint. From the types of clinicians we provide, the characters of these individuals, the experience is that we truly have set the bar for ourselves extremely high. We do strive for excellence.

I noticed that sounds cliché but it’s real. It’s crazy when you look, you guys interact with a lot of companies but it’s just, for what the majority of our industry does, that opportunity to separate ourselves from the crowd by just being real and authentic and the service we’re providing and truly caring about that individual and trying to really provide them value. That’s why that’s the difference for both our clinicians and our clients.

Now in terms of culture, for our internal team members, that at the end of the day is most important, it really all starts in there and then it radiates out to our clinicians and our clients. 

On personality types that might not be perfect for staffing or recruiting:

Character is extremely important, it’s the number one factor versus experience or education. We’re all about the individual, the character of the individual. High character, hard working, they’re passionate and they’re a great cultural fit. We have seven non-negotiable character traits that we look for in all of our team members which obviously includes your creators, account managers. And they’re not ranked in any order but those seven non-negotiables are grit, positive energy, integrity, drive, passion, inquisitiveness, and gratitude.

So that’s something we look for throughout the entire interview process when we’re considering someone to join our team. Those are very clear expectations that we set, starting with the interview process that we hammer home during training onboarding, and that is just calmly revisited because we believe in those traits.

We also know this is a very competitive industry that we’re in with recruiting. So we also aim to bring on fierce competitors, individuals that no matter how difficult a situation gets they’re still getting after it. They have that relentless effort, that relentless perseverance. They’ll never stop no matter how difficult a situation gets. So that’s what we look for in terms of the personalities. You have to be able to presevere.

That’s the number one. They’re not driven, that’s another huge one. I’ve seen so many different types of personalities succeed in the recruiter role. There are definitely some key traits which are some of the things that I’ve identified. There are definitely some key habits that … The ability to build long-term relationships is super important. How do we build long-term relationships? Being real. Being authentic. Being genuine. Caring about the other person.

That’s probably one of the top habits of a highly successful recruiter. Positive energy, it’s a character trait. Positive attitude, having that as a habit is so important to success.

Again, it’s the ones … the complainers and the excuse makers … the people that fail in recruiting are the ones that make excuses and complain. I guess it’s that simple.

On where Justin wants to see ERO become in the next five years:

My immediate thought is so much has changed in five years. So much has changed in the last 10 years. And the landscape for healthcare staffing, and I frankly, I believe this for any business, any niche that you’re in with the opportunity that exists, again, I know this is being a little repetitive here, but the opportunity that exists with the internet, with social media is so massive that it’s difficult to comprehend.

I was just telling Josh and Kyle this yesterday is we have very specific goals in what we’re trying to accomplish and we’ll re-map the course over and over and over along the way to achieve those goals, but because of what I believe in with us as a team and with the opportunity that exists, that not only are we going to build something great that doesn’t exist in our space yet in terms of a company, the internal makeup of the company and the team, that it’s … we’re going to violate our own expectations, our wildest expectations. Meaning we’re going to exceed them because of what the … the amount of opportunity that exists.

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