A Local Focus For athenaHealth

With only 433 full-time employees, athenaHealth, a Watertown, Mass.-based revenue management services company for physicians, has many elements of a startup, requiring flexibility and a willingness to learn in its new hires. Jeremy Trelstad, HR business partner with athenaHealth, predicts the company’s hiring numbers will double each year, even though it is not among the major undergraduate employers.

Trelstad has been with the company since its inception eight years ago and has served in a number of different roles within the organization. He recenty joined the human resources team to advance the college recruiting program, overseeing all of the undergraduate recruiting, but specializing in hiring software developers.

Trelstad recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:

Do you have a group of target schools?

A: Because this is our first year focusing our efforts, most of our recruiting is done locally, at Boston University, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts, Northeastern, and others.

How many folks do you plan to hire in the coming year?

About 15 people. We're only a 433-person company right now, so we're on the small side. However, we're growing at quite a fast clip and are hoping to double our number of undergraduate hires each year. We also hire interns for a bunch of different functions within the company, with most of our hiring done in the spring.

What types of individuals are you going to need?

We are looking for people who are process-oriented. They're the type of person who likes to rearrange things, who thinks the current way of doing things is sloppy or disorganized. Breaking down a problem into components is the biggest part. Ultimately, we're looking for people who are more well-rounded.

What's the interview process like?

As a smaller company, we still have many of the elements of a startup. Work changes frequently, so people need to be adaptable and that needs to be clear in an interview. We have a variety of different ways of measuring someone's aptitude as well as their cultural fit. In our professional services area, we utilize the case interviewing technique. In our software development interviews, the focus is absolutely technical, with some very challenging math problems to answer. In our operations department, the interview is less technical and more focused on organizational skills, such as how you organize your day, keep focused, and prioritize.

b>How many interviews do folks need to complete before receiving an offer?

Candidates go through between one and two rounds, and each round consists of two or three interviews. That means candidates go through four to six interviews, primarily because we want them to meet a variety of different people here. Many of those interviews are group interviews, with multiple interviewers. The group format allows candidates to be less formal, and we think it allows us to gauge the individual on a more personal level.

What type of academic background should a successful candidate have?

We're open to any type of background. The company was founded by a bunch of liberal arts types. We're looking for people who are interested and motivated by learning something new. We are totally focused on hiring toward aptitude rather than experience.

How necessary is it for students to complete an internship between junior and senior years?

It helps, primarily because it gives you something to talk about in an interview and demonstrates a situation where you've had to polish your skills. Academics tend to be very structured, whereas internships are less so. In the startup environment, we like it when people can work without supervision.

What's the work environment like?

It's a great place to grow, because you can learn to cut your teeth and develop your confidence by seeing projects from start to finish. Our sales organization is more senior than the rest of the company. On top of that, we've put together a business development group that focuses on innovation to maintain the startup mentality.

What kinds of innovation?

We've developed a Web-based product that looks at claims from a doctor’s office before they're sent to an insurance company to determine if it's going to process cleanly. Our goal is to free individuals and doctors of that paperwork, so that they can help patients and reduce the number of errors with which they have to deal. The result is a faster, cleaner payment.We are also working on projects focusing on how to build a better Web interface, a better rules engine so that more faulty claims can be stopped before they get submitted, and an improved submission and remittance process so that we can submit claims more effectively.

How's compensation?

It varies by position, but for most of them, you're looking at somewhere between $35,000 and $55,000. On the technology or software side, it's probably closer to $65,000.

How much interest should a candidate have in the health care industry to make it at athenaHealth?

The health care industry has been behind the scenes for way too long. Many people hear about HMOs and the problems they cause, but no one seems to know what's going on behind the curtain. If we get someone with some exposure to the health care field, like pre-meds, then they can earn credibility with physicians. That being said, the vast majority of our hires have no experience in health care, and we don't require it.

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