The Cleveland Clinic’s 12-Step Recruiting Plan to Expand in the Middle East

December 17, 2015

The Cleveland Clinic has a reputation as one of the world’s best medical institutions, particularly for its treatment of cardiovascular diseases.

Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates – along with the Middle East in general – is in need of more hospitals, particularly ones with a reputation like Cleveland Clinic's. So, when the Abu Dhabi government announced that it was working with the Cleveland Clinic to build a state-of-the-art, 364-bed hospital in the UAE, it made for the perfect match.

That said, a hospital based in mid-western America moving to the Middle East doesn’t come without challenges. The biggest hurdle?

“My main concern when we got into this was not that we had a financial risk, I thought we had a reputational risk and an operational risk,” Cleveland Clinic CEO Dr. Delos (Toby) Cosgrove said in a speech about the Abu Dhabi location. “The main thing that concerned me was the quality of the physicians I could attract to that location.”

Specifically, the Cleveland Clinic needed to hire 175 physicians and 3,000 supporting employees to staff the hospital. That had its challenges, considering the Abu Dhabi location is 7,000 miles from the Cleveland Clinic’s headquarters, has a very different culture from heartland America, and a large portion of the workforce would have to come from outside the UAE.

Sounds difficult, right? And yet, the Cleveland Clinic did it, with their Abu Dhabi location opening in May 2015.


Really, they did two things really well: They re-emphasized their already-strong employer brand and put together an all-hands-on-deck recruiting effort. This recipe for attracting top talent from across the world worked brilliantly, with the Clinic receiving over 10,000 physician applications and over 400,000 applications overall to staff their new building.

Here are the 12 tactics that truly made their efforts successful:

Relying and re-emphasizing on their great employer brand

When the Cleveland Clinic started its recruiting effort, it didn’t exactly start from scratch. The hospital had already built a very impressive employer brand:

1. Their CEO led the charge

The Cleveland Clinic’s recruitment strategy, not just for Abu Dhabi but across-the-board, isn’t led by the company’s head of talent acquisition or head of HR. It’s headed by their CEO, Toby Cosgrove.

And he is very, very hands on.

Cosgrove is a frequent keynote speaker. He blogs regularly and successfully on LinkedIn, to the point that he’s built a following of 421,641 people. And he goes around the world, talking to top doctors in their field, encouraging them to join his world-class hospital.

All of this has three main effects: It educates the world about healthcare, it builds brand awareness for the Cleveland Clinic and it exponentially improves the institution’s employer brand. People are drawn in when someone seen as an expert in their field goes out of his way to share that knowledge.

2. The Clinic expects all the employees to act as recruiters

One of the values at the Cleveland Clinic is to “act as a unit,” says Suzanne Rogachuk, the Clinic's former executive director of talent acquisition. And that means all employees doing everything they can to help the hospital, including helping it recruit great people, she said.

Their CEO, as mentioned, does that very visibly, setting the example for the employees he leads, Rogachuk said. And it’s the expectation for every employee to follow suit.

“Recruiting has to be a team effort,” Rogachuk told LinkedIn.

3. Which included optimizing their leaders’ LinkedIn profiles

Along those lines, when the Cleveland Clinic was hiring for Abu Dhabi, one of the first things they did was look at the new hospital’s leaders’ LinkedIn profiles. Frankly, most of them weren’t great, said Kevin Ferra, who led the Cleveland Clinic’s recruitment efforts in Abu Dhabi.

So, the company’s corporate communications and marketing teams worked with those leaders to build great profiles, adding great profile photos and having the profiles tell compelling stories. Ferra described these leaders as “rock stars in their field,” and by them having strong LinkedIn profiles, it helped the Cleveland Clinic leverage the relationships they had.

4. And encouraged the rest of the workforce to do the same

The Cleveland Clinic could not put resources into optimizing every one of their employee’s LinkedIn profiles. However, the fact that the company’s CEO was so active on the site, and the company’s leaders had such strong profiles, encouraged many of them to follow suit, Ferra said.

Additionally, the Cleveland Clinic had a LinkedIn team come in for a workshop open to all employees, telling them how to improve their profile. The workshop was popular, and all those great profiles only further strengthened the Clinic’s employer brand, Ferra said.

5. They used content marketing to strengthen their brand

Even before they started recruiting for the Abu Dhabi location, the Cleveland Clinic did and continues to do a strong job with content marketing across the board, boasting “America’s top hospital blog” and doing a great job with its social media accounts.

Once they started recruiting in Abu Dhabi, they began running targeted campaigns across the world to build awareness of the Cleveland Clinic and grease the skids for their Middle Eastern-focused recruiting efforts, Ferra said.

What makes the Clinic’s content marketing so effective? They don’t try to actively promote themselves or get people to work for them. Instead, they offer helpful medical advice that people engage with and share, which builds their credibility as both a top-notch hospital and an esteemed place to work.

Two good examples of the content they share on LinkedIn, which is their top source of referral traffic:

  • cleveland clinic
  • cleveland clinic

6. Which included brilliant video job descriptions

Part of the Clinic’s content marketing strategy was also building video job descriptions, putting them on YouTube and optimizing them to show up in Google search results, Ferra said.

The point of these were not just to get people to want to work for the Cleveland Clinic, but also to give them real insight into what the job and working in the Middle East was like:

7. And encouraged their leaders to share them

Obviously, the Cleveland Clinic shared all of those job description videos on their social media sites, but it didn’t stop there. They also encouraged their hiring managers to share them as well by tracking who did and sharing the results via email, Ferra said. That quickly turned it into a competition, where hiring managers were sharing jobs as often as possible to try to place first, he said.

“It’s amazing how far a little competition can go,” Ferra said.

Launching an all-hands-on-deck recruiting effort

The Cleveland Clinic’s employer branding efforts raised the awareness of the Clinic, but that wasn’t enough to staff a hospital. They also implemented an all-hands-on-deck recruiting effort that included every tool available to them (well, except one) and every employee chipping in.


8. They didn’t use monetary incentives, but instead only recruited people who were genuinely willing to go to Abu Dhabi

There is one thing the Cleveland Clinic didn’t do: Use generous incentives to lure employees to Abu Dhabi. While that might have been the easier route, it would have failed in the long run, said Rogachuk.

“We didn’t want to make it about the money,” she said. “It is never a long-lasting relationship then. We wanted to get people who genuinely wanted to be there.”

Rather than try to attract them with cash, recruits were attracted by the appeal of working at a cutting-edge hospital, where they would have the opportunity to shape healthcare for a region in desperate need of it, Rogachuk said.

9. Instead, the Clinic hired renowned leaders first and built from there

The keystone to recruiting in Abu Dhabi was hiring top down – starting with the CEO and then his direct reports, and then finding the rest of the talent, Rogachuk said. This was very important because once the CEO of the hospital, Marc Harrisonwas hired, he instantly turned into the chief recruiter and hiring manager for the rest of the team. Moreover, his reputation as a doctor and leader was a great draw for new hires.

This was particularly effective in recruiting the 175 doctors for the Clinic, Rogachuk said. Physicians are a part of very small communities and the best in the field are very well known. By hiring top people, this inspired other great doctors to join.

“It has a domino effect,” Rogachuk said. “You hire a leader in the field, and others want to come work for them.”

10. They recruited globally using talent pool analyses and targeted outreach

Once the Cleveland Clinic had a great team of physicians in place, they still had to hire 3,000 supporting employees. The institution’s goal was to fill 15 percent of those positions with United Arab Emirates natives, where applicable, which meant recruiting 85 percent of the supporting employees internationally.

The supporting positions varied from IT professionals to nurses to customer service representatives. To get international applicants, the Clinic employed a classic marketing strategy of identifying where that talent was and then creating compelling content to attract them to Abu Dhabi.

As far as finding where talent was, the Cleveland Clinic used LinkedIn’s talent pool reports to see what areas had an abundance of professionals in a desired field. For example, for IT talent, those areas were India and the United States, Ferra said.

Once markets were identified, the Clinic advertised the corresponding job in those areas via LinkedIn Sponsored Updates, Google Ad Words and other web-based advertising, Ferra said.

The strategy again proved effective, with the Cleveland Clinic receiving an astronomical 400,000 resumes for its 3,000 open positions.

11. But they also adjusted their tactics to recruit locally in UAE through job fairs

Tapping into the global talent market was great, but the Cleveland Clinic made it a priority to have at least 15% of its hires be UAE nationals.

The challenge there though was many of the UAE citizens weren’t used to searching and applying for jobs online, Ferra said.

So, the Cleveland Clinic created a “modular recruitment stand” where UAE nationals could go in person. The stand featured six iPads where people could watch videos about the Abu Dhabi location, see the jobs that were open and apply directly, Ferra said.

“It created quite a bit of buzz,” Ferra said.

Here’s an example of one video shown at the “modular recruitment stand”:

The hiring process at the modular recruitment stand moved quickly. Applicants could come in, fill out an application and take a personality test, Ferra said.

Once the applications were collected, the Cleveland Clinic would put the best people into realistic scenarios – for example, call center applicants were put in fake call centers and dealt with fake phone calls – to see who would thrive in the environment.

The applicants who performed best were hired.

12. And did everything they could to make the move to Abu Dhabi as easy as possible

Yes, there was great demand 3,000 open positions, with the Clinic weeding through them to find the best people. But then came the next challenge – moving new hires to Abu Dhabi, without them having second thoughts.

“The last thing we wanted was to put in all this effort and lose someone at the very end,” Ferra said.

To make the transition to Abu Dhabi as smooth as possible, the Cleveland Clinic built a “mobilization team.” Their job was to “take the anxiety out of the process” by doing everything from securing housing and visas for new hires to lining up schooling for their children and indoctrinating them into the Abu Dhabi culture, according to Ferra.

“It was a pretty incredible effort by that team,” he said.

Challenges ahead

The location became fully operational last month and instantly became one of the world’s most state-of-the-art hospitals. And yet, the recruiting challenges are hardly done.

Most of the people who were hired internationally will stay for a 3-year assignment, so new people will consistently have to be recruited with additional focus to retention efforts, Ferra said. But the real goal is to increase the amount of local UAE employees over time and start creating a workforce within the UAE, he said.

The Cleveland Clinic is working with local universities to start building that pipeline. Additionally, just having a state-of-the-art hospital in the region is going to inspire a lot of people to go into healthcare, he said.

Ferra, who has just launched his own consultancy to attack these exact challenges across the Gulf and the globe, believes Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi isn't alone. "The recruitment and retention challenges are what has and will continue to keep CEOs in expatriate-dependent locations (such as the U.A.E.) up at night."  

*Image from CCM Recruitment

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