Leading Healthcare with Healthcare Leaders
Leading Healthcare with Healthcare Leaders

MSA Search BlogInsights from over 30 years of Healthcare Executive Search

Best Practices for First Round Interviews

John Lenihan, Consultant, MSA Executive Search

Over the years, I’ve found one of the most important interactions we have with candidates during a search is a “touch base” call before a candidate goes to interview with a client for the first time. Even though most of our candidates are seasoned leaders who have substantial experience interviewing, I still take the opportunity to share some lessons I’ve learned about general best practices for first round interviews. While no two calls are exactly the same, there are three points I share during every call. They are, in order of importance: energy, specifics, and time management.  

  1. Energy: In my experience, one of the greatest de-railers to an otherwise strong candidacy is a perceived lack of energy during the interviews. To put it bluntly: regardless of how qualified or credentialed you are, it can be very difficult for an organization to overcome concerns about a lack of energy during your interview. Conversely, a high energy level can indicate enthusiasm and stamina, which are often identified as notable strengths of a candidate’s interview. Even if the interview is a full day event with many stakeholders, make sure that you are maintaining a high level of energy throughout the day. Right or wrong, energy level is directly correlated with perceived interest in the position itself. Organizations will rarely be excited about a candidate who doesn’t appear excited about them. 
  2. Specifics: If you have been invited to interview for a leadership position, chances are you have plenty of rich experience to draw upon when discussing your background. Oftentimes, organizations will use behavior-based interviewing techniques, with questions beginning with “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of your work in…"  This should be seen as a great opportunity for you to share specific, real world examples of your work. Philosophical, theoretical discussions may have value and relevance at some point in the process, but during first round interviews, organizations are most interested in understanding what you’ve actually done. It is not enough to simply have accomplishments listed on your resume. Make sure that the person interviewing you is leaving with a clear understanding of some of your specific achievements and successes.
  3. Time Management: This one is most relevant when two factors are present: 1) the scheduled interviews are shorter, i.e. scheduled for less than 1 hour, and 2) whenever there is a group or “panel” interview on the schedule. In line with the above comment about specificity, make sure that you're answering questions in the time allotted. Although you may have many specific examples to share, you should exercise caution against long-windedness. Most interviewers will come to the interview with a number of questions to ask, and if you are meeting with a panel of individuals, this dynamic is even more pronounced as you have several people with several questions to ask. This is not to encourage “short” answers. It is, however, a gesture of respect to the interviewer who has taken time out of his or her day to meet with you and likely has a number of questions to ask in a set period of time. 

Transparency is Key in a Successful Executive Job Search

By Brad Veal, Senior Consultant, MSA Executive Search

Having worked in executive search for nearly 20 years, I would like to point out some consistently repeated behaviors that negatively impact candidates and keep professionals from effectively partnering with executive search consultants. The good news is that many of these are fairly easy to fix.

One of the most important behaviors in working with an executive search firm is transparency. With most executive searches, there are many interested candidates, and busy executive search consultants will not waste much time with a candidate that is closed-lipped or answers questions circuitously.This is not the time to hide information or act coy. If you are interested in the position, let us know why. We love it when candidates are excited and can give us well-reasoned interest in a position. Also, share your progress on other ongoing searches. You don’t need to name the other organization(s), as we understand that candidates are likely looking at more than one open position, but just keep us apprised on the status of your other interviews.

We understand that many professionals have had a hiccup or two in their career. The days of spending 20+ years with one employer are pretty much gone. With the economic problems in the last several years, we have seen an increasing number of downsizing and layoffs. This is by no means a cause to be ashamed. All we ask is that you are honest about your reason(s) for leaving an organization(s), and be willing to provide references that will support that information.

An area where many candidates are tight-lipped is in regards to relocation questions. Years of HR training have led many of us to fear sharing personal information. However, aside from professional fit, relocation issues are the next biggest hurdle for prospective candidates. Please talk to your spouse and consider family and personal issues before expressing interest. Is your family supportive of the move? Does your spouse need a job? Specific kids’ activities required (swimming, soccer, gifted program, etc.)? Can you sell your home? Again, we want to make this process as seamless as possible and foresee any potential issues as early as we can. Most executive search consultants want to work with you to help with these issues, and many can connect a candidate with realtors, school administrators, chamber of commerce, or other sources in the community.

Finally, what about the dreaded conversation regarding salary? We hold no judgment about your current compensation, so please share it early. The reason we ask is simple – does this position make sense for the candidate financially? If you are at $400,000 and our position pays $250,000,the position likely doesn’t make sense for you. However, if that same position is in your hometown where all your family live and the cost of living is very low, we understand and can work with that information. Also, at some point in the search process, proceeding candidates will be required to share their salary and background release, so it’s just easier on everyone to proactively discuss it.

Three Reasons Why Recruiting Shouldn't Be a DIY Project

 By Roger Samuel, Vice President and Interim Practice Leader, MSA Executive Search

It’s not at all uncommon for clients to call us and retain us for a search after they’ve attempted to do it themselves and, for various reasons, have been unsuccessful. In thinking about some of the reasons we have more success in successfully placing candidates under these circumstances, I’ve come up with these to name a few:

1. We take the time on the front-end to engage key stakeholders in the process to identify what the ideal candidate looks like and what are some of the key first-year objectives. Using this position profile as a guide, our early sourcing and recruiting work is focused on identifying, informing, and ultimately recruiting candidates whose backgrounds and future objectives are a match. It also means that late in the process, when these same stakeholders are meeting with finalist candidates, both parties are “singing from the same hymn book.”

2. Doing the recruiting on their own, clients may be more likely to rely on the on-file position description, post the position internally and on a few external sites and wait for the resumes to pour in. Generally what we hear from our clients who’ve gotten to this point is that they’ve received a lot of resumes, but few from qualified candidates. When we look at our internal data in terms of how the successful, strong candidates learned about a particular opportunity, it is almost always via our network. Maybe the candidate was in our network to start. Maybe not. But he or she learned of the opportunity either directly as a result of our outreach efforts or through someone else in the network. It’s very difficult for all but the largest health systems with large recruiting departments to invest in the resources necessary to maintain a robust and up-to-date database of healthcare executives.

3. We do our best to get to know our candidates early on, and try to identify the drivers—both career-wise and personal—that are motivating them to consider a particular opportunity. This information, when combined with an “eyes wide open” philosophy when educating them about the client, the community and the position, improves the chances that there won’t be any surprises late in the process that result in an unsuccessful outcome and what we call in our shop a “restart.”


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